13 Scariest Books to Read on Halloween

Freak yourself out the old-fashioned way.

I was one of the lucky ones during Frankenstorm Sandy—no loss of water, no loss of power. But, like many in the region, I was fully prepared: bathtub filled with water, car with a full tank of gas, canned goods, candles, several bottles of wine, machete for zombie attacks, a fully charged laptop/phone, and books. Lots and lots of books. And while many people’s Kindles or iPads were filled with bestsellers, my Nook was packed with scary novels (like the new novels Breed by Chase Novak and Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye). Partly in preparation for this post, but mostly because I love reading scary books this time of the year. So if you’re going stir-crazy from being off from work or simply want to drop off a care package that will scare the shit out of a friend who’s still without power, here are 13 books that kept me up at night.

1. It, Stephen King

A monster of a novel — over 1,100 pages — Stephen King’s masterwork plays on our fears as children, namely Pennywise the clown. “’Float?’ The clown’s grin widened. ‘Oh yes, indeed they do. They float! And there’s cotton candy…’ George reached. The clown seized his arm. And George saw the clown’s face change.”

2. Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill

Judas Coyne, an aging, Marilyn Manson-like rock star, is a collector of macabre collectibles. When he purchases the suit of a dead man, which the previous owner claims the man’s ghost is connected to, Coyne must fight for his sanity and his life. Written by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, HSB—one of the few, great horror books not yet turned into a movie—is a terrifying ghost story rooted in reality.

3. Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry

The genius of the true-crime book was Bugliosi writing in first person. By writing about his own observations, rather than a supposition of Charles Manson’s thoughts and motivations, we examine a mad man and try to figure out how anyone would willingly kill for him. From creepy-crawling to blood-written words, other than Capote’s In Cold Blood, there is no true-crime book more chilling.

4. Dracula, Bram Stoker

The most influential horror novel ever written (115 years ago). And still one of the scariest.

5. The Shining, Stephen King


6. Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris

Harris’ Red Dragon introduced the character, but it is Harris’ third book (and Oscar-winning movie), Silence of the Lambs, that cemented Hannibal Lecter as a great literary villain. “Hello, Clarice…”

7./8. The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty / Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin

Two extraordinarily scary movies written by men based on their own extraordinarily scary (and trend-setting) books.

9. Intensity, Dean Koontz

As her friend and friend’s family are viciously murdered, Chyna Shepard survives by hiding under a bed. But when she learns who the killer’s next target is, only she can stop him.

10. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

From the brilliant author of the anthologized “The Lottery” comes this slow-building, sinister haunted house story.

11. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

Not a horror novel per se, but Ellis’ novel centering on the businessman/serial killer Patrick Bateman is completely disturbing.

12. The Cipher, Kathe Koja

It starts with a guy finding a black hole in his apartment building’s floor. But after accidentally reaching his hand inside, it appears (and seeps) on his hand. Koja’s horror is unsettling, depraved, and utterly readable.

13. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz

True this is not a full-length novel (sorry H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, & Clive Barker), but every child of the ‘80s and ‘90s either owned Scary Stories (and its sequel More Scary Stories) or knew someone who did. And while Schwartz’s writing was the main draw, it was Stephen Gammell’s illustrations that freaked people out.