Classic Novels Every Horror Addict Should Read

Horror is one of those love it or hate it genres that encompasses a wide range of subjects. From the original horror monsters like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to modern, slow-burning dystopian horror like The Road and the psychological horror of Edgar Allan Poe, there’s no limit to what will keep people up at night. For the horror enthusiast, there’s plenty of new stories to read, but most modern writers are influenced by the classics in the genre. Here are 8 horror novels every fan should check off their must-read list as soon as possible.

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
Considered one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century, this National Book Award finalist has helped define the genre. The story involves four people who arrive at Hill House to look for convincing evidence of a haunting but have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into. The book is cited by various authors, including Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, as an influence on their own writing. Jackson’s short story The Lottery is another must-read for fans of the horror genre.

House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
Guaranteed, you’ve never and will never read anything quite like the 705 page epic that is House of Leaves. The core story follows a family who moves into a new house and starts to notice the structure changing—walls moving, doors appearing and disappearing, that kind of thing. Eventually, the father decides to explore a closet and what he finds is a tunnel/hallway/dark endless pit that never seems to end or lead anywhere. It’s not a straight forward book—there are page-long footnotes, text that is upside down, backwards and diagonal, and three stories that intertwine to make up a confusing, yet fascinating narrative about a house that won’t hesitate to swallow people whole.

Ghost Story – Peter Straub
Well known in the horror and sci-fi genres, Peter Straub’s first big success was with the national bestseller, Ghost Story. In it, five friends take turns telling scary stories until one of them dies suddenly. The surviving men start having dreams where they also die and eventually a dark secret from their past resurfaces. The supernatural elements and themes of vengeance inspired Stephen King (Straub’s long-time friend and collaborator) to call Ghost Story one of the best horror novels of the late 20th century

The Shining – Stephen King
It’s hard to choose just one novel by the reigning master of horror, Stephen King. He has a number of terrifying classics including It, Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and Misery, but if you’re just getting started on his vast library, The Shining should be the first one you pick up. The Overlook Hotel is one of those quintessential horror story settings that effects its inhabitants so deeply that it actually starts to take control of them. Even if you’ve already seen the Stanley Kubrick-directed film (which is famously despised by King), it’s still worth reading the book to experience the story the way King intended.

Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
Rosemary’s Baby was the best selling horror novel of the 60s and is credited with leading the charge for more horror novels to become commercially successful. It’s no wonder it struck such a chord with readers considering being pregnant for the first time can be scary enough without members of a Satanic cult showing so much interest in your unborn child. For women especially, there isn’t much more horrifying than suspecting the baby growing inside you might not be entirely human. If nothing else, it’s a must-read because it’s unlike any other book in the genre.

Psycho – Robert Bloch
Janet Leigh made the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Psycho iconic, but the original novel but Robert Bloch makes Norman Bates seem even more terrifying. The dual personality is there, his mother’s dead, mummified body is there, and his complete and utter denial of who is actually the one committing murder in the Bates Motel is of course there. Three different actors have brought Norman Bates to life: Anthony Perkins, Vince Vaughan, and Freddy Highmore. But to decide who played him the best, you’ll have the read the original source material.

I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
Watching everyone you know and then everyone in your entire city, state and country die of a mysterious virus would be pretty bad. Even worse to see them come back as vampire-zombie hybrids out to kill you. But the scariest part in Richard Matheson’s dystopian horror novel has to be the fact that main character Robert Neville is the last man left alive. The book has also been adapted into four film versions and is also the inspiration for classic horror film Night of the Living Dead.

The Collector – John Fowles
There may be no supernatural elements in The Collector, but the horror is still there in the form of narrator of the first half of the novel, Frederick Clegg’s thoughts. He provides plenty of justifications for the crime he has committed: kidnapping a young woman and holding her captive in his cellar. He’s lonely and he believes if she just gets to know him, she’ll fall in love with him. The second half of the novel is told from the woman, Miranda’s point of view. She passes through fear, anger, desperation and violence as she tries to think of way to escape captivity. The most horrifying part of the story is how it makes you think about all the missing people and what some of them have gone through—or might be going through right now.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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