You know you’ve made it as a horror writer when your book has scared the master of horror himself, Stephen King. Ranging from the Victorian era to today, these nine horror books recommended by Stephen King are sure to give you something to scream about. From the thrilling to the downright terrifying, they all deserve a place on your “to be read” list.
Speaks the Nightbird
Set in 1699 in the Carolinas, a young widow named Rachel Howarth is about to be hung as a witch when Matthew Corbett, the magistrate’s clerk, becomes convinced of her innocence. When he examines the situation, it turns out many in the town have much to gain by Rachel’s death. Rather than the work of the devil, the true evil lies within the townspeople.
King said: "A rarity in popular fiction, a book that manages to be thoughtful as well as entertaining."
Before Wicker Man and King's own short story "Children of the Corn" from his short story collection , there was Thomas Tryon's 1973 pagan horror classic. A city-dwelling family, exhausted by urban life, decamps for the country and moves into a 300-year-old farmhouse in the rural village of Cornwall Coombe, Connecticut. The fresh arrivals are curious about the tight-knit community, and want to know more about their new neighbors and traditions. But they soon discover the townspeople—especially the women—are into something much, much darker.
King said: "Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, it is a true book; it is an honest book in the sense that it says exactly what Tryon wanted to say... [I]n forty years, when most of us are underground, there will still be a routine rebinding once a year for the library copies of Harvest Home."
The Great God Pan
Published in 1894, The Great God Pan scandalized its first readers. Today, the novella is considered to be an early work of gothic fiction. A man named Clarke is witness to a strange medical experiment, only to come in contact with a woman years later who is allegedly responsible for a string of suicides. Clarke comes to suspect that there is something sinister about this woman…and that she may not be human.
King said: ”One of the best horror stories ever written. Perhaps the best in the English language.”
The cell phones of today are capable of just about everything. They take amazing photos, have frighteningly clear reception—and some even open a gateway to Hell! Adult film director Peter Russell, grieving the death of his daughter, takes up work with a Los Angeles startup to promote their latest product: Trans, a revolutionary phone promising unparalleled mobile communication anywhere in the world. But sinister energies emanate from the device. Soon, Peter begins picking up messages from his murdered daughter, and comes into contact with the voices of angry, malevolent, hungry souls from beyond the grave.
King said: "A really excellent novel."
Fans of post-apocalyptic epics are sure to love this sprawling tale by South Africa's Deon Meyer. Nico Storm is just a boy, yet he's forced to confront a harsh and unforgiving land. The world lies in ruin after a virus devastates the planet's population, leaving behind few survivors. Together with his father, Willem, Nico must use his wits and extraordinary marksmanship to survive.
King said: "Reminiscent of The Stand and The Passage. Great stuff."
The Shrinking Man
King didn't recommend this particular title so much as the entirety of Matheson's body of work; the modern horror master has identified Matheson as one of his primary influences. Read Matheson's genre-bending tales of doomsday viruses, irradiated shrinking men, and monsters run amok, and it's easy to see the influence. In this early horror thriller, a brilliant pianist with a disturbed mind breaks free from the asylum in which he is held, and sets out on a revenge-fueled rampage of terror.
King said: "The author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson."
From the author of The Shining Girls, a book that owes much to King’s masterpiece, The Shining, Lauren Beukes’ fourth novel, Broken Monsters, is the story of serial killer with a strange M.O. He, or she, fuses the victims’ bodies together with the body of a deer. Detective Gabriella Versado is tasked with solving these bizarre and violent crimes, and at the same time, she must struggle to keep her willful teenage daughter safe from another kind of predator.
King said: "Scary as hell and hypnotic. I couldn't put it down. Next month. I'd grab it, if I were you.”
When a wealthy publishing magnate gets news that his days are numbered, he decides it’s worth his time (and money) to discover if there’s life after death—offering a $100,000 reward to anyone who can prove it. A group including a physicist, two mediums, and a medical doctor take him up on the challenge, going to Belasco House in Maine, which is also known as Hell House for the intense paranormal activity within its walls.
King said: “Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.”
Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s English language debut impressed the likes of Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. The Black Rock Witch haunts Black Spring, a small town in the Hudson Valley, and is out to avenge her death in the seventeenth century. The town’s officials know they have to keep the witch under wraps, or she’ll wreak havoc on the outside world. But Black Spring’s teenagers have a different, far more dangerous plan to rid their home of this monster.
King said: “A wicked witch holds an upstate New York town prisoner. This is totally, brilliantly original.”
A Head Full of Ghosts
A modern take on the classic exorcism story, the Barrett family at first thinks their 14-year-old daughter is suffering from severe schizophrenia. But when the doctors are baffled by her symptoms, the family calls in a Catholic priest for help. Desperate and strapped for cash, the Barretts agree to have their daughter’s exorcism filmed for a reality television show.
King said: “Scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.”
What begins as a relaxing vacation in Mexico quickly escalates into full-blown horror when two couples stumble upon some ancient Mayan ruins in the jungle.
King said: “The Ruins is your basic long scream of horror. It does for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for New England beaches in 1975.”
Soon to be an HBO series starring Amy Adams, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s debut novel tells the story of reporter Camille Preaker who must return to her hometown to cover the murder of two young girls. There’s only one problem: Camille is fresh from the psych ward herself, and in uncovering the story she’ll uncover demons from her own past.
King said: “I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them.”
The Haunting of Hill House
This classic horror novel from the author of the chilling short story “The Lottery” is not your typical haunted house tale. A doctor hopes to prove that Hill House is in fact haunted, and brings together four strangers in hopes that they will witness something paranormal. But as it turns out, the house has something else in mind for one of the strangers in particular—a young woman named Eleanor.
King said: “It seems to me that [The Haunting of Hill House] and James’s The Turn of the Screw are the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.”
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Featured photo of Stephen King: Alchetron