Though we’re months away from Halloween, it’s never too early to get a head start on spooky season. While you may be most familiar with scary movies, books are reliable scares, too. Ghosts, haunted mansions, and murderous vampires are just a few classic horror tropes and these books offer those in abundance. From The Shining to The Exorcist, here are the 25 best horror books of all time.
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The Shining by Stephen King
You can’t talk about horror without mentioning Stephen King. Over the course of his nearly five-decade-long career, he’s brought us killer clowns, murderous fan girls, and, of course, haunted hotels. When Jack Torrance takes a job as the off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, he becomes possessed by the building’s supernatural forces.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
You’re probably familiar with this story. When a demonic spirit possesses an 11-year-old girl, Catholic priests are called to her home to perform an exorcism. The book was so popular that the iconic film adaptation was released just two years after its publication.
The Monk by Matthew Lewis
What’s more horrific than a creepy monk? After Ambrosio finds himself infatuated with a young girl, he abandons his religious values for a life riddled with immorality. Widely regarded as one of the first Gothic novels ever written, The Monk was condemned at the time of its publication in 1796 and the author even had to make revisions to avoid charges of blasphemy.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
As one of the first novels to initiate the “horror boom” of the 1960s, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a woman who is pregnant with the spawn of Satan. For Rosemary, what ensues is debilitating pain, extreme weight loss, and an intense craving for raw meat. Read at your own risk.
Carmilla by by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu Lanternfish Press
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Who doesn’t love vampires? Carmilla is about a female vampire who becomes obsessed with a young woman. The book has an undercurrent of romance and lust, though the relationship is never explicitly named. Supernatural figures and dark castles are key elements in this story, and it even inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was published years later.
There are very few characters as iconic as Count Dracula. In this 1897 classic horror novel, Dracula leaves his home of Transylvania in order to find fresh blood over in England. When word gets around that there’s a vampire in town, a small group hunts him down, with the intention to kill.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Penguin Classics
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One key element of every classic horror novel is the lasting omnipresence of its characters in popular culture, and Frankenstein has exactly that. When the scientist Victor Frankenstein conducts an experiment to create a sentient being, the creature he makes ends up being more grotesque and sinister than he could have imagined.
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi Penguin Books
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Just like the 1818 classic, this newer interpretation of Frankenstein is all about the pitfalls of creation. In Baghdad, a scavenger named Hadi collects various body parts and sews them together to create a corpse. But when the corpse becomes sentient and goes missing, several mysterious murders start to take over the city. And just like Victor Frankenstein, Hadi realizes that he has created a monster.
“124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” So begins Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Though we may not readily classify Morrison as a horror writer, she was well acquainted with ghosts. Beloved follows a formerly enslaved woman named Sethe (played by Oprah in the film adaptation) who is haunted by her deceased daughter.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
If you watched and loved the Netflix series, then get acquainted with the 1959 gothic horror novel that started it all. When four people, including an occult scholar and a poltergeist specialist, travel to the haunted Hill House, they begin to experience bizarre paranormal activities. The author Shirley Jackson reportedly studied traditional ghost stories to accurately deliver this haunting story.
Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
What’s more horrific than cannibalism? When it’s first reported that a virus has made all animal meat poisonous, the government begins transitioning to human flesh, making cannibalism completely legal. Marcos takes a job working in the meat processing plant in order to support his dying father and must now deal with the insanity and horror of his changing world.