Rankings

The Top 25 Greatest Horror Novels of All Time

If you're looking for a scary read to pass the time, you could do worse than to pick up one of these novels.

As a dedicated horror fan, I spend a lot of my time sorting through dreck. Horror produces a massive ROI for anyone interested in – well – “R,” which means I see a lot of projects cranked out with little regard for things like “creativity” or “legitimate reasons to film boobs.”

But because I am a fan, I end up succumbing to the ad campaigns and – despite knowing better – find myself streaming Unfriended on a Friday night, contemplating the many ways in which I am pissing away my one wild and precious life.

That becomes significantly less hilarious and meme-worthy after 25, incidentally.

Anyway, the good news is that when it comes to horror novels, the dreck dissipates a little. The price of entry for writing a book is slightly steeper – namely, months of loneliness and self-disgust while struggling to draft 100,000 words of coherent story – so only folks who are really passionate tend to do it. And normally, when you’re really passionate about something, you suck at it less.

This is not a hard and fast rule (as anyone who’s seen Vanilla Ice’s turn as himself in Cool as Ice can testify), but it’s marginally accurate.

coolasice
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 8%

Still, horror – like humor – is notoriously difficult to get right. Expressing the primal nature of fear in a way that’s fresh and enthralling takes someone who’s adept with language, acquainted with human psychology, and able to resist the urge to use capitalization to convey heightened emotion.

And that’s why I’m celebrating 25 outstanding works that provide all of that and more. In this list, we’ll walk through novels, short stories, and monster-sized epics that have been algorithmically determined to be the greatest the horror genre has to offer. Welcome, dear reader, to Cait Follows’s definitive guide to the 25 greatest horror novels of all time!

Note: As with all of my definitive guides, this list will probably change in the future and the phrases “algorithmically determined” and “of all time” can be read as “subject to my imprecise whims” and “of the ones I’ve gotten around to reading,” respectively.

Let’s begin.

25. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

andthentherewerenone

Remember when conservative columnist George Will called Ferris Bueller’s Day Off “the moviest movie?” Well, And Then There Were None is the bookiest book.

This is a curl up beside your fireplace with a cat, sipping tea, while the thunderstorm rages outside book. A stay up all night, breathless with anticipation book. An oops-it-had-two-super-racist-titles-before-this-one book.

Widely considered Agatha Christie’s masterpiece, And Then There Were None tells the story of eight people lured to a small, isolated island by a mysterious stranger. When they discover the terrifying truth about what they have in common, they begin to die – one by one – leaving those who remain to guess at the identity of the murderer.

It’s not strictly horror, but it’s a whole lot of fun and even carries the distinction of having once inspired an episode of Dawson’s Creek – not something that can be said of most pieces of great English literature.

24. Hell House by Richard Matheson

hellhouse

Okay, real talk, Hell House almost didn’t make the cut. There are some not-so-low-key sexist undercurrents in this book, and author Richard Matheson manages to include two separate but equally disappointing incarnations of femininity: a boring riff on Penelope from The Odyssey and a flighty psychic who’s rarely mentioned without a nod to her gigantic breasts.

Angry public service announcement aside, however, Hell House is a trip. It explores the Belasco House, a rambling old mansion once owned by the notoriously depraved Emeric Belasco. Now, the house’s new owner wants Dr. Lionel Barrett, along with three others, to uncover whether Belasco’s influence still holds the manor in its grip.

The narrative unfortunately begins to drag halfway through, devolving into increasingly desperate attempts to horrify the reader. However, when it’s on top of its game, it’s scary. After a lifetime of consuming of ghost stories, it’s pretty hard to frighten me, but Hell House had me glancing over my shoulder and leaving the light on at night.

If you’re sufficiently hardened to narrow depictions of women in fiction, give this one a go.

23. A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons

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I’m not a huge Dan Simmons fan. I found Summer of Night to be a thinly veiled IT knockoff and The Terror to be not so much terrifying as torpid.

But I liked A Winter Haunting. This is a much less ambitious premise than Simmons usually tackles, and the novel is better for it. Instead of the bloated, pedantic recitation of small-town evils we got in Summer of Night, we’re treated to the relatively simple story of a man who returns to his hometown to rid himself of some personal demons.

