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40 Scariest Books of the Last 200 Years

Because a truly scary story is timeless.

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.

1800-1849

Buy Grimm's Fairy Tales at Amazon

Grimm's Fairy Tales

By The Brothers Grimm

1812

Also known as “Where Disney Gets Their Story Ideas,” these original fairy tales are far darker than their animated counterparts.

Grimm's Fairy Tales

By The Brothers Grimm

Buy Frankenstein at Amazon

Frankenstein

By Mary Shelley

1818

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.

Frankenstein

By Mary Shelley

Buy Nightmare Abbey at Amazon

Nightmare Abbey

By Thomas Love Peacock

1818

Creepy mansion, suspicious characters with even weirder names, and ghosts—this book has everything you could ever want in a Gothic horror novel.

Nightmare Abbey

By Thomas Love Peacock

Buy The Vampyre at Amazon

The Vampyre

By John William Polidori

1819

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 Vampyre

By John William Polidori

Buy The Fall of the House of Usher at Amazon

The Fall of the House of Usher

By Edgar Allan Poe

1839

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 Fall of the House of Usher

By Edgar Allan Poe

1850-1899

Buy The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Amazon

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

1886

This impactful book is the definition of a split personality disorder. Dr. Jerkyll is good, and Mr. Hyde is bad—who will prevail?

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Buy The Picture of Dorian Gray at Amazon

The Picture of Dorian Gray

By Oscar Wilde

1890

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 Picture of Dorian Gray

By Oscar Wilde

Buy The Yellow Wallpaper at Amazon

The Yellow Wallpaper

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

1892

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 Yellow Wallpaper

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Buy Dracula at Amazon

Dracula

By Bram Stoker

1897

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.

Buy The Turn of the Screw at Amazon

The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James

1898

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 Turn of the Screw

By Henry James

1900-1949

Buy The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft at Amazon

The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft

By H.P. Lovecraft

1917-1935

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.

The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft

By H.P. Lovecraft

Buy We at Amazon

We

By Yevgeny Zamyatin

1924

Originally published in Russia, We is a dystopian novel and follows characters who have names over numbers and who live in a constant state of routine in a terrifyingly oppressive government.

We

By Yevgeny Zamyatin

Buy The Most Dangerous Game at Amazon

The Most Dangerous Game

By Richard Connell

1924

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.

The Most Dangerous Game

By Richard Connell

Buy Rebecca at Amazon

Rebecca

By Daphne du Maurier

1938

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.

Rebecca

By Daphne du Maurier

Buy The Lottery at Amazon

The Lottery

By Shirley Jackson

1948

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.

The Lottery

By Shirley Jackson

1950s

Buy Lord of the Flies at Amazon

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding

1954

What happens when children are stranded on an island? Sheer and utter chaos, with deadly consequences.

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding

Buy I Am Legend at Amazon

I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson

1954

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.

I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson

Buy The Haunting of Hill House at Amazon

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

1959

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.

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Buy Psycho at Amazon

Psycho

By Robert Bloch

1959

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.

Psycho

By Robert Bloch

1960s 

Buy Something Wicked This Way Comes at Amazon

Something Wicked This Way Comes

By Ray Bradbury

1962

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.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

By Ray Bradbury

Buy The Collector at Amazon

The Collector

By John Fowles

1965

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.

The Collector

By John Fowles

Buy In Cold Blood at Amazon

In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote

1966

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.

In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote

Buy Rosemary’s Baby at Amazon

Rosemary’s Baby

By Ira Levin

1967

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.

Rosemary’s Baby

By Ira Levin

1970s

Buy The Exorcist at Amazon

The Exorcist

By William Peter Blatty

1971

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.

The Exorcist

By William Peter Blatty

Buy Harvest Home at Amazon

Harvest Home

By Thomas Tryon

1973

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.

Harvest Home

By Thomas Tryon

Buy Requiem for a Dream at Amazon

Requiem for a Dream

By Hubert Selby Jr.

1978

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.

Requiem for a Dream

By Hubert Selby Jr.

1980s

Buy Pet Sematary at Amazon

Pet Sematary

By Stephen King

1983

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…

Pet Sematary

By Stephen King

Buy The Silence of the Lambs at Amazon

The Silence of the Lambs

By Thomas Harris

1988

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.

The Silence of the Lambs

By Thomas Harris

Buy Swan Song at Amazon

Swan Song

By Robert R. McCammon

1987

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.

Swan Song

By Robert R. McCammon

Buy Dawn at Amazon

Dawn

By Octavia E. Butler

1987

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.

Dawn

By Octavia E. Butler

1990s

Buy American Psycho at Amazon

American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis

1991

Manhattan businessman and serial killer, Patrick Bateman, is an incredibly disturbing character. Try not to cringe as his killing become more and more graphic.

American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis

Buy Summer of Night at Amazon

Summer of Night

By Dan Simmons

1991

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.

Summer of Night

By Dan Simmons

Buy The Cipher at Amazon

The Cipher

By Kathe Koja

1991

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.

The Cipher

By Kathe Koja

2000s

Buy House of Leaves at Amazon

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski

2000

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.

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski

Buy We Need to Talk About Kevin at Amazon

We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Lionel Shriver

2003

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.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Lionel Shriver

Buy The Ruins at Amazon

The Ruins

By Scott Smith

2006

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 …

The Ruins

By Scott Smith

Buy Heart-Shaped Box at Amazon

Heart-Shaped Box

By Joe Hill

2007

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.

Heart-Shaped Box

By Joe Hill

2010s

Buy The Ritual at Amazon

The Ritual

By Adam Nevill

2011

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.

The Ritual

By Adam Nevill

Buy Penpal at Amazon

Penpal

By Dathan Auerbach

2012

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.

Penpal

By Dathan Auerbach

Buy Broken Monsters at Amazon

Broken Monsters

By Lauren Beukes

2014

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.

Broken Monsters

By Lauren Beukes



Created on 28 Sep 2016
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