50 Of The Best Horror Novels

I love a good scare, but the best horror novels don’t just provide frights, they also comment on society or maybe riff on tried-and-true tropes. With that in mind, I’ve assembled a list of must-read horror novels past and present that take on the genre in different ways. Some are just plain scary, while others use their ghosts and ghouls as symbols of real-life horrors. These’s something here for just about anyone, so take a look! To give you some idea of what kind of horror you’ll encounter, I’ve included descriptions from Goodreads for this list of best horror novels.

If you want still more frights, be sure to check out our list of Must-Read Contemporary Horror Novels.

Cover of Affinity by Sarah WatersAffinity by Sarah Waters

“Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own.”

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

“The deliberately told and increasingly chilling recollection of an Antarctic expedition’s uncanny discoveries—and their encounter with an untold menace in the ruins of a lost civilization—is a milestone of macabre literature.”

Audition by Ryu Murakami

“When his best friend Yoshikawa comes up with a plan to hold fake film auditions so that Aoyama can choose a new bride, he decides to go along with the idea. Of the thousands who apply, Aoyama only has eyes for Yamasaki Asami…But there is more to her than Aoyama, blinded by his infatuation, can see, and by the time he discovers the terrifying truth it may be too late.”

The Bad Seed by William March

“What happens to ordinary families into whose midst a child serial killer is born? This is the question at the center of William March’s classic thriller.”

Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free…Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. ”

Cover of The Between by Tananarive DueThe Between by Tananarive Due

“When Hilton was just a boy, his aged grandmother saved him from drowning by pulling him out of a treacherous ocean current, sacrificing her life for his. Now, thirty years later, Hilton begins to think his borrowed time is running out.”

Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon

“From an ancient mystic who can hear the dead and bewitch the living, to a violent clan of moonshiners, Cory must confront the secrets that hide in the shadows of his hometown—for his father’s sanity and his own life hang in the balance.”

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

“A classic Victorian vampire novella, which influenced Bram Stoker’s later treatment of the vampire mythos in Dracula.”

Crota by Owl Goingback

“When the police of Hobbs County, Missouri find a mutilated man’s body on the side of the road, they figure a bear attacked him, except that bears aren’t indigenous to their area. The local Indian tribe offers another explanation: Crota, a great beast of legend, has reawakened.”

Cover of Devil in Silver by Victor LavalleThe Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

“Pepper is a rambunctious big man, minor-league troublemaker, working-class hero (in his own mind), and, suddenly, the surprised inmate of a budget-strapped mental institution in Queens, New York…In the darkness of his room on his first night, he’s visited by a terrifying creature with the body of an old man and the head of a bison who nearly kills him before being hustled away by the hospital staff.”

Dracula by Bram Stoker

“A quintessential tale of suspense and horror, boasting one of the most terrifying characters ever born in literature: Count Dracula, a tragic, night-dwelling specter who feeds upon the blood of the living, and whose diabolical passions prey upon the innocent, the helpless, and the beautiful.”

The Explorer by James Smythe

“When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity’s great explorers. But in space, nothing goes according to plan. The crew wake from hypersleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod.”

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

“Doris Lessing’s contemporary gothic horror story—centered on the birth of a baby who seems less than human—probes society’s unwillingness to recognize its own brutality. “

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

“The story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly inhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire.”

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness.”

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

“The story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater- and paterfamilias set out—with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes—to breed their own exhibit of human oddities.”

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

“Cass Neary made her name in the 1970s as a photographer embedded in the burgeoning punk movement in New York City…But thirty years later she is adrift, on her way down, and almost out. Then an old acquaintance sends her on a mercy gig to interview a famously reclusive photographer who lives on an island in Maine. When she arrives Downeast, Cass stumbles across a decades-old mystery that is still claiming victims, and into one final shot at redemption.”

Ghost Story by Peter Straub

“For four aging men in the terror-stricken town of Milburn, New York, an act inadvertently carried out in their youth has come back to haunt them. Now they are about to learn what happens to those who believe they can bury the past—and get away with murder.”

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

“Gerard’s quest to unveil the mystery that shrouds his family, and his life, will lead him from Mawson to London, to a long-abandoned house and the terror of a ghost story come alive.”

Cover of Grotesque by Natsuo KirinoGrotesque by Natsuo Kirino

“Tokyo prostitutes Yuriko and Kazue have been brutally murdered, their deaths leaving a wake of unanswered questions about who they were, who their murderer is, and how their lives came to this end.”

Haunted by Chuck Palahnuik

Haunted is a novel made up of stories: twenty-three of the most horrifying, hilarious, mind-blowing, stomach-churning tales you’ll ever encounter.”