That man is Dale Stewart – a child in Summer of Night, now all grown up and ruining his marriage and academic tenure through a poorly thought-out affair with a student.

Dale returns to Elm Haven and stays in the old farmhouse that belonged to his friend Duane (whom readers will remember was killed in a bizarre accident during Summer of Night). He soon realizes he’s not alone, and over the course of the bleak and desolate winter, Dale is forced to confront several of the ghosts – both real and imagined – of his childhood.

A Winter Haunting isn’t earth-shattering, but its themes are accessible: Dale is in the midway period of adulthood where there’s already a sense of loss, but still a great deal left to play for.

There are things in A Winter Haunting that chill the blood and upset the stomach, but there’s also the quiet, steady insistence that you can’t outrun or outgrow your problems – and sometimes, that’s the scariest thing of all.

22. Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

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Being a horror fan in the Internet Age is awesome. Not only do we get to hear from a variety of voices, but we also get to engage with them on a variety of new platforms. Reddit’s r/nosleep isn’t my favorite of these, and the voices it produces are more – well – Florence Foster Jenkins than Aretha Franklin, but it was the original home of Dathan Auerbach’s Penpal.

In 2010, Auerbach began posting a series of short stories to r/nosleep. Each story was narrated by the same protagonist and formatted as an answer to readers’ questions. Auerbach responded to user posts in character too, and eventually, he had enough material for a full-length novel. He raised nearly $16,000 through Kickstarter to fund the venture and, more recently, sold the film rights to an Oscar-winning producer. If you’re not jealous by now, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

Penpal, in its novel form, follows an unnamed narrator as he recounts a series of seemingly unrelated events that occurred in his childhood. While some are innocuous, others are concerning and the more we learn, the more it becomes apparent that something is very wrong.

Penpal at times wanders into the territory of the silly, and the prose and dialogue are stilted, but following the chilling narrative to its ultimate, gut-wrenching conclusion isn’t an experience you’ll soon forget.

21. Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

universalharvester

If you can think of a better candidate to contribute to the current renaissance of prestige horror we’re experiencing than the front man for a respected indie rock group, then I’d love to hear it.

Until then, we’ve got The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle and his second literary offering, Universal Harvester.

Jeremy Heldt is 22 and marking time at a video rental store when he makes a disturbing discovery: someone has been inserting black-and-white footage of odd images into the store’s VHS tapes. Jeremy is still suffering from the death of his mother six years before, and doesn’t want to investigate the mystery any further. But Stephanie Parsons, a local schoolteacher that catches Jeremy’s eye, is determined to get to the bottom of it – especially since a farmhouse featured in one of the tapes looks eerily like the one a few miles outside of town.

Universal Harvester is a somewhat disjointed braiding of dread and grief, but its commentary on everything from loss to emotional voyeurism is fascinating and the late 1990s setting is inspired.

If you get a physical copy of the book, make sure to find a first edition – it comes in a plastic VHS case.

20. Ghost Story by Peter Straub

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Peter Straub is another horror author who makes me weep for the comparative lack of women in the genre. The climax of Ghost Story is, hand on heart, an attractive woman “terrorizing” and offending a group of men with her aberrant sexuality. Because, you know, confining The Handmaid’s Tale to a dystopian exploration of gender inequity is stupid.

Once again sidestepping that particular disappointment, though, Ghost Story is an homage to the genre that manages to deliver on its own account. At its core are four aging friends who enjoy whiskey, ghost stories, and life in the small village of Milburn, New York. That life is disrupted, however, when a ghastly act from their past comes back to haunt them.

Like so many other horror novels, Ghost Story has problems. The pacing is erratic, characterization is pretty thin on the ground, and the central “big bad” is explored in too much detail to be truly frightening. But if you look beyond that, you’ll find passages that raise the hairs on your neck and stay in your mind for years to come.

19. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

sharpobjects

In truth, any one of Gillian Flynn’s novels could have appeared on this list – the short story The Grownup is a particular favorite – but Sharp Objects has the advantage of both terror and a healthy page count.

Reporter Camille Preaker is fresh off a stay at the psych hospital when she’s assigned to cover the murders of two preteen girls – girls who were strangled and had all of their teeth removed before being dumped like garbage in a town alley. Camille must travel from Chicago to her sleepy hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, navigating a sea of hostile locals; her cold, critical mother; and bizarre crimes that seem increasingly linked to her own unhappy past.

