In fact, most horror movies use famous novels as source material. Everything from “The Shining” to Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House” originated as stories in books. Likewise, characters Jack Torrence and Hannibal Lecter first came together on the page and haunted people’s minds for years before Jack Nicholson and Anthony Hopkins brought them to life.
These 20 books will make you question your sanity, force you to look over your shoulder, and have you checking under the bed long after you’ve put them down.
“House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski
Mark Danielewski put an intriguing twist on the haunted-house genre with his novel “House of Leaves.” When a family realises their house is bigger inside than it is outside, it leads them to another world that is tauntingly horrifying. As the family attempts to unravel the mystery, it slowly tears them apart.
“Carrion Comfort” by Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons challenges the idea of power in his terrifying novel “Carrion Comfort.” The story follows people who have “The Ability,” or the power to take control of people from a distance. But when one of the “puppets” kills a person while under the control of someone with The Ability, everything is thrown into question. Suddenly, no one is safe, and a world without any free will becomes a scary reality.
“The Girl Next Store” by Jack Ketchum
“The Girl Next Store” by Jack Ketchum is almost difficult to read – that’s how disturbing it is. The story follows two sisters who are forced to live with their mentally ill aunt and her three sons. What unravels is a horrifying tale of neglect, torture, and abuse. If that isn’t bone-chilling enough, you should know that the book is based on a true story.
“Haunted” by Chuck Palahniuk
When Chuck Palahniuk first read a snippet of “Haunted” at a public event, several people actually fainted. “Haunted” still holds up as a truly horrifying, grotesque work of fiction. The book is comprised of 23 stomach-churning stories, all “written” by people attending a writer’s retreat gone awry.
“Hell House” by Richard Matheson
Stephen King has called Richard Matheson’s novel “Hell House” the “scariest haunted house novel ever written.” The novel tells the story of three people who spend a night in the Belasco House in Maine, which has been sealed since 1949. They quickly realise why no one has stepped foot in the house for decades and learn exactly why it has been dubbed “Hell House.”
“The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris
Very few know that the famous “Silence of the Lambs” film starring Jodie Foster is actually based on a book that was a sequel to another novel. Thomas Harris wrote “The Silence of the Lambs” after his first successful book, “Red Dragon,” which first introduced the character of Hannibal Lecter. Each book in the series is more chilling than the next. Lecter is one of those characters who leaps from the pages and stays with you well after you close the book.
“Ghost Story” by Peter Straub
“Ghost Story” follows a group of men who come together to tell each other stories. Some of them are true, some are from their imagination, and some are truly frightening. When one of the men dies, the rest suddenly start having terrifying dreams. Eventually, something they did in the past creeps back into their lives to threaten everything they know to be true. The stories they would tell each other are nothing compared to their new, horrifying reality.
“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier
Although “Rebecca” was published in the ’40s, it still holds up as one of the most chilling novels of all times. It’s the story of a woman who marries a widow and moves into his gothic mansion. What she thought would be a happy, easy life turns out to be a living nightmare when she learns her husband’s former wife is still roaming the halls of their home.
“And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie has a lengthy list of novels under her belt, but her arguably most frightening one is “And Then There Were None.” Not only is this Christie’s most popular novel, it’s also widely considered her best. The book follows a group of people who were each invited to a remote island. One by one, they are all murdered as retribution for past crimes.
“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson
Many know “The Haunting of Hill House” from Netflix’s popular series of the same name, but the show is actually loosely based on a famous novel. Shirley Jackson wrote the novel about four strangers who come together in an abandoned mansion to try and prove that the supernatural is real. The result is a truly terrifying piece of literature that proves human nature is even more frightening than what lurks in the shadows.
“Rosemary’s Baby” by Ira Levin
Roman Polanski’s famous film is actually based on a book.
When Ira Levin wrote “Rosemary’s Baby” in the ’60s, the success of the book sparked a horror boom. The novel scared so many readers that it still is widely read today. The titular character becomes pregnant after she and her husband move into a New York apartment building with a dark past. Eventually, she becomes convinced that the neighbours are trying to abduct her baby for a satanic ritual, but the truth is much more depraved.
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
Truman Capote’s masterpiece “In Cold Blood” is a nonfiction book that reads like a work of fiction – that’s how scary it is. In the book, Capote attempts to unravel the murder of the real-life Clutter family in Kansas. As he chronicles the murder itself, the investigation, the trial, and even the execution, you’re transported into a time of dark sadness and never-ending horror.
“The Woman in Black” by Susan Hill
Susan Hill crafted “The Woman in Black” to feel like a traditional gothic novel, but, in fact, the book was written in 1981. The dark tone adds to an even darker story about a young solicitor who arrives at a quiet home in a faraway countryside. But when the lawyer starts to hear screams in the fog and sees visions of a woman in black, his routine client visit turns out to be something much more sinister.
“Ring” by Koji Suzuki
Koji Suzuki’s “Ring” is a milestone in Japanese horror literature, especially after Hollywood created a very successful adaptation called “The Ring” starring Naomi Watts. Fans of the film may be surprised by the lack of supernatural in the original book, but the scares and suspense are still very present. With this novel – about a video that warns viewers that they will die in a week – you’ll come for the horror but stay for the well-crafted mystery.
“The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes
“The Shining Girls” is a mixture of science fiction and murder mystery. Set in a Chicago home that acts as a time portal, a serial killer attempts to murder multiple women called the Shining Girls. When one girl escapes his grasp, everything is thrown out of control and what follows is a terrifying novel of death that transcends time.
“Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Although the vampire story has been overused in recent years, “Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist seems to breathe a new life into the fantasy genre. The story follows a young boy named Oskar as he befriends a new neighbour, Eli, who is deathly pale. Their peculiar friendship forms at night when Eli wakes up. The novel puts an electrifying twist on the vampire trope, giving you a truly scary read.
“Eileen” by Otessa Moshfegh
Otessa Moshfegh opens her novel “Eileen” by immediately telling the reader what will happen in the end. The mystery and suspense lie in trying to figure out how we get to that endpoint. With each chapter and every line, Moshfegh teases readers with clues, making this a true page-turner. But the answer is so terrifying that you wish you’d put the book down earlier.
“World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks
While many think of “World War Z” as a Hollywood zombie film starring Brad Pitt, it’s actually one of the best-written novels in the genre. Told mostly through interviews and vignettes, this story tracks a zombie takeover from various perspectives. The thorough storytelling makes this fantastical apocalypse feel like a very real account of history.
“The Shining” by Stephen King
It’s no secret that Stephen King is the master of horror literature, but “The Shining” stands out among the rest. Set in a remote hotel that’s completely abandoned for the winter season, the novel tackles the ideas of family, the supernatural, and murder. Even if you’ve seen the movie adaptation, this book will startle you from cover to cover.
“Pet Sematary” by Stephen King
King takes another spot on this list because he’s the king of horror writing. His prowess is also evident in the truly terrifying novel “Pet Sematary,” which is about a burial ground for roadkill near the Creed family’s home, in which everything buried doesn’t necessarily stay that way.
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