It’s October – so, chances are that you have Halloween and all things horror-related on the mind. And while we’re absolutely big fans of film – and there are tons of great-looking new horror movies on the way – we also recognize that nothing beats a good book. Below, discover over 30 of the best horror books of all-time including classics and newer must-reads:
The Long Walk by Stephen King (1979)
Slow, inevitable horror shows up in classic zombie books — shamblers only, none of those running zombies — and in movies like 2015’s It Follows. Even The Hunger Games, which is by many measures a horror story, works because of inevitability. Stephen King’s The Long Walk was originally published in 1979 under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman, but he began writing it as a freshman in college, a couple of years before his earliest published short stories.
In The Long Walk, 100 teenage boys show up for a competitive walk whose eventual winner, the only survivor, is given whatever he asks for for the rest of his life. Like King’s beautiful novella The Body, this is a book about regular boys in conversation. Their mundane small talk about each other’s girlfriends and families and interests is stark against the backdrop of a dystopian death march. No outcome can be a good outcome.
John Dies at the End by David Wong (2007)
“David Wong” is the pen name for a white writer named Jason Pargin, who began making and writing for humor websites in the late ‘90s. He first published pieces of what became John Dies at the End on one of those niche sites. Eventually, he got a book deal, and he credited the feedback from putting his work online with making his book a better final product.
John Dies at the End fits into a long legacy of horror comedy: not just modern works like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Good Omens, but books and plays that made Scary Movie-style written parodies of every major horror work in history. Pargin has written several more books since, and all are horror comedy in the same vein of satire of the reluctant world-saver. Pargin is the executive editor of Cracked.com. The titular hero of John Dies at the End is based on Pargin’s persona, and John’s best friend in the book is his real-life best friend.
Uzumaki by Junji Ito (1999)
Junji Ito’s legendary horror manga Uzumaki was originally serialized in a Japanese young men’s manga magazine. It was first released in English beginning in 2001 and has been collected into deluxe versions since it concluded. It’s hard to explain what’s so frightening about Uzumaki, which begins simply enough with a high school girl, Kirie, observing her small town. Her boyfriend begs her to leave with him and mumbles about spirals — an omen of things to come.
Kirie and her boyfriend Shuichi notice more and more horrifying spiral motifs and obsession among the townspeople, and their town grows claustrophobic, swirling, and paranoid. For those from small towns, the symbolism of a dizzying spiral you can never seem to escape is almost too on the nose. Ito’s art is stark and haunting and has been boosted with color and gloss for some parts of the omnibus editions. There’s also an upcoming 2020 anime miniseries adaptation.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015)
Much of the best horror books tap into contemporary fears, and Paul Tremblay’s 2015 novel weaves evangelism, financial anxiety, and exploitative reality television into a driving story about a family splitting apart under pressure. Merry and Marjorie are young sisters whose parents are struggling, and Marjorie begins acting out, sharing perverse versions of children’s books and frightening younger Merry.
Their father is out of work and has recently become a traditional Catholic, and he and an exorcist priest cook up a moneymaking scheme involving turning Marjorie’s “demonic possession” into a lucrative reality show. Exorcisms are an old feature of horror storytelling, but exorcisms in real life have been on the rise in the 2010s, with estimates of as many as seven or eight times as many trained and working exorcists in 2018 as in 2011. Tremblay subverts the tropes of The Exorcist by clouding the moral culpability: who in this family is really afflicted, and with what?
The Ruins by Scott Smith (2006)
Novelist Scott Smith may be best known for 1993’s A Simple Plan, adapted in 1998 into a dark, noirish thriller starring Bridget Fonda. But his 2006 horror novel, The Ruins, is far grimmer and almost bewilderingly scary. A foursome of twentysomething American tourists is spending a few weeks in Mexico when a new friend from Germany disappears into the jungle.
His brother asks if they’d like to come inland with him to find the missing man, and what begins as a day trip begins to spin out into tension, queasiness, and bad omens almost immediately. Why is the path to a supposed archaeological dig carefully hidden by nearby villagers? Smith builds dread over time like a millefiori master, one thin and delicate layer at a time. The horror here is personal, bodily, supernatural, existential — the scares come from surprising and deep places and linger long after the book is over.
