In Cold Blood
Truman Capote spent six years writing In Cold Blood, one of the earliest “true crime” stories, after reading about the gruesome murders of a Kansas farmer and his entire family in the New York Times. The fact that it’s rooted in truth is what makes it so scary; as one RIFer puts it: “It’s chilling to know that something like that actually happened.”
House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski
In this story within a story within a story, a family returns home from a trip to find a closet where there was none before. The house continues to grow upon itself, creating an endless series of hallways and rooms and a low, never-explained growl plays soundtrack to the whole thing. The phenomenon drives the family living inside insane, as it does the reader of the tale. And it will likely do the same to you.
The Haunting of Hill House
Highly regarded as one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century, The Haunting of Hill House tells of four characters that stay at the ominous mansion to explore the paranormal phenomena going on inside. The house’s spirits eventually possess one of its visitors, a quiet, reserved woman named Eleanor. Warning: this gripping gothic novel will have you convinced that every creak of your stairs is a poltergeist coming to haunt you.
Imagine a post-apocalyptic world, a bleak and burned landscape. Ok good. Now imagine you’re alone in this desolate landscape with only your father, very little food and a pistol to protect you from cannibals. Now imagine losing everything you have. One RIFer says of the novel, “Its descriptions of the world post-apocalypse take one’s imagination to a very dark place. And the feeling of loss that permeates the end of the book leave the reader feeling utterly fearful about the end times.”
The House of the Seven Gables
In a sleepy little New England village stands a brooding mansion, haunted by a centuries-old curse that casts the shadow of ancestral sin upon the last four members of the distinctive Pyncheon family. Hawthorne based the house on a real colonial mansion in Salem, Massachusetts as well as ancestors of his that were involved in the Salem Witch Trials, both of which haunted him throughout his life.
Interview with the Vampire
In Anne Rice’s classic debut novel, 200-year-old vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac confesses his life story to a reporter. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force—a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. Rice wrote the novel after the death of her young daughter, who was an inspiration for the child-vampire character Claudia.
The October Country
A collection of short stories from the master of science fiction and fantasy, The October Country is Ray Bradbury’s own netherworld of the soul, inhabited by the horrors and demons that lurk within all of us. Stories include a murderous newborn out to kill its mother, a creepy cemetery that makes displays of bodies when they can’t pay to be buried there, and a man who is convinced his skeleton is out to destroy him.
Suffer the Children
An instant bestseller, Suffer the Children starts with the tragic murder of a young child, after which the guilty culprit dashes himself into the sea. But one hundred years later, the murders return to Port Arbello. The children begin disappearing, one by one, and as the culprit is hunted down, the townspeople begin to realize that an evil history is repeating itself.
In the slums of eighteenth-century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift—an absolute sense of smell. As an adult, he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of everyday objects, until one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume”—the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.
World War Z
The novel starts ten years after humanity won the twenty-year Zombie War. The novel follows Max Brooks as the nameless UN agent who travels the world gathering first-hand experiences through interviews with survivors. Aside from its harrowing accounts of flesh-eating zombies, it is also a chilling look at the social, political and environmental breakdown that occurs during this fictional Zombie War—and, though fictional, it hits very close to home.
The Woman in Black
In the small market town of Crythin Grifford stands a bleak, isolated house called the Eel Marsh House. When junior solicitor Arthur Kipps is summoned to Crythin Grifford to settle the affairs of an elderly widow who lived in the house, he is haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images—a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, the ghostly woman dressed all in black.
Originating first as a Twitter story and then developed into a full novel, this haunted house story explores the mysterious and oppressive Slade House—and those it claims. Five “guests” enter Slade House for a brief visit, only to vanish without a trace from the outside world. Beginning in 1979 and ending in 2015, these five interlacing narratives will enchant Mitchell’s readers, old and new, with a signature blend of mystery, realism, and the supernatural.
Emily St. John Mandel
Fifteen years after a flu pandemic wiped out most of the world’s population, Kirsten, an actress with the Traveling Symphony, moves with her small troupe over the gutted landscape performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. But when they arrive in the outpost of St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
H. P. Lovecraft
Frequently imitated and widely influential, Howard Phillips Lovecraft reinvented the horror genre in the twentieth century, discarding ghosts and witches and instead envisioning mankind as a tiny outpost of dwindling sanity in a chaotic and malevolent universe. This definitive collection reveals the development of Lovecraft’s mesmerizing narrative style and establishes him as a canonical—and visionary—American writer.
Scary books have immense power over their readers. They build in that slow, suspenseful way that has you sitting on the edge of your chair, furiously flipping pages to see what happens next. They produce physical sensations in the body, like impending dread in the pit of your stomach, or the hair on the back of your neck standing on end. They take your imagination along for the ride, as you can’t help but picture every gruesome detail as you read. They can make us permanently frightened of their subject matter—be it bloodthirsty dogs (Cujo, anyone?), Ebola (The Hot Zone), or even, yes, clowns. But, as readers, we love the sensation of being scared—it is adrenaline-inducing and addictive. If you’re in the mood for a fright, here are some of the scariest books ever written. And if they get to be a little too much, just do what I do: throw it in the freezer.
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