Top 15 classic horror books

Top 15 classic horror books

There is nothing better, to beat the tedium and boredom, than reading a horror novel. Adrenaline will run through your veins, you will feel alive. Books, as opposed to horror movies, make the imagination run, thanks to the power of the mind.

The power of adrenaline, associated with reading a horror novel, produces an intense and perverse pleasure. The more you read, the more you want to keep reading… even if panic sets in.

So, if you like strong emotions, you should try to read -or reread- some of the 15 horror novels that we recommend here.

List of the best classic horror books in history

1# Drácula

Drácula

Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, was born on November 8, 1847 in Clotarf (Ireland). A sickly child – he suffered from paralysis of the body until he was 8 years old – Bram Stoker was always fascinated by horror stories.

On April 20, 1912, he died in London amidst nightmares and hallucinations, and with a severe mental deterioration.

The plot of Dracula takes place in faraway -at that time- Romania. Jonathan Harker, a young Englishman employed by a British real estate company, travels to a castle in the Transylvania region.

Harker has to meet with a wealthy and very strange character, who wants to buy several houses in the center of the British capital. 

In the castle has his abode a pale, old, tall, tall, clean-shaven man “except for a long white mustache”. It is Count Dracula himself. This is the beginning of a mind-blowing and terrifying story.

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2# Frankenstein

Frankenstein

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Written by Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Mary Shelley) in the summer of 1816, the corrected and definitive version of Frankenstein is published in 1831. 

In Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley presents a harrowing tale of longing, grief, and loss that ultimately investigates what makes us human.

A brief summary of the novel tells of an expedition to the North Pole that encounters, in the middle of the frozen sea, a mysterious giant of a man driving a sled at full speed. Hours later, the group rescues another man who is about to die. When he recovers, he tells the captain the story of how he ended up there, chasing the monstrous creature… from the speeding sled.

The origin of the novel is the work of a Scottish scientist of the time who tried, through the application of electric shocks, to bring dead animals back to life. Shelley developed that idea for a short story and wrote one of the most acclaimed horror novels of all time.

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3# The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House

Published in Spanish as La maldición de Hill House (1959), The Haunting of Hill House is considered one of the most disturbing horror novels ever written. The novel tells the story of John Montague, a doctor of philosophy and scholar of the occult. 

The protagonist, after spending years studying the “psychic disturbances” that usually manifest themselves in haunted houses, decides to move to Hill House, a lonely mansion with a sinister reputation.

The hallucinatory experiences that John Montague will live in the house will have to be discovered by the reader,

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4# Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Or if you prefer, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Work of the British author Robert Luis Stevenson, the novel was published in 1886.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde could be defined as a book of intrigue that exposes the debate between good and evil, the duality of the human being. The origin of the story is in a nightmare of the author himself.

Jekyll is a scientist who creates a potion, or drink, that has the ability to separate the most human part from the most evil side of a person. When Jekyll drinks this mixture he becomes Edward Hyde, a criminal capable of committing any atrocity. 

As the novel tells us, good and evil are always in us together. That is why Hyde, symbol of all that is evil, is repugnant to everyone who sees him.

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5# The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray

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The Picture of Dorian Gray, written by Oscar Wilde, tells the reader the story of Dorian Gray, a young Englishman as attractive as he is naive.  The young Dorian becomes the favorite model of a painter, Basil Hallward, and in this context the story and the legend begins.

Dorian is so awed by a full-length portrait of himself painted by Basil that he makes a wish: to remain eternally young by having the frame age for him. The wish was so profound that Dorian Grey was willing to give up his soul as a bargaining chip.

As he develops cruel attitudes toward others, small changes in his image occur in Dorian. With each sin, the portrait became more and more disfigured until it became unrecognizable.

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6# The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw is a horror novel written in 1898 by Henry James. The book recounts the experience of a governess who, while caring for two children on a remote estate, becomes convinced that the area is haunted. 

The Turn of the Screw blends the genres of gothic fiction and horror. Initial reviews considered it only as a terrifying ghost story. Later, however, some critics suggested that the supernatural elements were a figment of the governess’s imagination.

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7# Carmilla

Carmilla

A short novel, Carmilla was written by Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872. The book tells the story of the encounter between Laura and Carmilla, an enigmatic young woman who lives with her father in an old castle in deep Australia. 

Carmilla’s life takes a turn when, just in front of the castle she lives in, the carriage in which Laura is traveling is involved in an accident.

Laura and the young girl, Carmilla, become friends, even though the latter shows oddities in her behavior: she wakes up after noon and locks herself in her room without giving any sign of being in it.

