25 Horror Novels That Will Make You Smarter
Since this is a test site and our hope is for you to be your best, we thought it time to get into the spirit with some literary gems that also pass for horror novels.
These are definitely not cheap thrills, and many of them will stay with you long after the final page. That said, let’s get going.
Horror Novels to Make You Smarter, No. 25. Ghost Story by Peter Straub
Synopsis: For four aging men in the terror-stricken town of Milburn, New York, an act inadvertently carried out in their youth has come back to haunt them. Now they are about to learn what happens to those who believe they can bury the past — and get away with murder. (Goodreads)
24. The Books of Blood by Clive Barker
Synopsis: Not a novel in the strictest sense of the word, but when talking about literary horror achievements, you cannot fail to mention Barker’s short works. It would bog us down to list each story and what it’s about, so just check out this link.
23. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Synopsis: On December 18, 1975, a young family of five moved into their new home, complete with finished basement, swimming pool, and boathouse. Twenty-eight days later, they fled in terror, leaving most of their belongings behind. — The fantastic story of their experiences was widely publicized on network television, newspapers, and national magazines. But the Lutz family never disclosed the full details to the media. Now, their own carefully-reconstructed memories — and independent interviews with local clergy and police — reveal their entire harrowing story. (Goodreads)
22. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Synopsis: Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein. (Goodreads)
21. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Synopsis: The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. “World War Z” is the result. (Goodreads)
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Synopsis: In The Island of Dr. Moreau, a shipwrecked gentleman named Edward Prendick, stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious Dr. Moreau, confronts dark secrets, strange creatures, and a reason to run for his life. (Goodreads)
19. The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft
Synopsis: Howard Philips Lovecraft reinvented the horror genre in the 1920s, discarding ghosts and witches and instead envisioning mankind as a tiny outpost of dwindling sanity in a chaotic and malevolent universe. He wrote dozens of short stories and influenced the likes of Stephen King and pretty much every other horror author of the 20th and 21st Centuries.
18. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Synopsis: The Exorcist is a 1971 novel by American writer William Peter Blatty. The book details the demonic possession of twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil, the daughter of a famous actress, and the two priests who attempt to exorcise the demon. (Wikipedia)
17. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Synopsis: Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, an ordinary young couple, settle into a New York City apartment, unaware that the elderly neighbors and their bizarre group of friends have taken a disturbing interest in them. But by the time Rosemary discovers the horrifying truth, it may be far too late! (Goodreads)
16. Punish the Sinners by John Saul
Synopsis: Italy 1252. Inquisition. Accusation. Fear. Torture. The guilty and the innocent dying for sins real and imagined in the flames of the burning stake. Neilsville, 1978. Peter Blasam has come to this sleepy desert town to teach its youth, and finds a mystery of mounting horror. Something is happening to the young girls of St. Francis Xavier High School — something evil. In bloodlet and terror a suicide contagion has swept the two… while a dark order of its holy men enacts a secret medieval ritual. Is hysteria manipulating these innocent children into violent self-destruction? Or has supernatural force, a thirteenth-century madness, returned to… Punish The Sinners. (Goodreads)
15. The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber
Synopsis: The savage killing of two New York City policemen leads two detectives, a man and a woman bound together by a strange, tough passion, to hunt down the wolfen, called werewolves in former days.
14. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Synopsis: A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmare. (Goodreads)
13. Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
Synopsis: Carl Streator is a reporter investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome for a soft-news feature. After responding to several calls with paramedics, he notices that all the dead children were read the same poem from the same library book the night before they died. It’s a ‘culling song’ – an ancient African spell for euthanising sick or old people. Researching it, he meets a woman who killed her own child with it accidentally. He himself accidentally killed his own wife and child with the same poem twenty years earlier. Together, the man and the woman must find and destroy all copies of this book, and try not to kill every rude sonofabitch that gets in their way. (Goodreads)
12. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Synopsis: The novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and of the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and a woman led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing. (Wikipedia)
11. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Synopsis: First published in French as a serial in 1909, The Phantom of the Opera is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine’s childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous ‘ghost’ of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. (Goodreads)
10. John Dies at the End by David Wong
Synopsis: STOP. You should not have touched this flyer with your bare hands. NO, don’t put it down. It’s too late. They’re watching you. My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye. The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.
The important thing is this: The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension. John and I never had the chance to say no. You still do. I’m sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind: None of this was my fault. (Goodreads)
9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Synopsis: Dorian Gray is a man given to every type of pleasure. The effects of those indulgences are confined to a portrait that gets uglier and uglier with each passing sin. A literary classic of philosophical horror.
8. Stephen King’s It
Synopsis: To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered for the most part. A good place to live.
It was the children who saw – and felt – what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reached up, seizing, tearing, killing . . .
The adults, knowing better, knew nothing.
Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of IT was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until they were called back, once more to confront IT as IT stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.
7. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Synopsis: There’s a killer on the loose who knows that beauty is only skin deep, and a trainee investigator who’s trying to save her own hide. The only man that can help is locked in an asylum. But he’s willing to put a brave face on – if it will help him escape.
6. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Synopsis: Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth… but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville’s blood.
By day he is the hunter, stalking the undead through the ruins of civilisation. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.
How long can one man survive like this? (Goodreads)
5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Synopsis: A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.
Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…
But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.
For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them. (Goodreads)
4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Synopsis: First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. (Goodreads)
3. The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
Synopsis: Suburbia. Shady, tree-lined streets, well-tended lawns and cozy homes. A nice, quiet place to grow up. Unless you are teenage Meg or her crippled sister, Susan. On a dead-end street, in the dark, damp basement of the Chandler house, Meg and Susan are left captive to the savage whims and rages of a distant aunt who is rapidly descending into madness. It is a madness that infects all three of her sons and finally the entire neighborhood. Only one troubled boy stands hesitantly between Meg and Susan and their cruel, torturous deaths. A boy with a very adult decision to make. (Goodreads)
2. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Synopsis: A blind old man, a young apprentice working in a tattoo shop, and a mad woman haunting an Ohio institute narrate this story of a family that encounters an endlessly shifting series of hallways in their new home, eventually coming face to face with the awful darkness lying at its heart. (Goodreads)
1. The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe
Synopsis: Poe wrote 69 short stories and numerous poems in his career as a writer. He gave us such classics as “Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Casque of Amontillado,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “Berenice” (seriously shocking piece, look it up if you haven’t read it). His short films have been adapted into numerous horror films over the years. There are few writers in literature, let alone horror literature, to have demonstrated as much skill, literary merit, or influence.
While the horror novels above are ranked, please do keep in mind these are the cream of the crop, and we agonized over it. There is nothing on this list that could be deemed “inferior,” so try to give them all a shot if you haven’t already.
Which horror novels do you think deserved to be here? Sound off in the comments section below!
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