26 Best Horror Books From the Past 150 Years

    We love a good scare, but there's something about horror books that take it to the next level. 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 contemporary masterpieces—to bring you 26 of the best horror books of all time. Beware ... and settle in for 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

    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.

    1895

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

    1987

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

    2014

    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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