Dark, chilling, and brimming with a mounting sense of dread, Sharp Objects is a solid Southern Gothic that overlaps nicely with the horror genre.

18. Carrie by Stephen King

carrie

There’s a special kind of hell reserved for girls who don’t fit in. Channeling that unique experience of isolation and rage into a horror novel – where the girl has the power necessary to fight back – was a stroke of genius. That it was written by an adult man is perhaps surprising, but hey, this is Stephen King. What’s more, he had the help of his wife, Tabitha King, who rescued the original manuscript from the trash.

tabithaking
Thanks, Tabby!

The titular figure in Carrie is a reticent misfit with bad acne, too much weight around her middle, and a terminal case of social awkwardness. All of that pales in comparison, however, with her domineering mother, Margaret – a fanatically religious woman who takes all of her shame regarding sex and channels it into her daughter.

But Carrie isn’t defenseless. Partway through her senior year, she discovers she has telekinetic powers that allow her to move objects with her mind. When a cruel prank is played on her at prom, she unleashes that power with horrific and destructive consequences.

Carrie is somewhat of an epistolary novel, telling its story in a series of excerpts from diaries, police reports, newspaper clippings, and books. It’s a burgeoning author’s literary stunt, but between the gimmicks, there’s a raw edge with the ability to hurt in a way most horror novels don’t.

Carrie White may have just as easily been another disaffected school shooter, and the fact that the book was published in 1974 shows just how little we’ve progressed in our ability to calm teen fury and curb the cruelty of children.

17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

frankenstein

If you’re anything like me, you read Frankenstein for your eighth grade English class and got bored by page 18. There were a lot of letters, a lot of ice, and a lot of prevaricating about a bloviating sadsack picked up by a ship headed for the Arctic.

By the time you got around to the action, the only thing you wanted to know was why Mary Shelley glossed over the head injury that caused Victor Frankenstein to experience genuine surprise every time another friend or family member was killed.

These are still valid concerns. But pick up Frankenstein again, and you’ll discover a genuinely dread-inducing novel that plays on common concepts like body horror and the unfettered application of science – all while unspooling a tale of the world’s worst DIY fail.

16. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salemslot

I’ll be honest – reading ‘Salem’s Lot after the Twilight zeitgeist sucked. Whatever raw fear this book might have conveyed was sapped by the image of sexually repressed, self-hating buzzkills playing baseball.

But a lot of people (read: Baby Boomers) I interviewed for this post mentioned that ‘Salem’s Lot was the book that scared them the most, so on the list it goes.

And really, it’s pretty good. A loving ode to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, ‘Salem’s Lot centers on the infiltration of a small Maine town by the indomitable Kurt Barlow. An ancient and willful evil, Barlow soon has the majority of Jerusalem’s Lot under his control and only writer Ben Mears, high school teacher Matt Burke, doctor Jimmy Cody, and plucky teen Mark Petrie can stop him (Note: I kind of hate plucky teen Mark Petrie).

‘Salem’s Lot owes a lot to Dracula, but Stephen King adapts and subverts the central narrative so well, the book stands almost entirely on its own.

If you’re even slightly less of a vampire cynic than I am, give this one a try.

15. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson

theamityvillehorror

The book that sparked the seemingly interminable Amityville franchise is extremely controversial – originally published as nonfiction, it became the subject of several lawsuits after one individual claimed the book was a hoax “created…over many bottles of wine.”

Personally, I’m inclined to believe most of the contents of The Amityville Horror were fabricated – or at the very least, exaggerated. But that’s not the fun way to read this book.

Treat The Amityville Horror as you would any other work of fiction, and it becomes a deeply disturbing account of a young family whose newly purchased Long Island home isn’t quite what it seems.

The site of a brutal mass murder just a few years earlier, 112 Ocean Avenue inflicts a series of hostile and unexplained phenomena on George and Kathleen Lutz and their three children. With secret rooms, a wary priest, and a red-eyed pig named “Jodie” visible only to the Lutzes’ five-year-old daughter, The Amityville Horror is a paragon of haunted house horror that still influences the genre today.

14. The Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

completetalesandpoems

What list of great horror novels would be complete without an entry from America’s chief hack, Edgar Allan Poe?

