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26 Best Horror Books from the Past 150 Years

We know you love a good scare.

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 26 of the best horror books of all time. Beware ... and settle in for a night of frighteningly good tales.

Limited-Time Offer: Download a FREE copy of Edgar Allan Poe's creepy collection The Complete Short Stories when you sign up for The Lineup's newsletter!

1871

Buy Carmilla at Amazon

Carmilla

By J. Le Fanu

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.

Carmilla

By J. Le Fanu

1895

Buy The King in Yellow at Amazon

The King in Yellow

By Robert Chambers

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.

The King in Yellow

By Robert Chambers

1898

Buy The Turn of the Screw at Amazon

The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James

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.

The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James

1926

Buy The Call of Cthulhu at Amazon

The Call of Cthulhu

By H.P. Lovecraft

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.

The Call of Cthulhu

By H.P. Lovecraft

1955

Buy The October Country at Amazon

The October Country

By Ray Bradbury

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 October Country

By Ray Bradbury

1974

Buy The Sentinel at Amazon

The Sentinel

By Jeffrey Konvitz

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.

The Sentinel

By Jeffrey Konvitz

1980

Buy Shadowland at Amazon

Shadowland

By Peter Straub

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.

Shadowland

By Peter Straub

1981

Buy Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark  at Amazon

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

By Alvin Schwartz

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.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

By Alvin Schwartz

1982

Buy Dark Companions at Amazon

Dark Companions

By Ramsey Campbell

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.”

Dark Companions

By Ramsey Campbell

1983

Buy The Woman in Black at Amazon

The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill

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.

The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill

1985

Buy The Damnation Game at Amazon

The Damnation Game

By Clive Barker

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.

The Damnation Game

By Clive Barker

1985

Buy Song of Kali at Amazon

Song of Kali

By Dan Simmons

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.

Song of Kali

By Dan Simmons

1987

Buy Misery at Amazon

Misery

By Stephen King

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.

Misery

By Stephen King

1987

Buy Swan Song at Amazon

Swan Song

By Robert R. Mccammon

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.

Swan Song

By Robert R. Mccammon

1989

Buy The Girl Next Door at Amazon

The Girl Next Door

By Jack Ketchum

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.

The Girl Next Door

By Jack Ketchum

1989

Buy Songs of a Dead Dreamer at Amazon

Songs of a Dead Dreamer

By Thomas Ligotti

This collection of horror stories has been compared to the works of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re a fan of supernatural horror, this anthology is a must-read.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer

By Thomas Ligotti

1991

Buy Naomi’s Room at Amazon

Naomi’s Room

By Jonathan Aycliffe

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.

Naomi’s Room

By Jonathan Aycliffe

1991

Buy American Psycho at Amazon

American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis

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.

American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis

1991

Buy Summer of Night at Amazon

Summer of Night

By Dan Simmons

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.

Summer of Night

By Dan Simmons

1997

Buy The Bell Witch at Amazon

The Bell Witch

By Brent Monahan

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.

The Bell Witch

By Brent Monahan

2000

Buy House of Leaves at Amazon

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielweski

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.

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielweski

2002

Buy Lullaby at Amazon

Lullaby

By Chuck Palahniuk

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.

Lullaby

By Chuck Palahniuk

2011

Buy The Ritual at Amazon

The Ritual

By Adam Nevill

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.

The Ritual

By Adam Nevill

2012

Buy Penpal at Amazon

Penpal

By Dathan Auerbach

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.

Penpal

By Dathan Auerbach

2013

Buy NOS4A2 at Amazon

NOS4A2

By Joe Hill

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.

NOS4A2

By Joe Hill

2014

Buy Bird Box at Amazon

Bird Box

By Josh Malerman

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.

Bird Box

By Josh Malerman

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Created on 11 Jan 2017
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