Fans of the genre will no doubt be familiar with the ten books on their list, not least because most of them have been made into movies or TV series. If you are looking for a good scare and you haven’t yet read any of these, put them on your list!
In the written format, horror needs to rely more on suspense and psychology than on cheap thrills, and what appears on screen is never as bad as what your mind can imagine. Prepare for some nightmares.
IT, Stephen King (1986)
The titular monster of this book is probably the most iconic of all time, and certainly terrifying (spoiler alert – both a clown and a giant spider, is there anything that pushes more buttons!). The questions or horror and morality that are raised throughout the book is enough to put anyone off going to the circus ever again.
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson (1959)
This tale of a haunted house is perfectly understated, leaving you unsure how much is real, and how much is in the imagination of our strong female protagonist Eleanor. The horror genre shouldn’t mean that you don’t have well-developed characters. She is a paranormal sensitive individual who explores the house with a number of colleagues. But she is the one most affected by the experience.
The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty (1971)
There is something about your body not being your own, and the idea that it could be taken over by forces greater, and darker, than yourself that is utterly terrifying. Add to this the way that these dark force can eat you from the inside out, and it becomes very real. And that is before we even start on the trials of the actual exorcism.
Let The Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004)
It seems that vampires are never going to get old as the ultimate villain. They are both seductive and terrifying, particularly so in this novel by the Swedish author, who reaffirms that the Nordics have a knack for the macabre. This book is made even more terrifying as it plays on the innocence of childhood, the trials of adolescence, and the fact that all creatures need love.
The Shining, Stephen King (1977)
Naturally, King is on this list twice (and could be more but we have rules for ourselves). There is something about isolation that drives most men crazy. While there is a serious supernatural element to this story, the terror comes from watching someone you care about descending into madness, and being trapped in his clutches.
Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin (1967)
Pregnancy and motherhood can be a surprisingly isolating experience. You may start to feel like you have lost your mind, and will probably definitely feel like your husband has used and bused you. But what if it is all true, and the baby that you are carrying really is a demon spawn. This book is largely credited with the horror boom of the late 60s and early 70s.
The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (1898)
I this classic novel a woman is hired to look after two troubled children, who it turns out may have been possessed. But it tells a story within a story within a story, as she discovers that she is not the first to have encountered this darkness, and that she may have been drawn there for a very specific reason.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
While this classic may not have the same punch today as it did 200 years ago, that is because it is genre-defining and therefore has been borrowed from incessantly. We wouldn’t have many of the monsters of today without Frankenstein’s creation. But who are the real monsters? An unnatural creation, the obsessive mind behind it, or the community that rejects all that is different.
Dracula, Bram Stoker (1897)
Again, this is another book that might not strike fear into the heart the same way it did when it was published, but you have to remember that it is the basic source material for pretty much all of the vampire stories that have followed. It popularised the character that is still considered the spookiest and most fearsome within society.
Coraline, Neil Gaiman (2002)
In this modern classic Gaiman takes the takes of Alice in Wonderland to a dark place, sending his protagonist Coraline into a very different and dark world. The Other Mother in this parallel work offers Coraline everything that she could ever want, but what will she have to sacrifice in return.
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