51 SCARIEST Books of the Last 200 Years

Because a truly scary story is timeless.

scariest books 200 years


Buy Grimm's Fairy Tales at Amazon

Grimm's Fairy Tales

By The Brothers Grimm


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

Buy Frankenstein at Amazon


By Mary Shelley


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


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

Buy The Vampyre at Amazon

The Vampyre

By John William Polidori


Often viewed as the original vampire romance novel, this book follows the destruction and death Lord Ruthven—a charming vampire—causes everywhere he goes.

Buy The Fall of the House of Usher at Amazon

The Fall of the House of Usher

By Edgar Allan Poe


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.


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


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

Buy The Picture of Dorian Gray at Amazon

The Picture of Dorian Gray

By Oscar Wilde


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.

Buy The Yellow Wallpaper at Amazon

The Yellow Wallpaper

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman


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.

Buy The King in Yellow at Amazon

The King in Yellow

By Robert W. Chambers


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.   

Buy Dracula at Amazon


By Bram Stoker


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


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.


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

The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft

By 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.

Buy We at Amazon


By Yevgeny Zamyatin


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.

Buy The Most Dangerous Game at Amazon

The Most Dangerous Game

By Richard Connell


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.

Buy Rebecca at Amazon


By Daphne du Maurier


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.

Buy The Lottery at Amazon

The Lottery

By Shirley Jackson


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.


Buy Lord of the Flies at Amazon

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding


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

Buy I Am Legend at Amazon

I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson


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.

Buy The Haunting of Hill House at Amazon

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson


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.

Buy Psycho at Amazon


By Robert Bloch


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.


Buy Something Wicked This Way Comes at Amazon

Something Wicked This Way Comes

By Ray Bradbury


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.

Buy The Collector at Amazon

The Collector

By John Fowles


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.

Buy In Cold Blood at Amazon

In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote


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.

Buy Rosemary’s Baby at Amazon

Rosemary’s Baby

By Ira Levin


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.


Buy The Exorcist at Amazon

The Exorcist

By William Peter Blatty


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.

Buy Harvest Home at Amazon

Harvest Home

By Thomas Tryon


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 Crawlspace at Amazon


By Herbert Lieberman


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.  

Buy The Manitou at Amazon

The Manitou

By Graham Masterton


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.   

Buy Requiem for a Dream at Amazon

Requiem for a Dream

By Hubert Selby Jr.


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.


Buy Pet Sematary at Amazon

Pet Sematary

By Stephen King


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…

Buy The Wanting at Amazon

The Wanting

By Campbell Armstrong


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?   

Buy The Silence of the Lambs at Amazon

The Silence of the Lambs

By Thomas Harris


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.

Buy Swan Song at Amazon

Swan Song

By Robert R. McCammon


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.

Buy Dawn at Amazon


By Octavia E. Butler


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.


Buy American Psycho at Amazon

American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis


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

Buy Boy's Life at Amazon

Boy's Life

By Robert R. McCammon


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.   

Buy Summer of Night at Amazon

Summer of Night

By Dan Simmons


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.

Buy The Cipher at Amazon

The Cipher

By Kathe Koja


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.


Buy House of Leaves at Amazon

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski


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.

Buy The Black Gondolier at Amazon

The Black Gondolier

By Fritz Leiber


SFWA Grand Master Fritz Leiber is a weird fiction sorcerer. This haunting collection assembles eighteen of Leiber's best supernatural horror stories.   

Buy We Need to Talk About Kevin at Amazon

We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Lionel Shriver


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.

Buy The Resurrection Man's Legacy at Amazon

The Resurrection Man's Legacy

By Dale Bailey


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.  

Buy The Loveliest Dead at Amazon

The Loveliest Dead

By Ray Garton


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.   

Buy The Ruins at Amazon

The Ruins

By Scott Smith


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 …

Buy Heart-Shaped Box at Amazon

Heart-Shaped Box

By Joe Hill


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.


Buy The Ritual at Amazon

The Ritual

By Adam Nevill


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.

Buy Penpal at Amazon


By Dathan Auerbach


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.

Buy Broken Monsters at Amazon

Broken Monsters

By Lauren Beukes


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.

Buy Bird Box at Amazon

Bird Box

By Josh Malerman


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.   

Buy Wylding Hall at Amazon

Wylding Hall

By Elizabeth Hand


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. 

Buy The Doll-Master at Amazon

The Doll-Master

By Joyce Carol Oates


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”.  

Published on 14 May 2019