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

“The story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House…At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.”

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

“To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession.”

Hell House by Richard Matheson

“Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, Belasco House has witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted.”

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

“Colquitt and Walter Kennedy enjoyed a life of lazy weekends, gathering with the neighbors on their quiet, manicured street and sipping drinks on their patios. But when construction of a beautiful new home begins in the empty lot next door, their easy friendship and relaxed get-togethers are marred by strange accidents and inexplicable happenings.”

house of leavesHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

“Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command.”

 

Imajica by Clive Barker

“There are things worse than death. There are games so seductively evil, so wondrously vile, no gambler can resist. Amid the shadow-scarred rubble of World War II, Joseph Whitehead dared to challenge the dark champion of life’s ultimate game.”

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

“Louis recounts how he became a vampire at the hands of the radiant and sinister Lestat and how he became indoctrinated, unwillingly, into the vampire way of life.”

Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

“On a quiet fall evening in the small, peaceful town of Mill Valley, California, Dr. Miles Bennell discovered an insidious, horrifying plot. Silently, subtly, almost imperceptibly, alien life-forms were taking over the bodies and minds of his neighbors, his friends, his family, the woman he loved—the world as he knew it.”

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

“In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers—the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe—and kill those judged corrupt.”

Cover of Midwich Cuckoos by John WyndhamThe Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

“In the sleepy English village of Midwich, a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. A day later the object is gone and everyone awakens unharmed—except that all the women in the village are discovered to be pregnant.”

Misery by Stephen King

“Paul Sheldon. He’s a bestselling novelist who has finally met his biggest fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.”

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

“Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing—and terrifying—playground of amusements he calls ‘Christmasland.’”

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

“An acclaimed bestseller and international sensation, Patrick Suskind’s classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man’s indulgence in his greatest passion—his sense of smell—leads to murder.”

Phantoms by Dean Koontz

“They found the town silent, apparently abandoned. Then they found the first body strangely swollen and still warm. One hundred fifty were dead, 350 missing. But the terror had only begun in the tiny mountain town of Snowfield, California.”

Cover of Psycho by Robert BlochPsycho by Robert Bloch

“Norman Bates loves his Mother. She has been dead for the past twenty years, or so people think. Norman knows better though. He has lived with Mother ever since leaving the hospital in the old house up on the hill above the Bates motel.”

Ring by Koji Suzuki

“A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.”

Roots of Evil by Sarah Rayne

“Lucy Trent is used to having the legend of her disreputable grandmother disinterred from time to time—the infamous silent-screen actress Lucretia von Wolff, whose lovers were legion, whose scandals were numerous, whose life ended abruptly in a bizarre double murder and suicide at the Ashwood film studios in 1952…But when a body is found in the now-derelict studios, brutalised in a macabre echo of the 50-year-old case, disturbing facts about the past begin to emerge.”

Rosemary’s Baby  by Ira Levin

“Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, an ordinary young couple, settle into a New York City apartment, unaware that the elderly neighbors and their bizarre group of friends have taken a disturbing interest in them. But by the time Rosemary discovers the horrifying truth, it may be far too late!”

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

“There’s a killer on the loose who knows that beauty is only skin deep, and a trainee investigator who’s trying to save her own hide. The only man that can help is locked in an asylum.”

Slade House by David Mitchell

“Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

“Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery.”

Sphere by Michael Crichton

“A group of American scientists are rushed to a huge vessel that has been discovered resting on the ocean floor in the middle of the South Pacific. What they find defies their imaginations and mocks their attempts at logical explanation.”

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro And Chuck Hogan

“An epic battle for survival begins between man and vampire in The Strain—the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy from one of Hollywood’s most inventive storytellers and a critically acclaimed thriller writer.”

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

“In this harrowing tale of good and evil, the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll develops a potion that unleashes his secret, inner persona—the loathsome, twisted Mr. Hyde.”

Cover of There is no year by blake butlerThere Is No Year by Blake Butler

“The reader is introduced to an unexceptional no-name family. All should be idyllic in their newly purchased home, but they are shadowed by an unwelcome ‘copy family.’ In the face of the copy mother, the mother sees her heretofore unrealized deterioration. ”

The Wave by Walter Mosley

“Errol is awakened again by a strange prank caller asking for him by name and claiming to be his father—who has been dead for several years. “

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

“Two ambitious young musicians are drawn into the dark underworld of blues record collecting, haunted by the ghosts of a repressive past.”

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

“Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare.”

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

“In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. ”

What do you think are the best horror novels? Hit the comments to share your favorites. 

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