Hell House by Richard Matheson (1971)
The classic “trapped in the house” horror genre goes back many decades, especially if you include the claustrophobic psychological horror of “The Telltale Heart” or The Turn of the Screw. Even in classic murder mysteries, people are often trapped together and must identify which of the ordinary-seeming people in their group is the murderer. Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House set the genre in many ways, but Richard Matheson’s 1971 novel Hell House explores similar material and does it nearly as well.
Many of Matheson’s other novels, like 1978’s What Dreams May Come, continue to explore what it means to be in some kind of hell, whether real or conjured to prey on one’s own vulnerabilities. The titular hell house turns each of the four main characters into their own worst enemy, and its history shows them that the previous owner did the same thing to many people before them.
We also have a Richard Matheson classic featured on our list of the best zombie books of all-time.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
Mark Z. Danielewski’s debut novel House of Leaves became a surprising bestseller after it came out in 2000 — a 700-page paperback brick with a large form factor and a huge bag of postmodern tricks. Danielewski wasn’t the first to ask readers to rotate the book at times or read different type treatments, let alone the simple nested frame stories that make up the structure.
But his book invited in a host of, uh, less well-done genre copycats, including the brutal gimmickry of Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Danielewski’s book begins with a tantalizing detail: in a family’s new house, the inside measures larger than the outside. And so touches off the scary story within the frame story, a long lost manuscript being read in realtime by its discoverer. Danielewski uses claustrophobic layouts and choppy structure to bring readers into the frightening title house.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” may be the single most frightening piece of writing in history, and much of Jackson’s work explored the machinations and horrible potential of small groups. Despite her massive success as an author, she was stifled by life in the tiny college town where she was treated as her professor husband’s “faculty wife.” He controlled their finances, even though the large bulk of their money came from her work.
The push-pull of dread and constriction is what makes The Haunting of Hill House so powerful: as in Jackson’s next and final novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a misunderstood young woman is accused, isolated, and pressured to abandon her home. Stephen King admired Shirley Jackson immensely, and her influence shows in his first published novel, Carrie. Jackson lived to just 48, pushed into a “Mother’s Little Helper” cycle of barbiturates and amphetamines by doctors at the time.
The Other by Thomas Tryon (1971)
Disturbing children are one of the oldest tropes of horror, or even folklore in this case, going back millennia to myths of babies swapped with evil beings called changelings. Indeed, some of the best 20th-century horror is in the “bad seed” genre, including literally The Bad Seed. Truman Capote’s 1945 short story “Miriam” is one of the earliest modern creepy-child stories, although Capote says the story is about an inner child, not a literal one.
The Bad Seed followed in 1954. Rosemary’s Baby, in 1967, is the most direct precedent to The Other. In Thomas Tryon’s novel, twin adolescent boys go in very different directions because one is implied to be a sociopath or even supernaturally evil. Tryon was a pretty successful movie actor before he “retired” to begin writing instead, and he was in his mid-40s when The Other was published. The book’s success may reflect anxieties over youth culture at the time.
The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates (2016)
Joyce Carol Oates has written dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories in her 55-year career to date, including many that are explicitly horror. But her 2016 novel The Man Without a Shadow is horrifying in the indirect way embodied by other psychological novels like Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal: a first-person narrator tells us a story we have no choice but to believe, until at some point their story starts to slip out of relatability and into the confusing, immoral, or even frightening.
In The Man Without a Shadow, we meet Margot Sharpe, a young graduate student working in a laboratory that studies the human brain. Their star subject is Elihu Hoopes, a brain-damaged man who can’t create new memories of any kind. Sharpe is a cipher or maybe just an empty vessel — she’s drawn to this man who can’t care for himself, and she makes troubling decisions to further her career.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (2017)
Some argue that fairytales and folklore are the original horror stories, best embodied by the ones repeated to us, almost unbelievably allegorically, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Indeed, if modern horror expresses our anxieties back to us in art, folklore for children was often a cautionary and instructive form of protection: don’t wander too far into the woods, don’t ask too many questions, and do as you’re told.
