The Five Scariest Books I’ve Ever Read
In many ways, there is no medium that can deliver horror quite like a book can. Why? Because in a horror film or game, the vision of horror is designed for you. Yet in our heads when we read horror fiction, often what we imagine is way worse than what is imagined for us. Horror books leave that fear up to us. They may lead us in a direction with a visual description of a scene, but in everyone’s minds who read the book, I can promise you the scene has key differences. In other words, when it comes to reading horror, we are the director. The script may already be there for us, but we are the ones who bring it to life. The other beautiful thing about horror fiction is just how subjective it is. For example, you may think clowns are cute, but I think they are boorish demons summoned up from the very pits of Hell. For that reason alone, I may imagine some clown-like features when I imagine something creepy. It is subtle and subconscious, but it is just one of the ways our minds further amp up the scares when we read horror fiction. We personalize it. Having said all that, some books are just scary as fuck. These are the five books that had me making sure the door was locked and there was nothing hiding under my bed.
RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris
What you need to understand is, for me, Hannibal Lecter was even scarier when he was not yet Anthony Hopkins. Why? Because we ALL had different versions of him. Once we had our image cast of him by film, it stayed. What I loved about Red Dragon is I read this WELL BEFORE these movies were adapted to celluloid, and honestly, Red Dragon scared the absolute fuck out of me. It wasn’t even so much the Hannibal character in this book as it was the “Tooth Fairy”. Call me crazy, but there is just something utterly unsettling about an albino with a cleft palate who thinks that, by murdering people, he will become “The Great Red Dragon”.
For those who don’t know, Red Dragon was the book that introduced the world to the Hannibal Lecter character. It was about an F.B.I agent who is trying to capture a serial killer, and needs to get the expertise of the serial killer who almost killed him. This then sets off a cat and mouse hunt that will have you constantly wondering who really has the upper hand (hint: its Lecter). The best part is I read this book while working overnight at a state forest. I would be sitting there, reading, and trying not to shit my pants out of fear in the middle of the night. It definitely added to the suspense of the book.
Also, please don’t forget, before the modern retelling of this book series, there was the FIRST adaptation of this book, called Manhunter. In this film, Brian Cox plays Hannibal, and with all due respect to sir Anthony Hopkins, I found Cox to be more chilling.
SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King
Before vampires were teen heart throbs. Before vampires were TV stars with six-pack abs. Before vampires were reduced to some kind of pop icon, vampires were feral, scary creatures that would stop at nothing to feast on your blood. These were creatures made of pure instinct, and that instinct was to kill. Though Stephen King has very many scary books (The Shining ALMOST beat this out), none scared me quite as much as Salem’s Lot.
Salem’s Lot is about a school teacher who comes into a new town, only to find out that town has some other new guests that might not be as welcoming. as him. It had all the Stephen King tropes. The nerd character and the cool character. The quiet New England town harboring a dark secret. The thing is, it was only three or four scenes in the book that scared me, but they scared me so much I had to move my bed away from the window. In the book, that is how they get you. The vamps fly up to your window at night, and they use their long, sharp nails to scrape on your window and ask you to come in. The sad part is, they are your brother who died, or the teacher you want to fuck, so even though you are scared and know better, you feel yourself reaching for the latch to let them in.
That fucked me up for life.
THE BOOKS of BLOOD by Clive Barker
I can tell you right now, I should NOT have been allowed to read this guy as young as I was. It is not a dig on my parents. They are amazing people and had NO IDEA the depravity of early Clive Barker, God bless them, but regardless, the Books of Blood series by Clive Barker redefined just how far horror could go. They were a series, and in each book were multiple short stories, each more fucked p than the last.
Barker, unlike Stephen King, dealt a lot with psycho sexual horror and body horror. In other words, I was a young guy just figuring out how my own body works and figuring out I wanted to fuck, and his horrors all related to those things in some way. I can talk up each story in the entire series, but we would be here for ten thousand words. Instead, I can tell you that the Books of Blood gave me one story that was so unlike anything I had ever read. A story called Dread (which has recently been adapted to a pretty great film) about some young guys who want to figure out how fear works. It starts simple enough, but the scene that I’ve never been able to shake is when they finally dehumanize the girl they are keeping hostage for so long, that she forgoes her vegan ways and feasts on the carcass of a rotting, maggot covered deer they leave in the room with her. I will never forget that.
Also see, Candyman, which was WAY scarier as a story than the film.
HEART SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill
Yes, this is the same Joe Hill I mentioned in my last article. The same Joe Hill who just so happens to be Stephen King’s son. Dare I say he is a better horror writer than his Father? Well, I have said it at times, but I think it more fair to say he is a very DIFFERENT horror author than his Father.
Heart Shaped Box is about an aging rocker who ends up buying an old suit online that is rumored to be haunted. Well, I will skip all the boring stuff and tell you, it is. While the idea of a haunted suit and an aging rock star may sound one-note, you need to understand, this is a ghost story on a whole different level than most. Unlike the other books on this list, I actually read this book a few years ago, and as a grown ass man, it still kept me up at night.
Heart Shaped Box changes the idea of the ghost story, and in the process, scares the absolute fuck out of the reader.
THE HOT ZONE by Richard Preston
You know there has to be atleast ONE true story on the list, and the Hot Zone is not only true, but it will make your skin crawl.
The Hot Zone is nonfiction account of certain viral outbreaks that have happened in the world. Namely, the most disturbing one is the section about the Ebola virus. From the crystal clear descriptions of the multiple stages, to the idea that this kind of thing could happen to us again at any point, the Hot Zone is the kind of book you read and then you wish you could bleach your own skin. This is not horror fiction. This is horror non-fiction, and for that reason, it wins.
Anything by Jack Ketchum. Seriously, anything.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. The movie is terrifying, but the book takes that and notches it up by about ten. Also see a book called, The Possessed about the ACTUAL CASE that The Exorcist was based on. I am not even religious and those books kept me awake for many nights, pondering the ideals of good and evil.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P Lovecraft. I know this one is more of a short story, but Lovecraft is and always will be the master of horror, and this story about a small fishing village in Rhode Island with some less-than-human inhabitants that come out at night was scary for me not only because it is perfectly crafted and perfectly paced, but because I lived in Rhode Island when I read it. How meta is that?
So tell me, what books kept YOU up at night?