Creepy stories are as old as mankind, and the really good ones will continue to frighten generations to come.
We’re looking back through the scariest books of the past two centuries—from gripping horror books to chilling gothic classics and post-apocalyptic tales of caution. These terrifying tales leave readers restless, never quite sure where fiction ends and reality begins.
Page through our master list below, and you’re guaranteed to stumble across a new nightmare in no time at all.
Grimm's Fairy Tales
Also known as “Where Disney Gets Their Story Ideas,” these original fairy tales are far darker than their animated counterparts.
One of the most popular and horrifying tales of all time, Frankenstein was the product of a competition amongst other greats (including Lord Byron and Percy Shelley) of who could write the best horror story.
Creepy mansion, suspicious characters with even weirder names, and ghosts—this book has everything you could ever want in a Gothic horror novel.
Often viewed as the original vampire romance novel, this book follows the destruction and death Lord Ruthven—a charming vampire—causes everywhere he goes.
The Fall of the House of Usher
All of Poe’s poems are scary, but this short story in particular—about a crumbling house whose inhabitants are riddled with anxiety—will give you chills.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
This impactful book is the definition of a split personality disorder. Dr. Jerkyll is good, and Mr. Hyde is bad—who will prevail?
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Narcissistic Dorian Gray wants to stay youthful forever, and instead of aging himself, he has a painting in the attic do it for him. But everything comes with a price.
The Yellow Wallpaper
A haunting book about women’s mental and physical health, the novel follows the narrator’s decent in psychosis as she is forced to ‘recover’ after the birth of her child in a room covered in tattered yellow wallpaper.
The King in Yellow
The cosmic horror and twisted mysticism that made True Detective season one so compelling? It all leads back to Carcosa, and Robert Chambers’s The King in Yellow.
One of the most widely recognized epistolary novels, Dracula tells the story of a vampire who moves from Transylvania to London in search of new blood.
The Turn of the Screw
There are many schools of thought on what this gothic ghost story novella truly means, but regardless, it’s a frightening tale of a governess who sees the ghosts of two people she knows to be dead.
The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft gained fame after his death for his influential works of horror fiction. His short novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and his short stories, “The Call of Cthulhu” and “At the Mountains of Madness” are great places to start.
Originally published in Russia, We is a dystopian novel and follows characters who have numbers instead of names and who live in a constant state of routine in a terrifyingly oppressive government.
The Most Dangerous Game
The hunter is hunted in this scary short story that takes place on an isolated island in the Caribbean. It’s a truly spine-chilling tale inspired by big-game hunting in the 1920s.
If your husband’s former wife died under mysterious circumstances, you’d probably be paranoid, too. This frightening Gothic novel tells the story will have you questioning everything around you.
This short story first published in The New Yorker takes place in a small town that observes a ritual called “the lottery”. But this lottery isn’t one you want to win.
Lord of the Flies
What happens when children are stranded on an island? Sheer and utter chaos, with deadly consequences.
I Am Legend
An influential work of zombie and vampire fiction, Robert Neville is the sole survivor of a pandemic to which he is immune. He attempts to determine the scientific cause of the disease in this grim world.
The Haunting of Hill House
Searching for evidence of the existence of the supernatural, Dr. Montague invites several people who have past experience with paranormal events. But no one is prepared for the startling hold the house has on its inhabitants.
A creepy hotel, split-personality disorders, and a very unhealthy relationship between mother and son are just a few of the highly disturbing pieces of this novel—and what made it such a wildly popular Hitchcock adaptation.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Does the idea of a traveling carnival freak you out? Perhaps it should. Teens Jim and Will explore the carnival that has just come to town, and meet the sinister Mr. Dark—who lures carnival-goers into serving him.
A very disturbing and lonely man is obsessed with art student Miranda Grey. So obsessed that he decides to kidnap her. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this one will rattle you.
In Cold Blood
While it may be the only work of non-fiction on this list, Capote’s account of the 1959 Herbert Clutter family murders reads like a novel. This detailed and horrifying book is best read with the lights on.
Though they were warned about their new residence’s disturbing history of witchcraft and murder, Guy and Rosemary are unfazed. Until, that is, they discover it to be true. This classic story of horror is a must-read for fans of the genre.
Inspired by a 1949 case of demonic possession, the highly disturbing tale follows the possession of a young girl and the exorcism performed by two priests in order to free her from the demon.
Adjusting to a new town can be rough. But it doesn’t help when the townspeople have frightening rituals that put your own family in danger.