It is interesting to note that the subtle influence of erotic content, which is related to vampires, is of a lesbian nature. Sheridan Le Fanu took that theme, a taboo for the time, but knew how to raise it in such a way that the reader was approaching the subject.

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8# The Exorcist

The Exorcist

The Exorcist is a horror novel written by William Peter Blatty in 1971. It is based on a real event, an exorcism that Blatty heard about in 1950, when he was a student at Georgetown Jesuit University.

Years later it was revealed that the exorcism was performed on a boy named Ronald Edwin Hunkeler. He would later become a successful NASA engineer who participated in the development of the Apollo 11 mission. 

The plot of the book revolves around a girl named Regan MacNeil who lives with her mother -a famous actress- and who contracts a sudden and unknown illness. After a series of paranormal phenomena, the little girl goes through a series of terrible physical and mental changes that lead to the suspicion that she is possessed by a diabolical spirit.

After several unsuccessful medical and psychiatric treatments, Regan’s mother turns to a local Jesuit priest for help. This priest is Father Damien Karras.

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9# Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary’s Baby is a best-selling horror book published in 1967 by American writer Ira Levin. The book was adapted to film in 1958 by Roman Polanski.

Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband Guy move into Bramford, an old New York apartment building in the neo-Gothic style. The two decide to stay there, despite warnings they receive about disturbing stories involving witchcraft and murder. 

After being warned by a friend, who also becomes suddenly ill, Rosemary discovers that her neighbors are the leaders of a satanic cult.

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10# At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of Madness

This novel, entitled “The Mountains of Madness” and written by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, narrates the events of a disastrous expedition to Antarctica organized in 1930. 

In the pages of the novel, Dyer reveals a series of events that, until then, had remained hidden.  The aim of keeping the secret was to dissuade any other group of explorers from attempting to return to the frozen continent.

The work is a tribute to one of Lovecraft’s main influences: Edgar Allan Poe and his unfinished novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. This book by Poe is evoked in numerous passages of At the Mountains of Madness, especially in the cry: Tekeli-li!

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11# It

It

It’ is Stephen King’s 18th novel. The idea came to the author years before the book was published. Specifically in 1978: during a long walk on foot through a lonely and wild – but industrialized – environment. Crossing a bridge, Stephen King recalled a classic Norwegian tale, ‘The Three Male Gruff Goats’.

‘It’ tells of a group of young boys’ confrontation with an evil incarnation that is annihilating the children of their town. Every 27 years this evil force strikes again. The gang descends into the sewers, where the monster hides, and defeats him (apparently).

King defined It in a 2009 interview with Time as “his final exam in horror.” That is, he wondered what it would be like to “put all the monsters a kid is afraid of together.”

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12# The Great God Pan

The Great God Pan

In Spanish El gran dios Pan, this horror novel by Arthur Machen had a difficult beginning. When it was published in 1894, the press considered it a degenerate and repulsive work because of its decadent style and sexual content.

The title was probably inspired by the poem “A Musical Instrument,” published in 1862 by Elizabeth Barrett Browing. The first line of each stanza rightly ends in “the great god Pan.”

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13# We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle tells the story of the Blackwoods, a broken family that has fallen victim to misfortune. A few years before the book begins, many of its members were poisoned to death.

Since those terrible events, the survivors – frail Constance, elderly Uncle Julian and rebellious Merricat – live in isolation in their mansion. Everything changes when greedy cousin Charles arrives at the house to stay. Then begins a misfortune far worse than the one they have already lived through.

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14# The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or The Legend of the Headless Horseman, is a short story of horror and romance, written by Washington Irving in 1820. 

The story is set in 1784, in the vicinity of the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town (Tarrytown, New York), in a secluded valley called Sleepy Hollow known for its ghost stories and the haunted atmosphere that pervades the imagination of its inhabitants and visitors. 

The most infamous specter of the place is The Headless Horseman, said to be the ghost of a former Hessian soldier who was hit in the head by a cannonball during “some unnamed battle” of the American Revolutionary War.

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15# Psycho

Psycho

Psycho (Psycho) is a thriller novel written by Robert Bloch in 1959. It all begins on a dark and stormy night. Mary Craine, tired and lost, drives around looking for a place to spend the night. 

Mary stumbles upon the Bates Motel, an out-of-the-way lodging with old, damp, yet clean rooms. 

Norman Bates, the owner, seems like a nice guy, if rather odd. Soon after, Mary meets Norman’s mother. And, also, the butcher knife. The nightmare had just begun.

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