Choosing a single Poe entry is tough – though “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontilladoare up there – so I’ve chosen all of them. The Complete Tales and Poems contains more than 125 of Poe’s works, including the two above as well as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Poe is a master of melodrama, and each of his poems and short stories is dripping in camp. Although, is it camp if you were pretty much the first person to write it? Questions for the ages.

There are a number of editions of The Complete Tales and Poems, so I suggest investing in one with an appropriately rad cover.

13. The Birds by Daphne du Maurier

thebirds

When I lived in Denver, a friend and I went to an outdoor screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The weather was fittingly ominous and about the time Tippy Hedren is first attacked by a gull, the sky broke open, rain poured, and we were ushered into the basement of the city library to finish the movie.

In closer quarters, it was easier to overhear each other’s commentary. When the birds started dive-bombing the kids at Bodega Bay School, a ripple of uneasy laughter began spreading until we were all openly howling at the poorly constructed birds flying through the air on wire.

Honestly, it was a relief. There’s a lot to like about Hitchcock’s version of The Birds, but it’s ultimately too silly to frighten anyone watching in the 2010s.

That’s not true of the short story that inspired the film, though. Daphne du Maurier wrote The Birds in 1952 after watching a group of seagulls wheeling and diving above a farmer in Cornwall. Entirely separate from the Hitchcock film, du Maurier’s story concerns a farmhand trying to protect his family when flocks of birds begin attacking humans across Britain.

The brevity of the text, the rustic nature of the central characters, and the post-World War II setting work together to create an effective exercise in sustained dread. And let’s be real, who doesn’t believe birds are secretly plotting our downfall?

Thank heaven for house cats.

12. Pet Sematary by Stephen King

petsematary

I know, I know – a story about dead animals with a shrieking cat on the cover of its cheapest edition seems epically lame. That notion was what kept me from picking up Pet Sematary for years.

But here’s the truth: if we’re judging solely on a holistic, purity-of-horror, authentic-shivers-per-sentence basis, Pet Sematary may be Stephen King’s most successful work.

In this early entry to the King canon, Louis Creed relocates his young family to rural Maine in order to jumpstart his medical career at a nearby university. However, it’s not long before neighbor Jud Crandall shares with Louis a peculiar local haunt with a terrifying history – one that will redefine how Louis looks at the world and rain the deadly consequences down on anyone in its path.

Pet Sematary is eerie, brooding, and finally explosively terrifying, both as a spook tale and as an unflinching staring contest with the reality of human grief.

11. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

turnofthescrew

Nineteenth century author Henry James was fascinated by ghosts – but not the ghouls and goblins so often found in the literature of the day. James preferred apparitions that “embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy,” with only hints of “the strange and sinister.”

That preference found full expression in The Turn of the Screw, a novella depicting the experiences of an unnamed governess when she comes to care for two children, Miles and Flora, at a country estate in Essex.

The governess begins to see figures of a man and woman she doesn’t recognize, but the rest of the household refuses to talk. The uncertainty begins to drive the governess mad, and the ultimate message of The Turn of the Screw has been furiously debated by critics for years.

I’m with Brad Leithauser, though, who argues that “all such attempts to ‘solve’ the book…unwittingly work toward its diminution.”

The Turn of the Screw is a classic ghost story, and should be enjoyed on a rainy Friday night with only a bedside lamp for company.

10. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (trilogy) by Alvin Schwarz

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Fun fact: in addition to being among the most banned books in America, the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy is also among the most frequent contributors to childhood nightmares about people without necks.

This woman is either a frightening apparition or a DMV employee.

 Former journalist Alvin Schwartz collected more than 75 scary stories from folklore and urban legends, and spent a year writing each entry in the three-volume series.

The stories, aimed at a young adult audience, are frightening, but it’s the illustrations by Stephen Gammell that truly terrify. These are nightmarish, bleeding images of black and white that look like they were taken from David Lynch’s fever dreams. They give life to Schwartz’s stark text and imprint themselves forever on the minds of young readers.

9. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

hauntingofhillhouse

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality,” begins Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. “Even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within…and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Hello, one of the best first paragraphs in all of horror literature. And the rest of this 1959 novel continues just as successfully.

