From high school through college and a bit beyond, I read alot of horror stories and generally scary novels. I now read mysteries, because at some point in time, horror became pretty grisly stuff, rather than nice scary, bone-chilling, jump-out-of-your-chair stuff. Here are my favorite all time scary books from over the years:
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
I read this when the original film was out starring James Brolin, Rod Steiger and Margot Kidder. Again, the film was ok but the book, written as a documentation of a real haunting was chilling stuff. Also at the time, it was widely discussed as being absolutely true. So…when the doorbell rang as I was deeply in the middle of the book…the postman thought I was nuts to start screaming but that’s just me 🙂
Note: I found a web site that talks about the story behind the Amityville Horror, still spooky stuff after all these years!
Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aiken
Aiken is great at creating a truly frightening atmosphere. The cumulative effect of one of his story collections is truly unsettling.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
I was always a big fan of Bela Lugosi as Dracula and expected the book to be similar. Stoker’s book is one of the scariest ever, from the description of Harker at the asylum to the crypts with Dracula’s brides, all told as if it were real. The characterizations are so much better than the films, you really feel for Jonathan and Lucy, and all of Dracula’s victims. I remember reading this in the middle of the day and hearing a small noise in another room and just freezing in place. The novel really draws you in.
Fear Nothing by Dean Koontz
Dean Koontz has many scary novels but this one, featuring a necessarily nocturnal young man who can’t stand light or ultra violet rays is really suspenseful. The action takes place at night. There are scary governmental goings on, animals and humans undergoing spooky changes, your basic creepy church basement and a dark cavern which must be traversed by our hero.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
A group of people stay in a reportedly haunted house. Jackson layers in psychological thrills with old fashioned things going bump and bang and crash in the night. Probably the best haunted house story ever. The movie version with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom was a real jumper as well.
I am Legend by Richard Matheson
The last man on earth vs a mutated night roaming population creates a sense of isolation and terror for Robert Neville. Read the original work for a glimpse of what makes a lone man try to keep going when he has nothing left. I loved the film versions as well “The Omega Man” with Charlton Heston and “I am Legend” with Will Smith.
Invasion of the body snatchers by Jack Finney
This isn’t typical horror but the story of a man caught up in a town where everyone is slowly being taken over by pod creatures. Everyone looks the same and “mostly” acts the same after being taken over in their sleep. One by one everyone the hero knows succumbs, till he is the last one in town who is still himself. This creates an atmosphere of growing paranoia, and even as our hero tries to flee the town, you can’t be sure that he will be believed when he decribes the growing and spreading threat.
Lightning by Dean Koontz
This earlier novel by Koontz sticks in my mind because it follows a young girl over time as a mysterious guardian appears in desperate moments to save her. It is revealed that she is stalked over time by time travellers and protected by another. How she comes to be the protector of her guardian and a tough fighter to save herself is pretty gripping.
Midnight by Dean Koontz
Another Koontz novel that sticks with me as really scary is Midnight. Maybe I’m just afraid of the dark after all these years but when a team is sent into Moonlight Cove to investigate grisly deaths you know its not just some guy on a binge. Full of tension, and taking place largely at night, our heroes are picked off one by one. Good stuff.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
This was written before Hannibal Lecter got to be Mr. Popularity. An FBI agent consults Hannibal when a series of unsolved murders of entire families has agents stumped. I don’t read this type of book and didn’t watch or read Silence of the Lambs..I just sort of backed into this thriller unknowing. The details of how the killer finds his victims is so unnerving, and Hannibal as a side character is beyond frightening. It adds up to one of those books you try to read in daylight, and you ignore your legs shaking in fear cause you’re such a coward. Tsk.
Summer of night by Dan Simmons
Set in a small town, a group of kids discover that something monstrous is afoot and devouring children. The center of terror is an old school, where teachers and the principal seem to be in league with the evil being. Noone makes a fuss as children disappear so the brave youngsters are seemingly on their own trying to save each other and the other children in the town. One of the scariest books ever, this will not disappoint.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Before vampires became romance novel love interests, they were frightening creatures bent on stealing the lifeblood of their victims. Enter a vampire bent on destroying the inhabitants of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine. The author has always had the ability to create memorably likeable and loathesome characters who are taken out in turn as the novel progresses. As people disappear and their sleeping vampiric forms could be anywhere, the suspense grows. The plight of those trying to save the remaining townsfolk and destroy the taken ones is scary and heartrending, quite an accomplishment. I think this was my first Stephen King novel, and he rarely disappoints.
The Shining by Stephen King
The other standout novel for me is the Shining. Set in a big old hotel that is snowed in for the winter, the isolation of the small family that is caretaking would be frightening enough. But the hotel is haunted by past residents. After Robert Bloch’s Psycho, nobody likes be caught in the shower, but King’s creepy shower has a more lingering horror. The father’s disintigration into drunken madness ratchets up the fear level for his wife and child and the reader. Don’t even ever think about the film versions, especially the Jack Nicholson one…different work altogether, not the same the same story at all.