The talk always turns to scary movies around this time of year. Freddie, Jason and Michael crawl out from under their respective rocks for the one month they are remembered and celebrated.
But what about books? Sure, they’re not the best for quick scares, but a book can get under your skin and unnerve you the way few movies can. After the last page is read, you’ll still think about them for a long time to come.
Here are my picks for the ten creepiest books I have ever read. Some will disturb you, while others will make you want to hide under the covers and not answer the door. No matter what, you’re guaranteed to be entertained.
1. I first read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca because Stephen King referenced it almost constantly in Bag of Bones, another book I loved. This is an eerie gothic tale of a new bride tormented by the spectre of the former woman of the house and the twisted housekeeper who remains devoted to her. Rebecca was published in 1938, but has yet to go out of print.
Speaking of Stephen King, an entire list could be devoted to his work, and I may do that in the future. But if I have to limit myself, Apt Pupil gets my vote for one of the most skin-crawling things the man has ever written. This novella is often overlooked because it’s in the same volume as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body, which were both turned into spectacular movies. Apt Pupil, on the other hand, was adapted into a spectacularly shitty movie. Still, the novella’s charming, fool-everyone teenage sociopath is one of the most chilling, believable characters King has ever created.
3. I love everything John Douglas and Mark Olshaker have written, but Journey Into Darkness is probably the most frightening. Douglas is a retired criminal profiler who was one of the founding members of the FBI’s Behavioural Sciences Unit. Journey Into Darkness’s power comes from Douglas showing us the inner workings of some of the world’s cruelest killers–and how easy it is to become a victim. The story of Suzanne Collins–a marine who was out for a jog on her military base when she was sexually assaulted, beaten and killed–really got to me. No one ever expects to be the target of that kind of attack, but so many are.
4. It’s been many years since I discovered Chariots of the Gods in a pile of my mom’s dusty books, so it may be quite dated. This “non-fiction” account sets out to prove that God was actually an alien. It seems like a ridiculous premise, but Erich von Däniken’s arguments are so compelling that I found it highly disturbing. As a teenager, it bothered me enough that I had to stop reading, which made a huge impression on me.
With Bird Box, Josh Malerman accomplishes something extraordinary–he scares you with what he doesn’t say. In this unusual take on a post-apocalyptic tale, most of the population has died after seeing something horrific. As a result, Malorie and her two children live their lives blindfolded in a world of self-imposed darkness, where even the tiniest sound can mean the worst. If you’re like me and think monsters are scariest when you can’t see them, you’ll love this book.
6. Read Rosemary’s Baby and you’ll instantly see why it’s a classic. I must have read Ira Levin’s novel at least a dozen times, and I never tire of it. I love the way the mystery slowly unfolds as you wonder “Is Rosemary crazy, or is she on to something?” The ending is a tad cheesy by today’s standards, but the rest of the book makes it well worth the read.
Before Daniel Radcliffe was a glimmer in his mother’s eye, Susan Hill’s gothic horror tale The Woman in Black was scaring the crap out of readers all over the United Kingdom. Hill is a master at scene setting, and before you know it, you’re out on Eel Marsh with poor Arthur Kipps, watching the tide come in and hearing the children scream….
8. Yes, I admit it–I used to be a fan of Dean Koontz, and The Servants of Twilight is why. Part horror, part suspense, and part psychological thriller, this unsettling novel explores what happens when a crazed religious cult sets their sights on a innocent child, convinced he is the anti-Christ. Spooky on many levels.
9. If you’ve graduated from high school, you were probably forced to read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I wonder how many teenagers that book has freaked out? Not so much scary as highly disturbing, Lord of the Flies shows what can happen when polite society no longer exists. It’s King’s Children of the Corn taken to another level.
10. And finally, one of the only books I can honestly say truly SCARED me as an adult–Scott Smith’s The Ruins. The evil in Smith’s novel can’t be reasoned with, because it shouldn’t be sentient at all. What it is, however, is hungry. Very, very hungry. Don’t open this one on a dark and stormy night. You can read my reactions to Smith’s book here.
Your turn, dear readers! What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?
If you like this post, you’ll love The Five Creepiest Children in Film. Happy Halloween!