From the truly terrifying to the horrifically gruesome, the best horror comes in all shapes and sizes. We've scoured the shelves—from the classics to modern masterpieces—to bring you 52 of the best horror books of all time. Beware ... and settle in for a night of frighteningly good tales.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein isn't just a great horror story—it's also arguably the earliest true science fiction novel. Shelley's mad scientist/horror monster mash-up laid the groundwork for everything from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Alien.
One of the earliest works of vampire fiction, this Gothic horror novel was originally serialized in the magazine The Dark Blue and tells the story of Laura, her father, and the mysterious young visitor—Carmilla—who comes to stay with them.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Gothic horror is known as the good stuff for a reason. This late 1800s effort from one of the founding fathers of genre fiction is a great early example of how insightful and personal horror can be. Is there a monster in all of us? Well, there’s one in Dr. Jekyll, at any rate.
The King in Yellow
This collection of supernatural horror stories gets its name from a forbidden play that causes madness upon anyone who reads it. Chambers’ book contains 10 stories, spanning from ghost tales to sinister evil.
Bram Stoker's Dracula drew on folklore to create its titular monster, but it also established the tropes that would define vampire fiction for hundreds of years to come. As an epistolary novel (that is, told in letters), Dracula is also arguably a forerunner of the found-document horror trope.
The Turn of the Screw
Horrifying enough to scare you out of ever wanting to be a governess, this classic novella follows a young woman who cares for two children at their summer home … and begins to see strange people in the yard.
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The Phantom of the Opera
The tortured Phantom that stalks the Palais Garnier opera house in Leroux's novel is one of the great characters in horror fiction. The inspiration for multiple adaptations, including the famous musical, this novel still holds up more than a hundred years after it was first published.
The Call of Cthulhu
Lovecraft’s horrifying story is about an underwater monster that comes to life and threatens the human race. One of the author’s most terrifying short stories, it was originally published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales.
Related: 11 Books for Fans of H.P. Lovecraft
The Werewolf of Paris
Endore's classic werewolf story is a horror novel that doubles as historical fiction. Endore sets his story in the early 1870s, during the Franco-Prussian War—an event that was pretty distant history even in Endore's time.
I Am Legend
A classic work of speculative fiction, Matheson's novel I Am Legend is also one of the greatest vampire novels ever written. Set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vampires, I Am Legend is clever and unforgettable.
The October Country
While Bradbury may be best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, he’s also a fantastic horror writer. This macabre short story collection will give you plenty of sleepless nights.
The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson is one of the greatest horror novelists of all time. In The Haunting of Hill House, she starts with a classic haunted-house setting and a Gothic horror mood and builds a compelling narrative full of delightfully terrifying set pieces.
A bestseller in its day, Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby is a disturbing horror tale that turns the excitement and fears of pregnancy into truly dark horrors. This was the inspiration for the film of the same name, which is also a classic.
The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World
This collection of short stories from horror master Harlan Ellison includes his most famous work, "A Boy and His Dog," which you might remember from the film adaptation of the same name. Ellison's work blends science fiction and horror.
Sometimes overshadowed by the all-time classic film adaptation, William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist is a classic in its own right. Blatty drew the inspiration for his novel from Roland Doe, a terrifying real-life case of alleged satanic possession.
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The book that inspired the 1977 film of the same name centers on Alison Parker, a young woman with a troubling reclusive Catholic priest for a neighbor in her New York City brownstone. When she hears strange, loud noises coming from upstairs, she’s horrified to find that no one lives there besides the creepy priest.
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First Love, Last Rites
In this early effort from literary giant Ian McEwan, the author is still finding his voice—and is experimenting quite a bit with genre fiction in general and horror fiction in particular. This short story collection is worth a read for McEwan fans and horror fans alike.
Stephen King's reign as the king of horror began in earnest with his third novel. The Shining is weighty and powerful, and it showcases King's ability to tie his stories' horrors to his characters and their flaws in a way that gets readers thinking about more than just the scares.
Straub is one of horror's greats, and Ghost Story was the turning point in his career. In Ghost Story, a group of aging men find themselves haunted—literally—by a terrible crime that they committed when they were still young boys.
We can't stop at just one! The line between magic and horror is blurred in Peter Straub’s novel. When two young boys begin to learn magic from one of the boy’s uncle, they realize that this terrifying evil is more than just a trick.
Related: Shadowland: 9 Best Peter Straub Books for a Night of Horror
In The Elementals, two vacationing families are plagued by a horror in a third nearby house. The Elementals is arguably the best work from an author beloved by horror fans and writers alike—no less a talent than Stephen King, among others, has sung McDowell's praises.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This now-infamous collection of short stories was intended for children, but between its terrifying illustrations and bone-chilling tales based on urban legends and folklore, it’s sure to terrify readers of any age.
Related: 14 Horror Books for Fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Featuring what Stephen King called “one of the three finest horror stories I have ever read,” this collection of horrifying tales brings readers face to face with their worst nightmares—in the form of sinister “companions.”
The Woman in Black
When solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to settle the affairs of Mrs. Drablow, things take a horrifying turn for the worse as he is haunted by mysterious occurrences in her home.
Printed alongside other stories, this novella (which was first published in 1984) stands as one of Butler's greatest works. It's an unsettling piece of speculative fiction set in a universe where humans are bound to and abused by alien overlords.
