Of the thousands of horror books that have made it to store shelves, there are many that, somehow, have floated just beneath the radar. But if there's anything we've learned as lifelong readers, it's that the award winners and New York Times bestsellers aren't the only books worth our attention. Some of our biggest scares have come from novels that lurked in the dustier corners of the genre—forgotten but no less frightening than their more popular counterparts.
Since you've probably read—or at least heard of—the classics, we're bringing you the hidden gems that never made it to the mainstream. From the overlooked works of genre masters to lesser-known tales that inspired famous films, these nine underrated horror books have been waiting to fuel your nightmares for years. Why not give them the chance?
A little Rosemary’s Baby, a little Exorcist, Jeffrey Konvitz’s book has all the trappings of a cult classic: A model's life gets ugly once she moves into her new Manhattan apartment. Suddenly plagued by bizarre nightmares and a cast of eccentric neighbors—many of whom are not as human as they seem—she and her boyfriend start digging into the building’s history. Their research incites the ire of demons and the attention of a disgraced priest, so if religious horror gets under your skin, prepare for sleepless nights. Even Konvitz, who wrote the darn thing, scared himself while writing it!
After the success of his debut, The Other, Tryon’s follow-up novel, Harvest Home, got a little lost in its shadow. But if anything, its just as good as its predecessor! Ned Constantine decides to relocate his family to small town Connecticut, hoping to escape the bustle of New York City. But while Cornwall Coombe seems straight out of a child’s storybook, the village isn’t without its shadowy figures, frightening history, and strange traditions. One such tradition is the annual Harvest Home festival—which, once the Constantines get involved, places the family inside a living nightmare. Fans of Children of the Corn, take note: Stephen King credits his famous short story to this 1974 bestseller.
This Bram Stoker Award winner pays tribute to the horror scene of 1950s Hollywood, following an interview between reclusive director Landis Woodley and reporter Clint Stockbern. As the pair pick apart Woodley’s career—including his notorious magnum opus, Cadaver—Stockbern discovers that the terrifying rumors surrounding the director's movies pale in comparison to the truth. Woodley’s stories will ring a bell for anyone familiar with behind-the-scenes horror film lore: Like Poltergeist (and several others) the set of the fictional Cadaver is supposedly cursed.
The Devil in Gray
From the author of The Manitou comes a chilling tale of all sorts of ghosts. Civil War-era grudges rise from the grave. A detective, haunted by a recent tragedy, sniffs out the trail of an elusive killer. As the past and the present-day come to a thrilling and gory head, you’ll wonder how The Devil in Gray managed to fly under everyone’s radar. An inventive combination of history and horror—and certainly not a tale for the easily spooked—it's time for this Masterton work to get its due.
If you’ve found yourself browsing Creepypasta late at night, you might be familiar with Dathan Auerbach’s runaway hit, Penpal. The book first came to fame on the horror fiction site, before finding its legs in a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Auerbach recounts the sinister experiences of his youth, connecting each memory to a larger story even a child’s imagination couldn’t cook up. Whether or not Penpal is fact or fiction is beside the point—regardless, your spine will tingle, your heart will pound, and your dreams will turn very, very dark.
Sure, the #1 rule of Fight Club is to never talk about Fight Club—but why aren’t more people talking about Palahniuk's Haunted? Somehow this story collection has been swept under the rug, though Palahniuk similarly brings his perverse sense of humor to a series of skin-crawling events. Here, we’re taken to a nightmarish writer’s retreat in which its seventeen guests must fight for their survival in an abandoned theater. As the game intensifies and living conditions worsen, things get gruesome faster than you can say "cannibalism!" None of Haunted’s 23 stories are for the faint of heart, so proceed with caution (or at least an empty stomach).
When Jan and her husband moved into a Greenwich Village townhouse, its only claim to fame was that it was the former residence of the late Mark Twain. Years later, it would be known as the “House of Death”—a place so disturbed by paranormal horrors that Jan felt compelled to put her story on paper. Spindrift is a chilling account of her experiences that describe how an initially benign haunting wound up taking multiple lives. Jan herself met a strange end, dying under mysterious circumstances shortly after leaving the home. The memoir has been out-of-print for decades, and we like to think it's because the publishers want to avoid the wrath of the 14 West 10th Street ghosts.
Michael McDowell was most well-known for penning the scripts behind Tim Burton classics like Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, but he was also an author of Southern gothic horror. One of his greatest works is The Elementals, which follows the vacationing McCray and Savage families after a tragic death. Hoping to put the past behind them, they abscond to the Alabama Gulf Coast to vacation in three beachfront Victorian houses. One of them is deceptively vacant—something evil lurks inside, and it has connections to the childhoods of both the McCray and Savage patriarchs. The Elementals received praise from authors like Stephen King and Peter Straub, who called McDowell “one of the best writers of horror in [America] or any other country.”
The Lottery and Other Stories
While Jackson’s “The Lottery” has become a staple of the genre, many of her other stories—all found in this collection—have been wrongfully overlooked. Jackson uses a deft hand when it comes to horror, grounding her stories in the mundane before introducing subtle elements of the macabre, the ominous, and the weird. Of the 25 stories here, most feature a mysterious man named “Jim,” “James,” or “James Harris,” who is always clad in a blue suit. Determining his identity is a puzzle that only pieces itself together after you’ve read the entire collection.
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