Horror is a super fascinating genre. What might shock one reader is laughable to another. Ghosts, serial killers, great heaving monsters, the loss of self-control, plagues, and impossible physics all figure into our list, with entries spanning from the 1800s to the last few years. We’re prepared for you to question our choices, we ask only that you leave the chainsaw at home before doing so. Now, we present our choices for the best horror novels of all time.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The story of Dr. Frankenstein and the anguished, tragic monster he unwittingly creates has become a cultural icon. When Mary Shelley set out to write Frankenstein over two centuries ago, she said that she wanted to create a book that would “speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror — one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.” We can safely say that she succeeded.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Meet the most famous vampire of all time. Dracula is his story, one in which he roams from Transylvania to England to spread the curse of the undead amongst innocents. More than a simple tale about vampirism, Dracula is an era-defining masterwork about technology, superstition, and an ancient horror that’s too terrible for words.
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft was responsible for creating an entire mythology of elder gods, sinister sea-dwellers, mysterious cults, and men of science who are driven to the edge of their sanity. This volume remains one of the most accessible entry points into Lovecraft’s works.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
One man’s hero is another man’s villain. Doctor Robert Neville is the last man left alive. In the daylight, he hits the streets, stocking up on supplies and vanquishing the vampiric creature that lurk in the shadows. But when night falls, he squirrels himself away in his fortress of a home and works desperately on a cure for an epidemic that has ended the human race.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
When a parapsychologist invites a group of volunteers to stay at an old mansion with a bloody mystery, he hopes to uncover evidence of the supernatural. As the tension ratchets up, each of the guests is confronted by inexplicable phenomena. Listed by Stephen King as one of the best horror books of the 20th century, this is a must-read for any fan of the genre.
The Exorcist by William Blatty
No author creates sensation quite like William Peter Blatty and no story has satisfied a nation’s capacity for horror quite like The Exorcist. A literary landmark of the 21st-century, The Exorcist is the deeply troubling tale of one child’s demonic possession and two priests’ attempts to save her from a fate worse than death. Part family drama and all horror, it delivers on all fronts.
Carrie by Stephen King
Allegedly fished out of the trash by his wife, it’s hard to believe that this classic was only the first novel published by Stephen King. The title character struggles with school bullies, a puritanical mother, and unusual physical changes. Carrie gave early fans a glimpse of King’s greatest gifts: his ability to write sympathetic characters while also delivering on the big shocks.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is an interlacing of spooky fiction and chilling historical fact. It follows a professor and his daughter who become entrenched in the folklore of Vlad the Impaler, a major inspiration for Dracula. They soon realize that their connection to Vlad goes far beyond the scholarly. This connection becomes especially critical when their father disappears, and his daughter (our narrator) must use her knowledge to track him down.
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Jacob Marlowe is a werewolf with class: he drinks Scotch and enjoys all means of modern sophistication. However, he’s also undergoing an existential crisis: Jacob has to kill and eat a person every time there’s a full moon, and he doesn’t want to do it anymore. Fully prepared to commit suicide, he’s stopped in his tracks when he learns one of his friends has been murdered and embarks on a path of fatal vengeance — which just might give him a reason to live again.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
The basis for the Oscar-winning film, FBI trainee Clarice Starling enlists the help of Dr. Lecter to find “Buffalo Bill” — another killer on the loose. In order to do so, the inner workings of a very dark mind are probed, and spine-chilling suspense ensues.