Telling the story of four strangers who arrive at the notorious Hill House at the invitation of occult scholar Dr. Montague, The Haunting of Hill House explores one of horror’s most enduring questions: do ghosts exist?

House was committed to film twice: once in 1963 and again in 1999. Despite the fact that the 1999 version was about as entertaining as a 2000s Adam Sandler film, appetite for adapting the novel hasn’t diminished. This year, Oculus director Mike Flanagan announced he would be filming The Haunting of Hill House as a series for Netflix.

8. Night Shift by Stephen King

nightshift

A lot of Stephen King’s errors occur in his excess (see: Under the Dome). When he’s confined to just a few pages, however, his work sings.

Night Shift is perhaps King’s best collection of short stories, featuring classics like “Children of the Corn,” “Strawberry Spring,” and “Quitters, Inc.” For constant readers, Night Shift also features extensions of ‘Salem’s Lot in the epistolary story “Jerusalem’s Lot” and The Stand in the atmospheric “Night Surf.”

Published immediately after The Shining, this 1977 offering also underlines why that Family Guy bit wasn’t too far off the mark: there is – legitimately – a story in here about sentient semi-trucks.

And it’s good! I swear!

7. Dracula by Bram Stoker

dracula

Unlike with Frankenstein, no one pretends this monster classic is about anything other than fun. Maybe that’s sad, but Dracula is seriously so fun. Bram Stoker gives us an exciting, fast-paced romp through the meeting of Jonathan Harker and Count Dracula, an ancient vampire intent on expanding his influence to London.

Harker manages to escape Dracula’s Transylvanian castle and reunites with his fiancée, Mina Murray; her friend, Lucy Westenra; and a trio of Lucy’s lovers. Lucy is stalked by Dracula and eventually turned into a vampire herself, and her surviving friends meet with Abraham van Helsing to determine how to destroy Count Dracula once and for all.

To the modern reader, Dracula is pure camp. If you read the novel knowing that it’s the source for all current vampire lore, however, it’s a treat.

6. The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

thekinginyellow

Hey, remember when True Detective was good? Part of the reason for the success of the HBO series’ first season was its allusions to The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers.

First published in 1895, The King in Yellow is a short story collection whose first four entries mention a forbidden play – titled, appropriately, “The King in Yellow” – that appears to cause madness or despair in those who read it.

Half the stories in The King in Yellow are paragons of weird fiction and, taken as a whole, the collection is a kind of literary equivalent of the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia.

Reading The King in Yellow is a firm step in the direction of becoming a horror scholar, but it’s also just a lot of fun.

5. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

helterskelter

Yes, including Helter Skelter as a horror novel is cheating. Vincent Bugliosi’s account of the murders, capture, and trial of Charles Manson and his followers is not a novel – and decidedly not horror – and it shouldn’t be read as light entertainment. This is a serious nonfiction account of one of the most baffling crimes of the twentieth century, and it asks a lot of tough questions about society: who it values, what happens to those it doesn’t, and its role in the ultimate actions of those who live on its fringes.

In its best, purest form, though, this is what I think the horror genre does best (and why I’ve included Helter Skelter on this list). It holds up a mirror to our world and probes at its darkest edges, leaving us unsettled and groping for the switch on the bedside lamp.

If you really want to dig deeper into the themes of Helter Skelter, I highly recommend pairing it with The Girls by Emma Cline – an illuminating look at the young women at the heart of the Manson cult. The Girls is fiction, but it’s thinly veiled fiction, and the truths it tells about young womanhood and the desperate, frightening desire to belong are still relevant today.

If you’re still not satisfied, Allison Umminger’s American Girls is a thoughtful reflection on the Manson murders and their relevance to the emotionally violent nature of modern girlhood.

4. IT by Stephen King

it

Let’s dispense with the necessary unpleasantries first. Yes, IT is a bloated novel; yes, there are passages brimming with pulp; and yes, IT is Exhibit A in the case of “Does Stephen King ruin great novels with terrible endings?” (He totally does). All of this is true.

And yet IT remains among my favorite novels, horror or otherwise. The more than 1,100-page book tells the story of Derry, Maine and seven unhappy children who inhabit it during the summer of 1958 – a summer in which so many of the town’s children are turning up dead or missing.

