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26 Best Horror Books From the Past 150 Years

By The Lineup Staff

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We love a good scare, but there’s something about horror books that take it to the next level. From the truly terrifying to the horrifically gruesome, the best horror comes in all shapes and sizes. We’ve scoured the shelves—from the classics to contemporary masterpieces—to bring you 26 of the best horror books of all time. Beware … and settle in for frighteningly good tales.

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Carmilla, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1871)

best horror books carmilla

One of the earliest works of vampire fiction, this Gothic horror novel was originally serialized in the magazine The Dark Blue and tells the story of Laura, her father, and the mysterious young visitor—Carmilla—who comes to stay with them.

The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers (1895)

best horror books king in yellow

This collection of supernatural horror stories gets its name from a forbidden play that causes madness upon anyone who reads it. Chambers’ book contains 10 stories, spanning from ghost tales to sinister evil.

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James (1898)

best horror books turn of screw

Horrifying enough to scare you out of ever wanting to be a governess, this classic novella follows a young woman who cares for two children at their summer home … and begins to see strange people in the yard.

The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft (1926)

best horror books call of cthulhu

Lovecraft’s horrifying story is about an underwater monster that comes to life and threatens the human race. One of the author’s most terrifying short stories, it was originally published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales.

The October Country, by Ray Bradbury (1955)

nightmare fuel october country

While Bradbury may be best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, he’s also a fantastic horror writer. This macabre short story collection will give you plenty of sleepless nights.

The Sentinel, by Jeffrey Konvitz (1974)

best horror books sentinel

The book that inspired the 1977 film of the same name centers on Alison Parker, a young woman with a troubling reclusive Catholic priest for a neighbor in her New York City brownstone. When she hears strange, loud noises coming from upstairs, she’s horrified to find that no one lives there besides the creepy priest.

Shadowland, by Peter Straub (1980)

best horror books shadowland

The line between magic and horror is blurred in Peter Straub’s novel. When two young boys begin to learn magic from one of the boy’s uncle, they realize that this terrifying evil is more than just a trick.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981)

scary children books scary stories to tell in the dark

This now-infamous collection of short stories was intended for children, but between its terrifying illustrations and bone-chilling tales based on urban legends and folklore, it’s sure to terrify readers of any age.

Dark Companions, by Ramsey Campbell (1982)

best horror books dark companions

Featuring what Stephen King called “one of the three finest horror stories I have ever read,” this collection of horrifying tales brings readers face to face with their worst nightmares—in the form of sinister “companions.”

The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill (1983)

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When solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to settle the affairs of Mrs. Drablow, things take a horrifying turn for the worse as he is haunted by mysterious occurrences in her home.

The Damnation Game, by Clive Barker (1985)

best horror books damnation game

This cautionary Faustian tale involves a man who made a pact with a devilish man, and the horrific events that ensue as he’s pressured to complete his end of the bargain.

Song of Kali, by Dan Simmons (1985)

best horror books song of kali

Journalist Robert Luczak travels to Calcutta to locate poetry of the allegedly deceased M. Das. There he finds a terrifying cult devoted to Kali, the goddess of death.

Misery, by Stephen King (1987)

scariest stephen king books misery

While most of Stephen King’s works could be included in this list, we’re highlighting Misery for its sheer, realistic terror. When fictional writer Paul Sheldon is in a car crash, he’s rescued by his biggest, psychotic fan … who proceeds to imprison and torture him.

Swan Song, by Robert M. McCammon (1987)

best horror books swan song

A young psychic, Swan, is at the center of a nuclear wasteland. This post-apocalyptic novel is a terrifying look at the destruction of war.

The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum (1989)

horror novels girl next door

Ketchum’s novel is loosely inspired by real events. The story tells of two sisters, Meg and Susan, who are put into the custody of their horrifyingly abusive aunt after their parents are killed.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer, by Thomas Ligotti (1989)

best horro rbooks songs of a dead dreamer

This collection of horror stories has been compared to the works of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re a fan of supernatural horror, this anthology is a must-read.

Naomi’s Room, by Jonathan Aycliffe (1991)

best horror books naomi room

This gripping tale follows parents Charles and Laura after the disappearance and death of their four-year-old daughter Naomi. But Naomi doesn’t rest in peace—haunting her parents as other murders follow.

American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)

psycho books american psycho

This infamous work gives readers a peek inside the mind of a psychopath. The story is narrated by Patrick Bateman—a man who spends his days earning his fortune on Wall Street, and his nights torturing victims as a serial killer.

Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons (1991)

horror novels summer of night

This thrilling novel is the first in a series written by acclaimed author Dan Simmons, winner of the Hugo Award for his book Hyperion. Set in small town Illinois, five boys must band together to fight the evil that threatens to destroy everyone they know.

The Bell Witch, by Brent Monahan (1997)

real hauntings books Bell Witch

Based on a true story, The Bell Witch follows the Bell family, who come to be haunted by a relentless spirit living in their Tennessee home.

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielweski (2000)

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In a mysterious house, doors and passageways appear with no apparent destination, and measurements that don’t match that of the house’s exterior. The family that moves in must contend with the mysterious evil festering inside their new home.

Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk (2002)

best horror books lullaby

This winner of the 2003 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award follows a reporter investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When he uncovers the source of the deaths, he gains the power to kill, and sets out to prevent others from using it.

The Ritual, by Adam Nevill (2011)

best horror books ritual

Winner of the 2012 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel, this story follows four old college friends whose efforts to reconnect get them lost in the Scandinavian wilderness. When they stumble upon what appears to be the remains of a sacrificial ritual, they discover they are not alone.

Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach (2012)

underrated horror books penpal

A kindergarten class ties letters to balloons and lets them go in hopes of getting a penpal in return. When one falls into the hands of an obsessive stalker, every mother’s worst nightmare ensues.

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill (2013)

best horror books NOS4A2

Spanning several decades, Vic is tormented by her past—and the child abductor, Manx, who tried to take her years ago. But Manx is on the loose again, and is determined to get even by taking Vic’s own son.

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman (2014)

best horror books bird box

When you see it, you’re driven to deadly violence … but the only problem is no one knows what ‘it’ is. Five years after the madness begins, Malorie and her two young children flee, blindfolded, to a place that might be safe—setting out on a terrifying journey.

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