Rule number one: Stay out of the basement. A quiet New England couple unearths a horrifying reality in the crawlspace beneath their home in this chilling tale of creeping dread and rising suspense.
You can’t go wrong with Graham Masterton (see: Charnel House). In this otherworldly horror classic, and the author’s debut, a malevolent spirit strives to escape the shadow realm and terrorize the land of the living—by emerging from the body of a horrified young woman.
Requiem for a Dream
Four New Yorkers try and pursue their dreams, but instead form crippling drug habits. It’s a scarily real tale of caution about the effects of drug abuse.
Sure, any of Stephen King’s novels could have made this list—but this one really renders us horrified. This chilling book involves death and reincarnation, revealing that once people come back from the dead they’re never quite the same…
Just stay out of the woods—and never trust those all-too-friendly neighbors down the way. Max and Louise plus their young son Denny retreat to a secluded rental home in the forests of Northern California. The new environ is enchanting. But where are the other kids? And why is the next-door couple increasingly obsessed with Denny?
The Silence of the Lambs
Cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter is one of the most frightening characters in the horror genre. And though he’s safely locked away in a mental institution during this book, we never quite feel safe from his grasp.
A devastating look at what could have happened if the United States and the Soviet Union were still at odds, and every other country destroyed each other, Swan Song is a terrifying post-apocalyptic novel.
Another ‘what if’ novel, this book takes place after Earth is left uninhabitable by nuclear war. A few survivors are picked up by an alien race, the Oankali, and are conflicted between their loyalty to the human race and their desire to survive.
Manhattan businessman and serial killer, Patrick Bateman, is an incredibly disturbing character. Try not to cringe as his killing become more and more graphic.
In this Bram Stoker Award-winning novel by Swan Song author Robert McCammon, a young boy and his father pull back the curtain of their idyllic Alabama town—and discover a dark world of fear, magic, madness, and murder.
Summer of Night
As terrifying events begin to unfold in the Old Central School, including corpses coming to life, five pre-teens must defeat them before they destroy the town.
Nicholas and Nakota discover a strange black hole in their storage room floor. But regardless of if they want to see what’s down there or not … the frightening presence of something else might not give them the choice.
House of Leaves
This intriguing and freaky novel, told by many, somewhat unreliable, narrators is about a house whose internal dimensions seem to grow, while its exterior dimensions stay the same.
The Black Gondolier
SFWA Grand Master Fritz Leiber is a weird fiction sorcerer. This haunting collection assembles eighteen of Leiber's best supernatural horror stories.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Written from the perspective of the killer’s mother, the book is about a fictional school massacre and coming to terms with the murders he committed. It’s frightening and heartbreaking all at the same time, especially in the wake of true events.
The Resurrection Man's Legacy
Bailey’s dark visions and twisted short stories have been compared to Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. This extraordinary collection, the author’s first, spans horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and monstrous reality.
The Loveliest Dead
Ray Garton? Horror maestro. This novel? Pure haunted house nightmare fuel. A grieving married couple decamps to a creaky old home on the California coast. They hope to heal. Instead, the homestead’s evil residents make their lives a living hell.
Tourists in Mexico venture near a Mayan village, where things quickly go from bad to worse as members of their party are killed by poisonous, seemingly manipulative vines. It’ll make you think twice about your next vacation …
Judas is a collector of morbid memorabilia and thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he purchases a suit with an old man’s spirit attached to it. Little does he know, the old man is out for revenge … and will stop at nothing until Jude and those around him are dead.
Old college friends reunite for a hiking retreat through the Swedish Forests. But as they get lost they realize that something is intent on ensuring they never make it out alive in this really scary book.
Haunted by the bizarre and tragic occurrences in his past, a man investigates in hopes of understanding what really happened. It’s impossible to forget and will leave you searching for answers of your own.
A monster is on the loose, leaving disturbing crime scenes—like a boy and deer somehow fused together—in its wake. This suspenseful and chilling tale is truly gripping.
A mother struggles to protect her two children from a ravenous force that must not be seen in Josh Malerman’s hit post-apocalyptic horror. Lock your doors and tie on your blindfolds.
This Shirley Jackson Award-winning novel is a treat for all the music-loving horror fiends in the audience. The surviving members of a British acid-folk band return to the eerie country estate where they recorded many years ago—and where their lead singer vanished without a trace into the mansion’s endless gloom.
Acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates knows how to spin a good nightmare. This Bram Stoker Award-winning collection presents six of the author’s frightening short stories, including her deeply creepy tale of obsession and madness, “The Doll-Master”.