You may want to rest up and recharge before you begin this reading list, because once you crack open any of these 10 terrifying books you can kiss a good night’s sleep goodbye. Reader, trust that these horror gurus know how to insight the scare you’re searching for. From fear master Shirley Jackson to the haunted halls of Jeffrey Konvitz’s The Sentinel, these books will give you nightmares.
Cage of Bones
What’s in the Cage of Bones? Do you really want to know? When police detectives discover a feral child locked inside … you guessed it, a cage of bones, they quickly realize the boy may be their only hope to cracking a series of murders that have been unsolved for 30 years. Even worse, the killer wants the boy back … and now Detectives Brennen and Esposito are in a race against time to capture the murderer who has been hiding in plain sight. To make matters worse, the discovery of the cage threatens to expose a wealth of secrets, including one that points to a possible madman who is a bit too close to home. Readers are calling this one a sharp and exciting thriller. Good luck sleeping soundly with the grisly images of Cage of Bones on your mind.
If you thought The Exorcist was terrifying, then 1974’s The Sentinel is for you – complete with creepy priests and nuns that are definitely up to no good. Like Rosemary’s Baby, The Sentinel involves a young woman moving into a gigantic Manhattan apartment. But as soon as she moves in, she begins to experience crippling migraines and strange behavior from her neighbors. Eerily, when Alison confronts the realtor about her weird neighbors, the realtor is confused. The only other person that lives in the building, she explains, is Father Francis Matthew Halloran, a priest who resides in the topmost apartment and rarely leaves his seat beside the window. Terrified, Alison is determined to find out what’s going on in her building. What she discovers is enough to have you running for the hills. And that ending... well, you’ll never see it coming.
The strange traditions and practices of a small town in the country are at the heart of this creepy novel by Thomas Tyron. The Constantine family has decided to leave New York City, hoping to escape the city’s hustle and bustle in favor of something a bit more tranquil. What they find is Cornwall Coombe, a quiet and peaceful town, seemingly untouched by time – everything they want. However, shortly after their arrival, the family finds their presence may not be entirely welcome. As time goes on, the patriarch of the family and story’s narrator, Ned, finds that the villagers practice strange rituals for the harvest. The largest is called the Harvest Home, for which a Lord and Lady from the village are chosen to participate every year. But the truth behind this strange sacrifice is far more sinister than Ned could have imagined, leading to an unforgettable, horrifying climax.
The Turn of the Screw
Don’t be turned off by the publication date (1898) of this classic horror novella from Henry James. It is still one of the most terrifying ghost stories ever written. If you didn’t have the pleasure of reading it in your English class, there’s no time like the present. It has the trappings of all the classic gothic fiction: A governess takes a job caring for two young children named Flora and Miles. But it appears that they are not alone at the giant English manor house.
Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, two former employees of the manse, have never left, despite the fact that they both died under mysterious circumstances. The governess suddenly finds that now she’s unwittingly taken on the responsibility of protecting the children from two very threatening spirits who seem determined to take the children with them to the other side. To make matters worse, the two children seem unmoved by the presence of the spirits. They seem to want to undead as much as the undead want them. It’s a story that stands the test of time, stilling living on as one of the scariest stories to date.
The Haunting of Hill House
Stephen King called Shirley Jackson the finest horror writer America ever produced; if it’s good enough for King, it’s good enough for us. Jackson published six novels during her lifetime, and The Haunting of Hill House is the scariest of the bunch. A psychologist invites two young women who have had paranormal experiences to the allegedly haunted Hill House to discredit the idea of real paranormal activity. But they find that the evil spirits in Hill House are all too real. Published in 1959, The Haunting of Hill House is now regarded as the finest haunted-house novel ever written. If you recognize the plot’s framework, that’s because it set the tone for most tales of haunted houses to follow. The book speaks to the love of being truly afraid, and will most certainly have you squirming with fear.
As if clowns weren’t scary enough, Stephen King pretty much put the nail in the coffin of friendly clowns forever with his 1986 novel IT. The novel takes place in a hauntingly familiar small town to readers, but with a twist - Pennywise. Pennywise the clown isn’t real – he’s the literal embodiment of evil that takes the form of a clown to hunt his prey: children. So if he isn’t real, he shouldn’t be able to hurt you, right? Wrong. The novel opens with Pennywise luring a young boy to a sewer drain, where he rips off his arm and leaves him to bleed to death. It’s up to a small group of daring children to overpower and outsmart the demon that wants them all dead. Despite its disturbing content, IT was the bestselling novel of 1986, and was made into an unforgettably scary TV miniseries starring Tim Curry in 1990. The newest movie adaption hit screens in late 2017 and scared us all senseless. We can promise you’ll never look at a simple birthday party clown the same again.
The October Country
Ray Bradbury continues to completely creep out his readers, long after his first story was published in 1947. You probably remember him best for his dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, but this 1955 collection of spooky stories is absolutely terrifying. Nearly all 19 of the stories collected here will get under your skin. “The Next in Line”, about a couple who visits an unusual Mexican cemetery, might be enough to permanently stop you from traveling anywhere. And if that’s not enough, “The Small Assassin”, about a woman who is convinced her infant is trying to kill her, might do the trick. The range of stories is incomparable, and they will draw on nearly every fear you knew you had… maybe even spark a few new ones. These short but terrifying stories recall the golden age of 60s fright, similar to those presented on The Twilight Zone. Unsurprisingly, Bradbury wrote three episodes for the show: “The Elevator,” “The Burning Man,” and “I Sing the Body Electric.” Bradbury represents the blending of science fiction and horror done right.
Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and Macabre
Virtually unknown during his lifetime, the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft found its dedicated audience after his death in 1937. Though deeply influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, monsters and extraterrestrials that possess human beings and lead them to madness and disillusionment populate Lovecraft’s world. He, with Poe, are considered the fathers of the absolutely bizarre.
One of Lovecraft’s most terrifying stories, “The Shadow Out of Time,” which may have been inspired by Lovecraft’s own upbringing, is collected in this book. His father Winfield was psychotic and lived in a mental institution until his death, and his mother Sarah Susan lived in isolation with the young Lovecraft until 1919 when she, too, died of hysteria in a mental institution. Lovecraft’s personal experience combined with his rich imagination of the dark and deadly make for a horrifying read.
But don’t pick up Lovecraft expecting a quick tale. His verbose language and intricate story lines make for an all-encompassing experience. You won’t even know what hit you.
The Silence of the Lambs
Thomas Harris’ bestselling novel The Silence of the Lambsgave us one of our favorite horror monsters: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In this book, Dr. Lecter works with Clarice Starling to solve the serial murders committed by one Buffalo Bill – the gruesome descriptions of Bill’s M.O. (modus operandi), placing a pupa in the throat of the victim and carving large patches of flesh from her shoulders, will be forever emblazoned onto our memory. The killer’s motive: showing that beauty is only skin deep. The only man who can help the detectives is currently locked in an insane asylum, and for good reason. He’ll offer his insight to the detectives for only one thing in return: his freedom. Though we’ve seen many iterations of Dr. Lecter now, thanks to movie adaptations of Harris’ work and the popular (but short-lived!) television series Hannibal, The Silence of the Lambs also has the added bonus of the amazing, kick-ass Clarice Starling.
Featured Photo: From Cover of The Haunting of Hill House via Penguin