Women writers have channeled the infantilizing energy of fairytales into modern retellings that posit the subjugation and brutalization of women as the new “child’s role” in these stories. Carmen Maria Machado’s 2017 story collection Her Body and Other Parties gathers Machado’s sharp, pointed, and postmodern stories, including a long, absurdist spin on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The Nebula-nominated story “The Husband Stitch” retells one of the most horrifying children’s stories — why do we tell this to children and include it in children’s books! — about a woman whose head is held on by just a narrow ribbon.
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007)
Joe Hill is Stephen and Tabitha King’s older son, and Heart-Shaped Box is his much-lauded debut novel. Hill takes the basic architecture of stories like Ringu and throws in a twist: the victim of the haunted or possessed object in the book has volunteered for it because of a creepy kind of fandom for morbid memorabilia. He is an aging rock star, with a hint of the realistic in his pursuit of more and more extreme stimuli toward his obsession with death.
What results is a slow but relentless pursuit in which those around the hero are harassed and killed. In general, works about the special isolations and dangers of fame can resonate and be very popular — even moreso from the son of horror’s biggest living legend, a global superstar with his own history of substance abuse and morbidity. Hill won the Bram Stoker debut novel award for Heart-Shaped Box.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Books like House of Leaves owe an incredible debt to epistolary novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a story told in letters and other documents. Like Mary Shelley in Frankenstein eighty years prior, Stoker uses the narrow first-person perspective of letters to manage what readers are seeing and perceiving in the story — in this case, a timely allegory about the fear of “foreign” invaders and contagions and young women’s sexuality.
The people around Count Dracula are as afraid of his psychological sway over young women as they are of his literal blood sucking, and Stoker established or just made canon a lot of the vampire trappings we still use. Vampires existed in folklore long before Stoker’s novel, and even in a handful of important novels published before Dracula. But Stoker made vampires personal and real in a way that matched the frightening “issue” novels of contemporaries like H.G. Wells.
The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons (1978)
Anne Rivers Siddons wrote twenty books between 1975 and 2014, and she just died in September of 2019 at age 83. In 1978’s The House Next Door, she took a classic haunted house story and subverted expectations while keeping it very, very frightening. First, the house isn’t creaky or old or locally legendary: it’s a brand new house, avant-garde and intrusive within a quiet neighborhood.
It’s also not abandoned or in the middle of nowhere, and several owners cycle through and are harmed or maimed by the evil force in the house. Finally, publicity comes into play, as the neighbors who begin to warn potential owners about the house are punished. We rarely consider the mechanics of how a haunting or an evil would really work: is a ghost a specific being or an entire area? In this case, the house is somehow listening, no matter where you are.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman (2015)
Not many writers have their debut novels made into Sandra Bullock movies. Touring musician Josh Malerman had written over a dozen novel drafts before finally publishing this one, an astonishing story that takes place during and after an apocalyptic event that causes mass suicide. The heroine, Malorie, has the worst kind of dilemma in the face of an apocalypse: she’s pregnant, with no options and no healthcare, in a world where no one can comfortably go outside and open their eyes ever again.
Malerman stokes the claustrophobia of Malorie’s pregnancy and her constricted subsistence before giving her an improbable chance to escape to a refuge where survivors have gathered. Malorie is a survivor in the emotional sense as well as literally, and in a way, the apocalyptic event has favored her as someone who is able to shut down her emotions in order to get through a massive trauma.
The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells (1896)
H.G. Wells wrote science fiction and speculative fiction in many, many different forms during a very long life and prolific career — well over 100 novels and nonfiction books and dozens of short story collections besides. Wells was a gifted and sometimes ruthless social critic, writing his enemies into his books as villains or fools and using current issues to position his stories.
In the 1890s, vivisection, meaning experimentation on living animals and a corresponding fear that it would be done to human victims, was a huge scare topic in Britain at the time. The Island of Doctor Moreau begins almost as a twist in an adventure novel: our hero’s ship to somewhere else is wrecked, and he must take refuge on a strange, secretive island used as a laboratory by Dr. Moreau. At first, the visitor fears Dr. Moreau is performing human vivisections. What he learns is somehow better and worse.
