The 16 Scariest Books of All Time

Do yourself a favor: Don't read these scary books right before bed.

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'Salem's Lot' by Stephen KIng

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If you really want to not be able to put a book down, go back to the earliest books written by King. This was his first vampire novel, which he wrote before vampires became a thing. Deliciously chilling. (Related: These scary vampire legends might just be true.)

'Those Across the River' by Christopher Buehlman

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In 1935, a professor fleeing scandal and his wife move back to a family home in Georgia; it’s located near the ruins of a plantation that was owned by his ancestors. Every month in a strange, sacrificial ritual, the townspeople garland two pigs with flowers and send them across the river; inevitably, the animals never return. What exactly is consuming them? And what will happen when the residents stop sending pigs? A supernatural-inflected Southern gothic that illustrates the price we pay for the sins of the past.

'The Exorcist' by William Peter Blatty

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The reason this was made into one of the scariest movies of all time is because it was one of the scariest novels of all times. It was fresh and new when it was written, and nobody’s devil has ever topped it. (Related: These horror films were inspired by true stories.)

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'The Ruins' by Scott Smith

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A group of young, happy-go-lucky travelers in the Mexican jungle stumbles upon the site of ancient ruins—and ancient evil. Think Jaws, but with plants. And if you think that the botanical kingdom can’t be turned into a source of fear, well, you haven’t read this book.

'Coraline' by Neil Gaiman

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This book contains perhaps the scariest idea of all time: your other mother. And this novel shows you what happens when the brilliant Neil Gaiman sets out to write a children’s book. I suggest that you do not give it to your own children if you ever want them to sleep through the night again—or, at least, wait until they’re grown up enough to handle it.

'The Haunting of Hill House' by Shirley Jackson

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Another one that’s been made into a slam bang movie, but the book is even better. (Isn’t it always? Debate among yourselves, please.)

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'It' by Stephen King

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Yes, it’s another Stephen King book but this one taps into a phobia that’s both very old and very current: clowns. Pennywise, the killer clown, dwells in the sewers of Derry, Maine, and he preys upon the young residents of the town. A group of residents return to vanquish him. But how are they going to take on such an ancient, formidable foe? You’ll have to read and find out. We'd, of course, be remiss not to mention another frightening King book, The Shining, which was made into such a nail-biting film.

'Something Wicked This Way Comes' by Ray Bradbury

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The premise of this book—a traveling carnival where two young boys meet the malevolent wish-granting Mr Dark—is pure Bradbury. Not perhaps his best known book, but maybe his best.

'The Hot Zone' by Richard Preston

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This book is nonfiction, about an Ebola virus almost destroying America. Would be entertaining if it were fiction, but it’s scary as hell when it’s real and came THISCLOSE to happening.

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'Carrion Comfort' by Dan Simmons

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The villains here represent an intriguing twist on a familiar antagonist: They’re “mind vampires,” who, instead of feasting on humans,  can inhabit their minds and manipulate them into doing the unspeakable. Oh, and Stephen King called this book “one of the greatest horror novels of the 20th century.” If that’s not enough, the distorted face on the cover of the new paperback will be enough to haunt your dreams.

'Doing Harm' by Kelly Preston

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People die in hospitals all the time, so could there be a better place for a psychopathic killer to set up shop? Especially if the psychopath also happens to be a doctor? If you ever thought that going to the hospital was a little bit scary, you were wrong. It’s a lot scary!

'Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories' selected by Roald Dahl

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Dahl, who was the spinner of so many off-center tales for young readers, claimed that he pored through 749 short stories at the British Museum Library before he selected the 14 featured in this anthology. His main criterion for inclusion was that the story “should give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts.”

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'The Midwich Cuckoos' by John Wyndham

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Alien invasion? Hey, no big deal; we can just fight them with every weapon at our disposal. But what if the aliens were our own children? The golden-eyed hyper-intelligent kids who communicate by telepathy rank with the greatest —and spookiest—villains of all time. A 1960 film—The Village of the Damned—was made from this book, and it had the great tag line: “Beware the stare that will paralyze the will of the world.” Seems like good advice in any situation.

'Rebecca' by Daphne DuMaurier

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This book is a prime example of how the setting can really enhance the suspense and fear. An isolated mansion by the sea, an evil housekeeper, an absentee-ish new husband? What a fantastic setup.

'We Need to Talk About Kevin' by Lionel Shriver

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This novel is terrifying for any parent, anyone who is considering becoming a parent, or anyone who knows a teen. it shows how a child can grow into a stranger capable of perpetrating terrifying wrongs, even when a mother does everything right.

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'Ethan Frome' by Edith Wharton

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Perhaps you read this book in high school and hated every minute of it. But here’s why: You were simply too young to get it. Read it now that you’re an adult. If you are not frozen by the subtle horror of the ending—Wharton loved a good scary story—you are one cold cookie (snowy setting aside). Or maybe you’re younger than you think.


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