13 Scary Books to Freak You Out, Just in Time for Halloween

We like a good scary movie just as much as anyone, but there's something to be said for curling up with a fantastically creepy book — no jump cuts, no CGI, no soundtrack — just us and our imagination. Here are some of our favorites.

Image: matteozin/Fotolia

by Caitlin Van Horn

'Quiet Dell' by Jayne Anne Phillips

Quiet Dell, just released (and therefore just in time for Halloween) makes use of one of the best tropes of scary movies — it's based on a true story. It features a hard-nosed female journalist on the trail of a widow-murdering serial killer, so think of it as Silence of the Lambs set in the 1930s.

'The Demon in the Freezer' by Richard Preston

This one will give you the heebie-jeebies, especially while the CDC is operating as a ghost of its former self. Preston details how smallpox eviscerated the general population — and just how easy it would be to weaponize and reinfect the population.

'Zombie' by Joyce Carol Oates

If you like some serious literary cred along with your goosebumps, JCO has you covered. Written as the diary of a serial killed loosely based on Jeffrey Dahmer, Zombie is gruesome, bizarre, and will make you looks at your neighbors a little differently.

'Threats' by Amelia Gray

In Threats, David, a recent widower, begins finding uncanny, unsettling messages like: “I WILL CROSS-STITCH AN IMAGE OF YOUR FUTURE HOME BURNING. I WILL HANG THIS IMAGE OVER YOUR BED WHILE YOU SLEEP," all over his home as he copes with his wife's mysterious death. Gray's novel never outright shows you what's hiding in the dark, but her gift for suggestion means that you might want to sleep with a nightlight.

'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski

Maybe you didn't think typography could be spend-the-rest-of-the-night-huddling-under-covers scary. Maybe you've managed to avoid the Internet chatter and cult-following that has been surrounding Danielewski since his debut novel was published. Either way, House of Leaves' multiple story lines make it an engrossing, obsessive, and surprisingly quick 700-page read.

'At the Mountains of Madness' by H.P. Lovecraft

You have to admire the dedication of Lovecraft's narrators; even as they watch their grisly end coming at the hands of some meticulously-constructed nightmare creature, they just don't stop taking notes. There's nothing like nineteenth century horror when it's mixed with a little arctic exploration and aliens, trust me.

'The Shining Girls' by Lauren Beukes

Yes, this list already has a few murderers, and, yes, a few of them are psychopaths. But if we've learned anything from Hollywood, it's that murderous psychopaths are like the little black dress of boogeymen. Plus, when it's a time-travelling murderous psychopath written by someone as talented as Beukes, how can you resist?

Misery' by Stephen King

Kathy Bates in the 1990 movie adaption is scary, but she's only a twentieth as scary as she is in the novel — though who would expect less from the OG of modern horror? Misery details a captive, drug-addicted author as he is forced to crank out a new novel for a psychotic fan and is, in part, so terrifying because King writes from his own experience dealing with drug abuse.

'Rabid' by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy

What could be better than getting scared? Getting scared and learning things. Wasik and Murphy trace the historical roots of vampires and werewolves back to outbreaks of rabies, complete with jaw-droppingly gory (and medically accurate!) descriptions and accidental immolations.

'Hemlock Grove' by Brian McGreevey

Yes, you could watch it on Netflix and marvel at the Skarsgaard genepool, but McGreevey's retelling of classic gothic horror in a small coal-mining town skips bad CGI in favor of the universally horrific experience of high school — but this time with a werewolf picking off young cheerleaders.

'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' by Neil Gaiman

What would Halloween be without a novel from Gaiman, who is a master of stories that are tender, heartwarming, and spine-chillingly creepy — all at the same time? The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one part homecoming, prodigal son story, and one part classic suspenseful horror.

'Haunted' by Chuck Palahniuk

No matter what your horror subgenre of choice is, you'll find it here. A dozen aspiring writers go on a retreat to finish their respective works, only to realize that if suffering is what their audience wants to see, the proper response is to start cutting off fingers and mutilating themselves in a perverse competition for who can be the most damaged. It's like an MFA workshop on steroids!

Goosebumps series by R.L. Stein

I won't tell if you dig these out of the back of your closet and read six in a sitting. Just like I won't tell if you buy an entire bag of funsize Snickers just for yourself.