The 50 best horror novels of all time

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2. It by Stephen King (1986)

I vehemently protest this ranking. I hated reading IT, felt the structure of it was all over the place. There’s bits of it that work brilliantly but as a whole the book needed another pass from an editor. The ending is awful and there’s the awkward kid sex.

I would put The Shining in its place, its genuinely scary and to me its one of his best books


Well I’m happy not to see Dean Koontz on the list. His books sell like hotcakes, but they’re just awful.



I’ve read about a 1/3 of the titles listed; including Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman and all the King entries.


King is very hit or miss, and even the hits are not all that high on literary merit, IMO.

On the other hand, Something Wicked This Way Comes scared the hell out of me when I read it as a kid. That was a really creepy book.

I am a little disappointed with their Lovecraft selection. The first couple of things I read from him were the novellas The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which I think also score pretty high on the creep factor. It has to be said though that Lovecraft has this nasty racist tone running through his ouevre, and it’s hard to get past that as a 21st century reader. He also wrote for pulp magazines and it shows. He went for the kind of thing that gets a jump scene in a movie. But I like his stories anyway, probably since I got exposed to them in my less critical youth.

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There’s some genuinely solid King books cover to cover. The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Green Mile, Carrie, etc but you’re certainly right that the quality of his writing and books can have a big variance. I just think that IT is the most egregious as far as being super inconsistent and i’m appalled that it was ranked #2

Something Wicked This Way Comes is an awesome book. Had to read it for HS and i did not mind one second. Was a pleasure deconstructing the story and discussing it week to week.

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I agree that Lovecraft wrote more terrifying stories than At the Mountains of Madness (not that it’s a bad one!), but this is a list of novels, after all.

Stephen King’s (IMO deserved) success aside, I’ve always thought that short stories, as opposed to novels, are the natural format for horror.

He’s a fairly prolific with short stories, my favorite of his is The Mist but there’s other great ones. I do agree that good horror does not need to be novel length, the Creepypasta meme was a good showcase for scary short stories.

My personal list would include Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which I find horrifying in its believability—feels just a very few years around the corner, and Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance trilogy of novellas which provided me with an unshakable creepiness plus morbid fascination (not to mention that he does a smart take on Lovecraftian cosmic horror without the racist, sexist, heteronormative, etc. baggage of Lovecraft).


Have you read John Dies At The End? I enjoyed its take on Lovecraftian horror, it’s more Fear & Loathing + Lovecraft.


I liked the The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters a lot. Lauren Beukes is an interesting writer.

The Elementals is worth your time, also Michael McDowell’s Blackwater saga.

The Terror by Dan Simmons was enjoyable; take my advice and never read his Song of Kali, it’s a slog all the way to the end and then goes in a direction you will wish you could wipe from your memory, particularly if you have kids.

Something Wicked This Way Comes deserves to be much higher on the list than #25.


I enjoy lists like this one just to see what someone else thinks. I know that I (and probably everyone else) will find points of disagreement, but that’s not really the point. What I do get out of this is perhaps some things to explore that I might have missed. I was very pleased to see Michael McDowell on the list altho The Elementals is not one I’ve read (yet). I picked up his book Toplin when it came out as one of the Dell Abyss series (sorely missed) because most books with that imprint were worth at the very least a look. Toplin is super weird. The only book that I’ve thrown across the room because of the creep factor. Also, his Blackwater saga is pure Southern Gothic with generous touches of the bizarre.One author that I was surprised to not see on the list was Kathe Koja. Her The Cipher (I believe the first Abyss offering) is, well, hard to describe.


Something Wicked is a tremendous book with utterly gorgeous prose. I also rate the Disney adaptation with Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce. Sadly, because the movie comes from the early 1980s, Disney don’t seem to acknowledge its existence - I’d love to see a restored HD version with that terrifying scene in the library.

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Yrsa Sigurdadottiet’s Ég man þig - beautifully translated into English as I Remember You is a worthy ghost story - remember, Icelanders have the best ghost stories.

I’d also add Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter to the list if you like your horror stories dark and cold. Although it can’t quite keep up the intensity, the opening of Sarah Lotz’s White Road is incredibly intense - remember the sense of claustrophobia you got in that movie The Descent?

One day I will actually get through House of Leaves, I suspect there is a cracking book hiding under a mountain of irrelevant prose - three attempts and I’ve never been able to get past an entire chapter given over to the meaning of echoes.

Very surprised to see no M R James ghost stories on the list - are they not well known in the US? James pretty much created the tradition of British ghost stories which Susan Hill has developed so beautifully in recent years. They’re generally not very long and are steeped in Victorian dread. Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad Is my favourite, but there are so many more that are justifiably classics.

The BBC adapted several James stories in the 1970s in something of Christmas tradition, but my favourite versions have to be those of 2000 which featured readings by Christopher Lee in front of a cracking fire. Here’s one:

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NPR put out their list of 100 top horror stories (as opposed to novels only) last month. I can’t judge which may be better, but I expect both lists to help me find more stuff to read, so I say good on 'em. :slight_smile:


Well, they’re focusing purely on novels, otherwise I imagine Poe would have made the cut as well.

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Poppy Z. Brite: Exquisite Corpse.

If you want a book about a serial killer that will make you want to take repeated showers just scrubbing… scrubbing… this is one for you.

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If I were to be ask I will definitely put Stephen King works on top of the best horror novels of all time.

I made it through House of Leaves, but it was a chore. I wanted to get it; I was ashamed that I didnt get it; I thought that maybe if I were better educated or smarter I would have gotten it; but in the end, it felt like an exasperating retelling of someone else’s bad dream, or maybe a horror story written by an actuary. No offense meant if you happen to be an actuary.

I tried it again a couple years ago, and gave up after a couple chapters. It’s like a stupid person’s idea of what a smart person’s psychological horror novel would look like.