Ringu by Koji Suzuki (1991)
Japan is one of the most secular nations on Earth, with only about 40% identifying with any kind of religious belief, and the vast majority of those believers are Buddhists. But folk religion associated with the rituals and animistic beliefs of Shinto are informally and culturally practiced by as much as 80% of the population. This demographic has given much of Japanese horror a specific quality compared with, for example, the strongly Christian-flavored horror often made in the United States or Great Britain.
In Japan, the revenge ghost dates back more than a millennium and is firmly rooted in these folkloric and traditional beliefs. Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel Ringu placed a revenge ghost at the center of a very modern horror story about a behavioral contagion spread by VHS tape, including that the ending, which is supposed to have the instructions for viewers to avoid a grim fate, is taped over with an advertisement.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)
English writer Susan Hill has published dozens of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books during her long career. Her style is strongly English, never moreso than in 1983’s The Woman in Black, which is Hill’s best known novel and the basis of a not well-loved 2012 Daniel Radcliffe movie. Hill has spoken of her admiration for the traditional English ghost story, and she’s also written a direct sequel to fellow English ghost story legend Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 masterpiece Rebecca.
In The Woman in Black, all the Gothic hallmarks are there: a group telling ghost stories late at night, a retired lawyer flashing back to a haunting, and an isolated, stately house where he must stay alone. There’s a secretive, unfriendly village and a socially shameful family secret, all on the foggy, bewildering northern coast of England. The novel was adapted into a play, and that play has run continuously for thirty years and counting.
Slade House by David Mitchell (2015)
What is it about uncanny houses that trips our triggers? David Mitchell, best known for 2004’s Cloud Atlas, uses similar nested frame stories in 2014’s The Bone Clocks and its companion, 2015’s Slade House. Where Bone Clocks is 600 pages, Slade House is a quick and dirty 200, divided into scenes set nine years apart in creepy, upsetting, interdimensional Slade House.
The house disappears in between these episodes. Mitchell uses the passage of time to propel his story, like when a new victim, an investigator, shows up in search of a previous victim who disappeared years before. How do you identify a horror that comes and goes from another dimension, taking any evidence with it? People in the neighborhood gossip about strange noises and legends, but Mitchell has created a self-containing horror: people forget ever having seen the house, and their memories grow cloudy, leaving behind vague impressions and feelings of dread.
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King (1985)
Like his prolific fellows in genre fiction, Stephen King’s umbrella description as a horror writer doesn’t encapsulate the breadth of his work and its themes. Some writers publish thriller after thriller with similar structures and comfortingly familiar plots and outcomes. (Even so, series juggernauts like the late Sue Grafton or Lee Child display a lot real ambition and innovation.)
King has published some formulaic stuff, especially during his low ebbs in the early 1980s and early 1990s. His doorstop novels like The Stand and It are the stuff of legend. But it’s his tighter work that interests me most: short novels of psychological horror and, most of all, his stories. Skeleton Crew, collected in 1985 from work published beginning in the 1960s, contains the two King stories that have haunted me since I read them at least 20 years ago. It also includes the novella The Mist, which became the 2007 movie.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel Frankenstein wasn’t published under her own name for five years after its initial release. Like many others on this list, this is a frame story, beginning with a ship’s crew attempting to reach the North Pole when they see a lumbering giant and, later, a small, nearly dead man pursuing the giant. Tragic Victor Frankenstein explains why and how he’s built a man from spare parts and animated him using electricity — a current (pun intended) public fear based on the same flavor of scientific experimentation that led to H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau 80 years later.
But the real tragedy in Shelley’s novel is the monster himself, created and immediately hated and shunned by his own creator. The creature clears a swath of destruction through Dr. Frankenstein’s life out of loneliness and hatred, demanding only the creation of a female companion with whom he can disappear into the wilderness.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)
The idea that Catholic Church exorcisms are real is almost scarier than the fiction people have written that involves exorcism. William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel The Exorcist began as a spark of a story based on a real exorcism during his undergraduate studies at his alma mater, Georgetown University, which is Jesuit. The real case allegedly involved a mixed-up series of Lutheran parapsychologists and “spiritualists,” a visit to Georgetown’s Jesuit hospital, and multiple visits from Catholic exorcists.
