Nightmare Fuel: 10 Books That Will Haunt Your Dreams
Don’t make any plans for tomorrow—you’re in for a restless night.By Jessica Ferri August 1, 2016
You may want to rest up and recharge before you begin this reading list, because once you crack open any of these 10 terrifying books you can kiss a good night’s sleep goodbye. From horror master Shirley Jackson to the haunted halls of Jeffrey Konvitz’s The Sentinel, these books are an excellent source of nightmare fuel.
1. Cage of Bones, by Tania Carver
What’s in the Cage of Bones? Do you really want to know? When police detectives discover a feral child locked inside … you guessed it, a cage of bones, they quickly realize the boy may be their only hope to cracking a series of murders that have been unsolved for 30 years. Even worse, the killer wants the boy back … and now the detectives are in a race against time to capture the murderer who has been hiding in plain sight. Good luck sleeping soundly with the grisly images of Cage of Bones on your mind.
2. The Sentinel, by Jeffrey Konvitz
If you thought The Exorcist was terrifying, then 1974’s The Sentinel is for you—complete with creepy priests and nuns that are definitely up to no good. Like Rosemary’s Baby, The Sentinel involves a young woman moving into a gigantic Manhattan apartment. But as soon as she moves in, she begins to experience crippling migraines and strange behavior from her neighbors. But eerily, when Alison confronts the realtor about her weird neighbors, the realtor is confused. The only other person that lives in the building, she explains, is Father Francis Matthew Halloran. Terrified, Alison is determined to find out what’s going on in her building. But what she discovers is enough to have you running for the hills.
3. Harvest Home, by Thomas Tyron
The strange traditions and practices of a small town in the country are at the heart of this creepy novel by Thomas Tyron. The Constantine family hopes to escape the hustle and bustle of New York City, but find they are not exactly welcome in the small Connecticut town of Cornwall Coombe. As time goes on, the patriarch of the family and story’s narrator, Ned, finds that the villagers practice strange rituals for the harvest. The largest is called the Harvest Home, for which a Lord and Lady from the village are chosen to participate every year. But the truth behind this strange sacrifice is far more sinister than Ned could have imagined, leading to an unforgettable, horrifying climax.
4. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
Don’t be turned off by the publication date (1898) of this classic horror novella from Henry James. It is still one of the most terrifying ghost stories ever written. If you didn’t have the pleasure of reading it in your English class, there’s no time like the present. It has the trappings of all the classic gothic fiction: A governess takes a job caring for two young children named Flora and Miles. But it appears that they are not alone at the giant English manor house. Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, two former employees of the manse, have never left, despite the fact that they both died under mysterious circumstances. The governess suddenly finds that now she’s taken on the responsibility of protecting the children from two very threatening spirits who seem determined to take the children with them to the other side.
5. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
Stephen King called Shirley Jackson the finest horror writer America ever produced; and if it’s good enough for King, it’s good enough for us. Jackson published six novels during her lifetime, and The Haunting of Hill House is the scariest of the bunch. A psychologist invites two young women who have had paranormal experiences to the allegedly haunted Hill House to discredit the idea of real paranormal activity. But they find that the evil spirits in Hill House are all too real. Published in 1959, The Haunting of Hill House is now regarded as the finest haunted-house novel ever written.
6. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
Cult favorite House of Leaves is definitely not to be read home alone. Before you know it, you’ll start to hear unexplained sounds and your eyes will start playing tricks on you. The basic plot follows the story of the Navidson family, who move into a strange house that expands interiorly but not exteriorly over time. Danielewski’s unconventional narrative style, with jumps to different sections of the book and text written in footnotes and swirling circles, makes House of Leaves all the more unsettling. Fans have called for a movie adaptation since the book hit shelves in 2000. So far, no one’s been brave enough to take on the project.
7. IT, by Stephen King
As if clowns weren’t scary enough, Stephen King pretty much put the nail in the coffin of friendly clowns forever with his 1986 novel IT. Pennywise the clown isn’t real—he’s the literal embodiment of evil that takes the form of a clown to hunt his prey: Children. So if he isn’t real, he shouldn’t be able to hurt you, right? Wrong. The novel opens with Pennywise luring a young boy to a sewer drain, where he rips off his arm and leaves him to bleed to death. Despite its disturbing content, IT was the bestselling novel of 1986, and was made into an unforgettably scary TV miniseries starring Tim Curry in 1990. If you’re after a summer of sleepless nights, read the book that started it all before a new movie adaptation hits screens in 2017.
8. The October Country, by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury may be best remembered for his dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, but this 1955 collection of spooky stories is absolutely terrifying. Nearly all 19 of the stories collected here will get under your skin. “The Next in Line,” about a couple who visits an unusual Mexican cemetery, might be enough to permanently scar you from traveling forever. And if that’s not enough, “The Small Assassin,” about a woman who is convinced her infant is trying to kill her, might do the trick. These short but terrifying stories recall the golden age of 60s fright, similar to those presented on The Twilight Zone. Unsurprisingly, Bradbury wrote three episodes for the show: “The Elevator,” “The Burning Man,” and “I Sing the Body Electric.”
9. Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, by H.P. Lovecraft
Virtually unknown during his lifetime, the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft found its dedicated audience after his death in 1937. Though deeply influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, monsters and extraterrestrials that possess human beings and lead them to madness and disillusionment populate Lovecraft’s world. One of Lovecraft’s most terrifying stories, “The Shadow Out of Time,” is collected in this book, which may have been inspired by Lovecraft’s own upbringing. His father Winfield was psychotic and lived in a mental institution until his death, and his mother Sarah Susan lived in isolation with the young Lovecraft until 1919 when she, too, died of hysteria in a mental institution.
10. The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris
Thomas Harris’ bestselling novel The Silence of the Lambs gave us one of our favorite horror monsters: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In this book, Dr. Lecter works with Clarice Starling to solve the serial murders committed by one Buffalo Bill—and the gruesome descriptions of Bill’s M.O. (modus operandi), placing a pupa in the throat of the victim and carving large patches of flesh from her shoulders, will be forever emblazoned onto our memory. Though we’ve seen many iterations of Dr. Lecter now, thanks to movie adaptations of Harris’ work and the popular (but short-lived!) television series Hannibal, The Silence of the Lambs also has the added bonus of the amazing, kick-ass Clarice.
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Featured Photo: From Cover of The Haunting of Hill House via Penguin