Twenty-seven years later, Bill, Bev, Richie, Stan, Ben, Eddie, and Mike don’t remember much about that summer or the evil that terrorized them. What they do know is that they fought It once, and thought It was defeated. But now It’s calling them back, and they must struggle against traumatic memories and reunite their now divergent lives to destroy It, once and for all.

At once an ambitious horror story and a critical examination of childhood, friendship, loneliness, and the power of memory, IT is an evocative novel that has a lot to say about simply being alive. If you’re not in wistful, bittersweet tears by the end, I challenge you to look in the mirror and ask yourself who is the real monster.

3. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

rosemarysbaby

A titan of psychological horror, Rosemary’s Baby hit mainstream consciousness in 1968 when Roman Polanski directed the famously faithful adaptation starring Mia Farrow, Ruth Gordon, and John Cassavetes.

Rosemary’s Baby chronicles the story of a lapsed Catholic who falls pregnant and soon begins to suspect that her elderly neighbors want her baby for use in their Satanic rituals.

There’s not a lot of difference between the book and the film, but Ira Levin’s superb novel gives us insight into Rosemary Woodhouse’s marriage, her relationship with former landlord Hutch, and her defection from the Midwestern Catholic traditions of her youth that colors the story in unique and unexpected ways.

In total, Rosemary’s Baby is a pitch-perfect entry into the horror canon that writer and publisher Gary Crawford once called “a genuine masterpiece.”

Just don’t read the sequel. It sucked.

2. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

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A Goodreads reviewer once called House of Leaves the “Radiohead of books,” and a more apt comparison was never made. Mark Danielewski’s postmodernist novel is as intelligent and surprising as it is prized by aspiring intellectuals for perhaps more than it offers.

This unconventional novel tells a multi-layered story, the bulk of which is dominated by an academic examination of The Navidson Record. The Navidson Record is a supposed documentary chronicling the lives of Will Navidson and his partner Karen Green when they move to a new home in Virginia with their children, Chad and Daisy. While attempting some interior decorating, Will and Karen discover their home is less than an inch larger on the inside than the outside. Soon afterward, a closet-like space appears where there was previously only a blank wall. A second door appears, and finally, a hallway that unveils a seemingly endless series of passages housing something dark that eventually drives all those who attempt to explore it insane.

The Navidson Record is chronicled in great detail by a blind scholar named Zampanò, who examines the documentary along with commentary by luminaries such as Ken Burns, Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King, and Hunter Thompson.

Zampanò’s manuscript is discovered by a Los Angeles tattoo artist named Johnny Truant (yeah, eye roll, that’s his actual name). Johnny is quickly consumed by the manuscript, and becomes even more perplexed when he discovers Will Navidson and his documentary doesn’t actually exist.

If that’s not confusing enough for you, House of Leaves embraces an idiosyncratic structure, with copious footnotes, appendices, hidden codes, and varying font styles and colors.

houseofleaves2
Worst/Best

The whole effect is a finely tuned study in claustrophic terror, all the more impressive because it’s Danielewski’s first published novel.

You can read House of Leaves once a year for the rest of your life and still debate fellow readers on what it all means. Of course, that would make you one of those aspiring intellectuals, subject to the derision of Goodreads users across the country.

1. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

theexorcist

Finally, we’ve arrived. William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, a 1971 examination of faith and doubt through the lens of demonic possession, is the most iconic – and perhaps the greatest – horror novel ever written.

Celebrated actress Chris MacNeil is shooting a film in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. when her 12-year-old daughter Regan starts exhibiting some disturbing symptoms. Through a series of connections, Chris finds her way to Father Damien Karras, an expert in demonology who is experiencing a crisis of faith after the death of his mother.

Chris, an atheist, is willing to go outside the bounds of her own belief system to save her daughter. Karras, meanwhile, is faced with the uncomfortable knowledge that he’s hoping Regan is possessed because proof of the devil necessitates belief in God. As they careen toward the horrifying truth, each is confronted by the negotiability of faith and how deeply they need to believe.

Equal parts profane and profound, The Exorcist probes human psychology at its most vulnerable – does life have meaning? And if not, what are we willing to trade for the ability to convince ourselves that it does?

Happy reading…

That wraps up our look at 25 of the greatest horror novels ever published. If there’s anything I missed (and I’m already guessing you’re upset The Shining isn’t on here), let me know in the comments below.

Until then, happy reading!

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