Exorcism is not a hypothetical: in 2019, a high-up Jesuit official came under fire from the International Association of Exorcists — a real thing! — for making a public statement that the devil is a symbolic figure for believers rather than a literal and physical reality. Perhaps this is why Blatty’s novel has resonated for decades, and Blatty himself adapted the novel for the movie. He also wrote and directed The Exorcist III.
I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (2012)
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novel I Remember You is one of the most frightening books ever written, which makes it even wilder that Sigurðardóttir has three mentionable jobs before you even get to “horror writer”: she writes primarily children’s books and detective novels in addition to her career as a civil engineer. The magic of Sigurðardóttir’s novel is how she weaves two disparate kinds of horror together: first, a group travels to a startlingly isolated island to begin a project; and second, a doctor discovers a horrifying, gruesome murder.
The stories march forward in tandem, growing more distressing separately. Stranded on the unpopulated island, which is modeled after real “summer home” islands off the Icelandic mainland, the young people begin to turn on each other and grow suspicious. Each misstep or error chips away at their supplies and their weak hold on safety and security. Eventually, the lights go out completely.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Despite her French name, Daphne du Maurier was English through and through, the daughter of prominent people whose connections within Britain helped her get published. Her 1938 novel Rebecca, published when du Maurier was 31, but her first book came out when she was just 24. Du Maurier grew up in the far southwestern English county of Cornwall, which became the setting for many of her works, including Rebecca: she was so devoted to Cornwall that she belonged to a separatist political party there and lived there for the vast majority of her life.
The Bronte sisters set their Gothic novels in the north of England, but Cornwall offered a setting just as wild and dramatic for a tale of paranoia and jealousy. Du Maurier was born into socialite fame because of her family, and she remained the subject of fabulist biographies and claims for the rest of her life. She also wrote the story that became Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary movie The Birds, which she also set in Cornwall.
Ghost Story by Peter Straub (1979)
Besides his collaboration with Stephen King for 1984’s The Talisman and its 2001 sequel Black House, Peter Straub is best known for two archetypally named novels: 1979’s Ghost Story and 1990’s Mystery. In Ghost Story, Straub begins with a cozy-seeming clique of five old friends who tell each other scary stories. But the elderly Midnight Society is disrupted when one of their number is killed, and in each of their alternating narratives, the men reveal that they committed a terrible crime long ago.
Their friendship has adhered as much out of mutual concern and protection as friendship, and the men must ask themselves if their past has come back to haunt them, literally. The book was adapted into a 1981 movie starring, of all people, Fred Astaire in his final film role. The same year, Henry Fonda appeared in his final role in On Golden Pond, making it a big year for swan songs.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin (1967)
Ira Levin’s second novel became a runaway success after its release in 1967, culminating in the iconic 1968 Roman Polanski film starring Mia Farrow. Of course, Polanski’s involvement makes a great case for picking up Levin’s original novel instead: one in a line of wildly successful and creative novels that includes crime thriller A Kiss Before Dying, Hiter-clone thriller The Boys from Brazil, and the original The Stepford Wives. (Between the expressions “Rosemary’s baby” and “Stepford wife,” Levin’s linguistic impact is outsize as well.)
In Rosemary’s Baby, a young woman finds herself pregnant in dreamlike and monstrous circumstances, and the true nature of the child she’s carrying is hidden from her by eccentric and evil neighbors. When her husband is distracted by a disturbingly lucky break in his terrible acting career, Rosemary is left completely isolated in her grim new surroundings, and she begins to feel trapped and desperate as fewer and fewer people listen to her or take her seriously.
Audition by Ryu Murakami (1997)
Japan always had horror, but the breakout international success of the movie Ringu created an incentive for Japanese filmmakers to bring previous material to the forefront. Ryu Murakami’s novel Audition was still new when it was adapted to a film released in 1999. As with Ringu, video technology plays a role in the horror in Murakami’s story: a well-meaning best friend suggests that a widower put out a call for recorded “auditions,” purportedly for an acting role but actually to become the widower’s potential new wife. (The widower also wants to use video to make money from a scheme to draw and record the performance of a pianist from a restricted Communist country.)
