10 Books That Will Scare the Crap Out of You

scary books
GeorgePeters/Getty Images
GeorgePeters/Getty Images

Sure, you can read horror all year round, but there's something uniquely satisfying about curling up a scary story when the leaves are falling and the temperature is dropping. So if you're looking for a chill that doesn't come from the night air, pick up one (or all) of these terrifying books. And as an added bonus for horror-movie season, I've recommended the right book based on your favorite scary film.
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Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Read if you love: A Quiet Place
Netflix's 2018 movie adaptation of Bird Box was a surprise hit, but didn't totally deliver on the scares. The novel upon which it was based, on the other hand, will have you peeking through your fingers as you race to the end. There's something out there, and if you see it, you'll go violently mad. As society crumbles, a few survivors hole up in a house with boarded-up windows, blindfolding themselves when they need to venture out for supplies. But how long can they last, and, more importantly, where can they go when their haven isn't safe anymore?

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

Read if you love: Zodiac
In Brite's grimy and repulsively readable novel -- which almost didn't get published due to its extreme content -- two serial killers (one based on Dennis Nilsen, the other on Jeffrey Dahmer) who initially intend to kill each other find themselves engaged in a torrid, violent dance. Both men consider their murders art, and together they push each other to gruesome new extremes as they focus their efforts on a runaway teen.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Read if you love: The Conjuring
Black Rock looks like a normal American suburb, but most towns don't have a resident undead witch with her eyes and mouth sewn shut, and most towns don't operate under a curse that causes residents to become violently suicidal if they leave for more than a few days (at least, we hope not). Katherine van Wyler is Black Rock's own personal tribulation, and a council of elders is responsible for keeping her a secret, but when a group of teens decide to tell the world about Katherine, they unleash a hell they never could have anticipated.

The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco

Read if you love: The Ring
It would be a mistake to think that a YA classification means a book isn't scary, and Rin Chupeco is here to disabuse you of that notion forever. In The Girl from the Well, Okiku, a restless spirit, pursues and kills those who've murdered children, as she was murdered centuries before. It's a lonely existence, one which she expects to go on indefinitely -- until she meets a boy with a demon inside him.

The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike

Read if you love:The Grudge 
When Misao and Teppei and their daughter find a reasonably priced apartment in Tokyo, they think they've hit the jackpot. So what if the apartment building abuts a cemetery? They're not superstitious, and they need the fresh start. But as their neighbors move out of the building one by one, the family begins to realize that all is not well at home. There's something in the basement, and it wants out. This is classic haunted house horror at its best.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

Read if you love: The Others
This is a flawless example of the ambiguously haunted house story -- when you're not sure if the ghosts are real or if the protagonist is a little unwell, it makes the scares that much more potent. When Julie and James move into a new house in the suburbs, they're sure their troubles are over. But instead of focusing on rebuilding their relationship, suddenly they find themselves exploring rooms that weren't there before, and finding stains on the walls which replicate themselves on Julie's body as bruises. It's a swirling nightmare of a book, and you might want to read this one outside.

The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones

Read if you love:Scream
Written in a pseudo-screenplay format, this snappy, clever novel spins the concept of the final girl (and plenty of other slasher movie tropes) into something new. Jones writes with the obvious love and affection of a horror movie die-hard, winking at his audience while delivering thrill after thrill -- if you're a slasher aficionado, there's a lot to love here.

Occultation by Laird Barron

Read if you love: The Ritual
Barron is one of the best writers of cosmic horror currently working, and the stories in this collection are unparalleled in their quality. Tales here include "Mysterium Tremendum," a novella-length tale of two couples who go on an ill-fated, madness-inducing hiking trip, "Strappado," where visitors to a Banksy-esque guerilla art installation find that they themselves are the art, and "-30-," where two scientists conduct their research in utter isolation -- or not. Barron uses his considerable talent to illustrate and populate a mythos that, while influenced by Lovecraft, is wholly his own.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Read if you love:It Comes at Night
The undisputed king of horror fiction has an expansive and terrifying body of work, but his scariest writing can be found in 1983's Pet Sematary, a nihilistic, viscerally horrifying tale of grief, parenthood, and guilt. It's narrow in scope and all the more gut-wrenching for how well we get to know Louis and his family before things go awfully, inexorably wrong.

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

Read if you love: The Blair Witch Project
The newest book on this list, The Twisted Ones is a genuinely horrifying backwoods occult tale. Tasked with clearing out her late grandmother's house in rural North Carolina, our plucky protagonist Mouse and her beloved, stupid dog Bongo find themselves stalked by something in the woods - something Mouse's grandfather wrote about in his secret journal, something dangerous and unnatural that wants desperately to come inside. The Twisted Ones is also a contemporary take on a classic of horror fiction -- Arthur Machen's haunting 1904 short story "The White People" -- so if you're a fan of early horror, don't miss this one.

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Emily Hughes is a contributor to Thrillist.