TV and film aren’t the only mediums that can successfully send chills up your spine. Horror books are able to tap into something film and tv can’t…not fully anyways.
Written word, whether a book, short story, web serial, or even Creepypasta, aren’t necessarily visual. Pictures may accompany them to add to the horror, but some of the most effective horror stories are able to militarize your own mind against you. It’s sort of one of the reasons some horror stories don’t translate as well to film or tv. Your imagination will always create something terrifying to YOU.
I’m not saying film or tv can’t utilize your imagination…some have done it extremely effectively. Haunting of Hill House is a good example. Once it was discovered there were “hidden” ghosts in the show, multiple watches started a chain reaction of over active imaginations. Was that shadow a ghost? Is that a ghost? I swear I saw a ghost!
But this list is about books and I’ve stalled long enough. Time for some Books to Give You a Little Fright:
10. Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
If you’re not a fan of being terrified with straight horror, this is a fun dip in the scare pond. Technically this is a science thriller with a mystery to be solved. An ancient creature is on a murdering spree at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History and it’s up to the protagonists to stop the creature before it kills again. Imagine wandering through a dark museum with death things everywhere all alone while a dangerous creature is stalking you. >shudders<
9. Cheerleaders: First Evil by R. L. Stine
If you were a horror fan as a kid I’m sure you recognize the name R. L. Stine…but DID YOU KNOW? He also wrote teen (young adult nowadays) books. His series Fear Street included some of my favorite books when I was in Middle School. The one that stuck with me though? First Evil. It’s about a killer cheerleader…need I say more? Granted…it’s a little hard to find these books now and I (stupidly) gave mine away when I went off to college. But if you ever stumble across the Fear Street series, be sure to check out First Evil (and Second Evil…and Third Evil…the sequels)
8. Cujo by Stephen King
I’m sorry. This list will be including 2 Stephen King books. But for different reasons. Cujo is on this list not necessarily for the horror of a large dog attacking you. It’s on this list because there are chapters from the dog’s POV. You’re in the mind of the dog as it slowly loses its mind from the rabies virus and King really knows how to write, pulling you deeper into Cujo’s madness, as well. And it’s brilliant!
7. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Yes, the book the Will Smith film was based on. I’m definitely more on the side of read the book versus watch the movie. Though I have to give this film credit that it DID film the original ending…but I’m disappointed they chose to go with a different ending. It changes the whole horror of the book. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen the film/knew about the alternate ending…but I definitely recommend reading the book.
6. Sphere by Michael Crichton
Crichton was so good at writing science fiction, true science fiction and making it not only interesting but also horrifying. I could’ve chosen Jurassic Park, but I think Sphere is constantly overlooked…possibly because of the film that was so-so. HOWEVER, even if you take away the terror of being at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, this book is scary. This is psychological horror at some of its best. If you’re a fan of The Thing film, this book is for you and when you read it….you may not agree, but I think they’re definitely bosom buddies.
5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
A governess is hired to watch over two children in a mansion she comes to believe is haunted. All right…YES, The Haunting of Bly Manor is based on this…even the same character names are used. HOWEVER!! I would argue the novella is just as scary as the series…plus the endings are different (along with a few other changes). This is also one of those stories that has many, many, MANY adaptations. But I love EVERY one of them.
4. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz & Stephen Gammell
One word: Illustrations. The illustrations in this collection of horror stories, poems, shorts, etc. are HORRIFYING!! Entire generations have seen these images in their nightmares. And while the film did a good job bringing the illustrations to life….for the MOST part, it did kind of wimp out on some of the horror. I understand it was a kids film, but you don’t know true terror and nightmare-fuel until you’ve sat in the dark with your friends, passing the book around with a flashlight and reading the book out loud. Especially with that ONE person who can do scary voices very well and having someone else walk in on the group at a truly scary part!….Sorry I just had a flashback…moving on…
3. IT by Stephen King
The second Stephen King book on the list. I could’ve made an ENTIRE list of King books but that would be boring….for other people. Why this book? No it’s not because of the recent films. Please. I first read IT when I was in middle school…did I understand all of it then? No, but it still scared the piss out of me. I mean, a killer entity that can bring your greatest fears to life and feeds off your fear is already horrifying. But that the adults of the town where it resides know about it (sort of) and just kind of accept that kids are going to die every twenty-seven years is just a kick in the ass.
2. Uzumaki by Junji Ito
I’m cheating a little bit here. This is a graphic novel so there’s more visual than a regular book. But I think the story is strong enough to definitely be included here. A town slowly devolves into chaos and madness when spirals take over. Not a group named spirals or a spell call spirals…literal spirals are taking over. As with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Jung Ito’s illustrations add to the horror. He is a master of Japanese horror and his style of drawing is so unique to him it’s difficult to translate into other mediums. Though a series based on this story is going to be released soon-ish and it looks like it is taking the style seriously and I AM HERE FOR IT!! >ahem< Bottom line…you should check this story out.
1. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Don’t let the massive size of this book scare you off (honestly, it’s no bigger than a Stephen King book). This is a unique book. It actually started as a story online. Many pages are written in odd manners. Some pages only have one word on them. Another may have the writing all around the edges of the paper and so on. But what is the story? It’s actually 2 stories in one. The first story is a guy who comes across the second story. The second story is about a house. A house that has a door into a room that never ends…and a child goes missing. I know this may not sound THAT scary, but Danielewski’s unique writing style and formatting adds a new level of terror as the reader is made uneasy as they delve deeper into a story that feels like the never ending room. I urge everyone to check this book out.
And now it’s time for 5 honorable mentions. They’re all scary in their own right, but for one reason or another they didn’t stick with me as well as those listed above…not saying they don’t have their own horror elements…just an opinion.
5. Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
A story that made an entire generation wonder….are my parents really my parents?
4. I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
A science fiction dystopian story with Artificial Intelligence and torture…fun.
3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
A classic gothic story for those who are fans of Bronte.
2. Necroscope by Brian Lumley
Vampires. Russian and British Spies. Speaking to the Dead. Need I say more?
1. Pet Seminary by Stephen King
Of course, King makes an appearance even on the honorable mentions.
Did I miss your favorite book that gave you nightmares for days after reading? Share below in the comments!