Aoyama, the widower, is smitten with one woman who he meets and believes he’s falling in love with. Asami reveals that her background is filled with trauma, which Aoyama finds endearing and vulnerable. The book and its movie adaptation are credited with popularizing the torture-oriented horror that soon became popular.
Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco (1973)
Robert Marasco published just two novels and one play during his lifetime, with a second play found after his death in 1998. One of the novels is 1973’s Burnt Offerings, a haunted house story with a combination Exorcist–The Shining vibe. A family in New York City relishes the opportunity to rent a very cheap, large home for the summer, and they underestimate the very large catch that comes with the house.
The American public got familiar with this trope after Stephen King wrote The Shining several years later, but at the time, Marasco was inventive with the so-called real estate haunting. Horror had long included “run out of gas by a creepy house” kinds of stories, but what if you not only lived in the creepy house yourself but also lacked the money to move anywhere else? Even in the dark comedy The Money Pit, anxiety over sinking all the money into a doomed purchase is palpable and visceral.
This Census-Taker by China Mieville (2016)
Some horror is explicit, not just like “explicit content” but direct and prosaic in its message. A predatory creature everyone can see and identify is stalking and killing people. A serial killer leaves coy notes and turns out to be part of the core friend group in the story. (Stephen King has the protagonist of his early novel Rage outline this idea in a monologue: “You can go through your whole life telling yourself that life is logical, life is prosaic, life is sane.”)
But at the edges of our vision and consciousness, we drift into the nonsensical and frightening territory of dreams. China Mieville’s 2016 novel This Census-Taker is an anxiety dream, following a young boy with no control over his own life as he goes through confusing, tense situations with icebergs of secrets just below the surface. There’s dark magic, or is there? And what about the giant pit behind the house on the hill?
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004)
One of the thorniest parts of vampire lore is that vampires stay the same age they were when they were “turned,” creating extremely queasy plotlines like in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, where a centuries-old vampire turned as, and continuing to appear to be, a young teen is described in gross detail in a very adult relationship. Swedish horror writer John Ajvide Lindqvist uses this gray area in vampire fiction to position his story, tackling uncomfortable material head on and depicting a very savvy, visually 12-year-old vampire boy, Eli, who has learned how to bend society for his own survival.
In turn, he befriends Oskar, a human boy made vulnerable by a troubled family and relentless bullying. Lindqvist set the book in the blue-collar suburb where he grew up, in the time frame when he was the age of the young boys in the book. During this time frame in his own life, Lindqvist encountered the liminal culture where Let the Right One In takes place, including when he made money performing magic on the street for tourists.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (2013)
Joe Hill’s 2013 novel NOS4A2 was adapted as a limited TV series and released in June of 2019. It may not be right to continue to compare Joe Hill’s work with that of his father Stephen King, but everyone who writes horror must contend with King’s catalog. In NOS4A2, Hill uses a terrifying, charismatic, and multigenerational supernatural villain to hunt and prey on children. (No, he doesn’t dress as a clown — but he uses the smell of candy and the idea of year-round Christmas as his lure.)
A group of loosely linked and psychically gifted bystanders must work together to find and defeat the ancient villain, including a road trip around some version of the United States. In this 700-page book, Hill has modernized and reinterpreted the form of stylish, pop culture studded horror epic his father helped to establish in the popular imagination in the first place.
Misery by Stephen King (1987)
Stephen King is considered the master of modern horror by many readers, but the works I’ve chosen for this list are very specific and psychological. King’s huge, sweeping novels end up in scary places but are bloated with “drunk Uncle Steve”-era flabby overwriting and creepy sex scenes. Misery came out just a year after It, just 400 pages compared to It’s 1,100 — yes, eleven hundred pages. In this tight psychological horror story, a famous writer crashes his car and is found by his biggest fan, or really, his biggest Swimfan.
In real life, King was on the precipice of the sobriety he’s maintained since the late 1980s. The main character, Paul Sheldon, has killed off his popular heroine Misery so he can move on with his writing life, similar to how writers like Agatha Christie have felt trapped by their Hercule Poirots and how King felt boxed in as a horror writer.