The Damnation Game
This cautionary Faustian tale involves a man who made a pact with a devilish man, and the horrific events that ensue as he’s pressured to complete his end of the bargain.
Song of Kali
Journalist Robert Luczak travels to Calcutta to locate poetry of the allegedly deceased M. Das. There he finds a terrifying cult devoted to Kali, the goddess of death.
The Light at the End
Skipp and Spector team up to deliver a vampire novel with a twist: this story is set within the punk community of New York City. The weird and wild world of 1980s New York makes the perfect backdrop for this strange and spooky tale.
While most of Stephen King’s works could be included in this list, we’re highlighting Misery for its sheer, realistic terror. When fictional writer Paul Sheldon is in a car crash, he’s rescued by his biggest, psychotic fan … who proceeds to imprison and torture him.
Related: 11 Nightmare-Inducing Authors to Check Out After You've Read Everything by Stephen King
A young psychic, Swan, is at the center of a nuclear wasteland. This post-apocalyptic novel is a terrifying look at the destruction of war.
Zodiac is a thriller with a touch of horror and an environmentalist bent. Stephenson's novel sees its environmentalist protagonist uncover a disturbing truth about pollution in Boston Harbor.
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The Girl Next Door
Ketchum’s novel is loosely inspired by real events. The story tells of two sisters, Meg and Susan, who are put into the custody of their horrifyingly abusive aunt after their parents are killed.
Songs of a Dead Dreamer
This collection of horror stories has been compared to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re a fan of supernatural horror, this anthology is a must-read.
Aldiss' take on the vampire novel is creative and daring. In Dracula Unbound, a time-traveling man tries to save mankind from the undead by heading to the 1800s to find Bram Stoker, author of the original Dracula.
Robert McCammon is a titan of genre-bending fiction, and Boy's Life is considered by some fans and critics to be his very finest work. Broad in scope and character-oriented, this novel is every bit as good as Swan Song.
Related: 12 Creepy Robert McCammon Books That Will Keep You Awake At Night
This gripping tale follows parents Charles and Laura after the disappearance and death of their four-year-old daughter Naomi. But Naomi doesn’t rest in peace—haunting her parents as other murders follow.
This infamous work gives readers a peek inside the mind of a psychopath. The story is narrated by Patrick Bateman—a man who spends his days earning his fortune on Wall Street, and his nights torturing victims as a serial killer.
Summer of Night
This thrilling novel is the first in a series written by acclaimed author Dan Simmons, winner of the Hugo Award for his book Hyperion. Set in small town Illinois, five boys must band together to fight the evil that threatens to destroy everyone they know.
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The Bell Witch
Based on a true story, The Bell Witch follows the Bell family, who come to be haunted by a relentless spirit living in their Tennessee home.
House of Leaves
In a mysterious house, doors and passageways appear with no apparent destination, and measurements that don’t match that of the house’s exterior. The family that moves in must contend with the mysterious evil festering inside their new home.
This winner of the 2003 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award follows a reporter investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When he uncovers the source of the deaths, he gains the power to kill, and sets out to prevent others from using it.
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Let the Right One In
This Swedish horror novel follows the story of a young boy and his friendship with an enchanting but strange little girl. It's a creepy and thrilling read about friendship, trust, and secrets.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
If your favorite part of speculative fiction is the speculation, then you should check out this sweeping look at a fictional war against zombies. In contrast to the fun but dumb movie adaptation, there are no quick fixes and simple plot arcs here: the book really reads like a historical document.
Dan Simmons' The Terror mashes up the horror and historical fiction genres. Using Captain Sir John Franklin's lost expedition through the Northwest Passage as a jumping-off point, Simmons creates a creepy story set in the Arctic.
Brian Evenson is a dark prince of modern horror, and this award-winning tale stands as one of his most visceral nightmares. To apprehend a cult leader's killer, a former detective must sacrifice everything: his mind, his sanity, and his body one part at a time.
Winner of the 2012 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel, this story follows four old college friends whose efforts to reconnect get them lost in the Scandinavian wilderness. When they stumble upon what appears to be the remains of a sacrificial ritual, they discover they are not alone.
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A kindergarten class ties letters to balloons and lets them go in hopes of getting a penpal in return. When one falls into the hands of an obsessive stalker, every mother’s worst nightmare ensues.
Spanning several decades, Vic is tormented by her past—and the child abductor, Manx, who tried to take her years ago. But Manx is on the loose again, and is determined to get even by taking Vic’s own son.
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When you see it, you’re driven to deadly violence … but the only problem is no one knows what ‘it’ is. Five years after the madness begins, Malorie and her two young children flee, blindfolded, to a place that might be safe—setting out on a terrifying journey.
Presented as an oral history, Hand's 2015 novel tells the story of a British psychedelic folk group that holes up in an old country house to work on their next album. Things get weird fast, and not just because of the acid.
Genre-hopping literary master Joyce Carol Oates has written more than her fair share of genre fiction, and she shows her skills in the horror space with this excellent collection of six imaginative and scary short stories.
A modern marvel from John Langan, this novel is about desperation and dark dealings. Set in Upstate New York, Langan's novel introduces a rural creek that is rumored to hold some impossible secret. His characters set out to find it.
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