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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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

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