As Halloween approaches, what better time is there to fill your minds with abject horror? Movies, books, haunted hayrides…whatever your poison may be (see what I did there?), load up on it now while it’s in season. Don’t worry, you have the news to fill up the rest of the year, so take the time to relax with ghouls and goblins and whatever may be hiding under your bed.
Since this is a language blog, I figured I’d list the top 10 scariest novels of all time to get you started. Of course, this is a matter of people’s opinions, but I put the list together from various other resources and similar lists across numerous sites, as well as ones I’ve read myself. So take it with a grain of salt (or garlic?) and feel free to add your own to the list in the comments section.
1. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
One of the original and greatest haunted house novels ever written. At least according to all the lists. This one was frequently among the top, and probably due to it being an influence for many more modern haunted house stories. But don’t let the age of the novel fool you. Shirley Jackson is known for her skill at crafting truly terrifying tales.
2. The Shining – Stephen King
This one is on everyone’s list, and I hate to say it, but I’ve never actually read it. However, I do consider the movie version to be one of the most terrifying, so even though the book may be way different (or so I’ve read), I’m sure the terror is dripping in spades. The Overlook Hotel, the twin girls at the end of the hallway, the magically stocked bar, the party hat in the elevator, the blood-smeared walls, the naked woman from the bathtub transforming into a rotting corpse, Jack Nicholson’s hairline…oh wait, movie version. Sorry.
3. Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark – Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell
If you were a child from 1981-1991, then this was the scariest thing you have ever read, and probably shaped you in ways your therapist is only starting to understand. The stories are gatherings of different folklore, urban legends and tales from different parts of the world and retold by the author. However, it wasn’t just the stories that were terrifying. The illustrations by Stephen Gammell were the real culprit. It was a perfect marriage of author and illustrator for this book (and subsequent sequels). They recently re-released the books for this generation, however with a different illustrator, which in my opinion was a HUGE mistake.
4. The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum
Based (loosely) on a true story about a girl from Indiana named Sylvia Likens, who was brutally tortured and murdered by her temporary caregiver, Ketchum’s novel delves into the graphic and gruesome details of the abuse sustained in the original case. I did not read this book, but I watched the two different movie versions of the story (no, not the one with Emile Hirsch of the same name…although that is also terrifying in its own way). What makes this so terrifying is that this actually happened! Although some of the details were changed for the book and movies, the true horror and abuse that this girl went through at the hands of the mother and her young sons and sons’ friends is completely true. The terror lies in knowing that this can be happening in any Smalltown, USA, even right next door, and you have no clue.
5. Pet Sematary – Stephen King
This was my first Stephen King book I read when I was in 4th grade. I was obsessed with the movie at the time (I only wanted to watch horror movies as a kid, go figure) and would watch it with my friends at all the sleepover parties I attended. I’m sure their mothers were thrilled whenever I showed up with VHS in hand. I remember it took me awhile to get through the book (I was in 4th grade afterall) but it was a truly scary book in its own right. I remember that there were some significant differences between the book and the movie, however I can’t tell you what they are now. The story tells the tale of a place where local children bury their dead pets in the woods. However, just behind the Pet Sematary is an ancient Indian burial ground, where if you bury something dead there, it comes back to life. Most of the pets buried in the cemetery are victims of the heavy traffic on the road, which also happens to run past the home of the Creed family, the book’s protagonists. Things quickly turn dark when the family cat is killed, buried in the the Pet Sematary, only to show up alive and…different… a few days later, leading to a domino effect of bad stuff going down.
6. The House of Leaves – Mark Danielewski
This one I did read! This book is an interesting one, as it’s not just the story itself that makes the book what it is, but the actual typography of the book itself gets very weird and adds to the suspense of the novel. After returning from a trip, the Navidson family notices that there’s something wrong with their home, wherein the measurements outside the house don’t add up to the measurements inside. Soon they start to discover that doors appear where there weren’t any before, and behind them appear an endless staircase, labyrinths, and just plain enormous darkness. Characters report hearing a low growl, as if the house, itself, is a monster. It’s scary in an unsettling, weird, sort of way.
7. The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty
We’ve all seen the movie. If you thought it was terrifying, I’ve heard that the book is even more-so. This was on numerous lists, and once again, I have to take their word on it. If being possessed by Satan is up your alley, then read the most famous story about it.
8. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
I’ve read this one, and it’s actually one of my favorite books in general just because of Ellis’ writing style and the dry wit (yes, there are many funny parts as well in the novel). Perhaps one of the most disturbing and controversial modern classics around. There were massive protests by women groups when it was released and many countries still sell it in shrink wrap. That being said, it’s still a very well written novel and truly shows off the skill of Bret Easton Ellis. However, This book is intense, and that’s coming from someone who was raised on horror movies. Sure, there’s a lot of violence and graphic depictions, but what’s really terrifying is the way Ellis draws you into the character of Patrick Bateman. for the first 100 pages, he’s going into really in-depth descriptions of fashion, men’s suits, and the Genesis’ music catalog and then before you even realize it, transitions ever so smoothly into the violence without skipping a beat, describing the murders in the same in-depth detail he was just using to describe a facial cleanser. It really makes you start to question your own sanity. The movie is hysterical though. Different from the book, but both are great in their own right.
9. The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
Who hasn’t seen the movie? Just like the Exorcist, it’s a modern classic and just like the Exorcist, I’ve read the book is just as good if not better. So give it a try and let me know!
10. The Complete Tales and Poems – Edgar Allan Poe
The father of the modern detective/mystery story and a master at the macabre. His tales are fear-inducing, mostly due to the psychological torment Edgar Allen Poe is able to beautifully describe in a most poetic and effective way. Although his writings are more than a century old, they still hold up today and create a very nostalgic feeling in the reader, which only adds to the fear-factor anyway.
11. (one more for good measure) 1984 – George Orwell
Scary not in a horror sense, obviously, but nonetheless terrifying. This is also one of my favorite novels, and I find it gets even more terrifying as the years go by since you realize more and more that the things from this book are becoming a reality. The future looks like it’s going to bleak people, so read it now while it’s still considered science-fiction.
Do you have books you’d like to add to this list? Please leave them in the comments section!