Top Ten Scariest Novels
We are being ambitious this year by completing not one but two “top ten novels” lists in the same month. But it is almost Halloween and it seemed an appropriate time to cover this list. Yes, we only have one Stephen King novel in there, and I’m sure we missed out on a few of your favourites so, as always, let us know what you guys think.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This story about a group of people who volunteer to spend the night at a haunted house as part of a paranormal investigation is considered by many to be one of the finest haunted house stories written in the 20th century. The novel expertly mixes ghostly creepiness with the fractured psyche of Eleanor, to keep readers on edge throughout. The novel has inspired two movies, although do yourself the favour, skip the remake and go with the 1963 movie instead.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Set in a small seaside town in England, The Woman in Black follows Arthur Kipps, a solicitor from London who arrives to handle the estate of an elderly widow who has just passed away. Staying at the mysterious Eel Marsh House, Arthur finds himself confronted by the ghostly visage of the strange woman in black, whose appearance, so the stories go, will result in the death of a child. Soon to be a Hammer horror movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, this novel was also adapted into a stage play which is now the West End’s second longest running production. I would highly recommend seeing it if you’re ever in London.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
When the protagonist (who remains famously unnamed throughout) falls in love with and marries the handsome widower Maximilian de Winter, it seems that all her dreams have come true. But when the newly weds return to Maxim’s estate, Manderlay, the new Mrs de Winter finds herself constantly compared to Rebecca, the former Mrs. de Winter, particularly by Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper. This novel may not contain actual paranormal phenomena but make no mistake, there are plenty of ghosts in this novel.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Yes it’s an oldie, but it’s still a goodie. This one novel spawned a new type of creature in literature, the vampire, and made Transylvania synonymous with Dracula. If you’re moaning for the days back when vampires were creepy and evil instead of glittery and romantic, you have to check out Dracula.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
No list of scariest novels would be complete without an entry from Edgar Allan Poe, and I can’t think of a better example than The Tell-Tale Heart. The story follows a disturbed protagonist who kills an old man, cutting up his body and hiding it beneath the floorboards. But, when the police arrive to question the protagonist, the beating of the old man’s heart, threatens to give the game away.
Hell House by Richard Matheson
From the author that brought you I Am Legend, comes Hell House, another chilling haunted house story. The novel follows a group of people investigating the afterlife as they enter Belasco House, considered the most haunted house in the world. Unlike Shirley Jackson’s novel, the supernatural being that possesses Belasco House seeks to possess, corrupt and eventually destroy its visitors.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
If you want to know what made the Roman Polanski movie so good, look no further than the novel by Ira Levin. Polanski was apparently afraid to make any changes at all, which is why it remains one of the most faithful movie adaptations. The beauty of the novel lies in the fact that, up until the end, you’re never quite certain whether Rosemary is just a paranoid new mother, or whether the conspiracies she begins seeing in every direction is actually real.
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Yes, another Ira Levin novel made the list. I can’t help it, he’s a highly underrated author. Like Rosemary’s Baby, you have a woman who succumbs to paranoia when she and her husband leave New York City for the creepily perfect town of Stepford. Unlike Rosemary’s Baby neither of the two movies quite did justice to the novel they were based on. The Stepford Wives is very much a book of its time. Set ten years after Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, The Stepford Wives pits women who are struggling to balance a family and career against men who seemingly want a return to the classic 50s housewife. Plus, how many books can say that their title became part of modern vernacular?
Misery by Stephen King
I have to admit, I’m not much of a Stephen King fan, I could never quite get into his work. But not even I can deny the genius of Misery. Sure, he’s done plenty of other stories, end of the world scenarios, rabid dogs, possessed cars, but Misery has surely got to be King at the top of his game. What’s more, unlike, say, pyrokinesis, a fan who’s bats&*t crazy and kidnaps her hero is not exactly an unlikely idea. After surviving a car wreck, author Paul Sheldon’s life is literally in the hands of his biggest fan, the disturbed Annie Wilkes.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Some might argue whether this is actually horror or not. On the surface, perhaps not. But there are certainly many more layers than just “FBI agent consults with serial killer to hunt down another serial killer.” First, you have the classic beauty and the beast scenario in which the naïve, young, female FBI agent must consult with a monster in order to track down another monster. The monster falls in love with the young woman, and if that monster is Hannibal Lector, frankly, I couldn’t think of anything more horrifying.