The Best Scary Stories: 5 Underappreciated Horror Novels

Sure, Frankenstein is a Halloween masterpiece, and yes, Dracula is an October must-have. But sometimes the classics just won’t do, and you need something brand new to satisfy the scary story cravings. So, if you’re looking for all-new scares, we’ve got you covered with a list of the best scary stories and spooky tales that will leave you diving for the covers. 

To help you pick (and to prevent nightmare-filled, sleepless nights!), we’ve added a spookiness meter so you can select the level of scary that’s just right for you.  

1. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Where better to begin than with the story that started it all? Published in 1764, Walpole’s tale of mayhem, murder, and medievalism—all of which takes place inside the storied walls of a haunted castle—is widely considered to be the first Gothic novel. 

Misfortune, ominous prophecies, and eerie deaths haunt the halls of Castle Otranto, sparking a complex powerplay between Manfred, the lord of the castle, and his unhappy soon-to-be bride, Isabella. The story is resolved through a series of increasingly spooky events, culminating in the fulfillment of the prophecy and the destruction of the castle walls. 

The Castle of Otranto offers a glimpse into the origins of Gothic Horror. But compared to our next title, it’s pretty tame, earning only a 3/10 on our spookiness scale.

2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Stepping up the scare factor a notch, let’s fast forward nearly 200 years to 1962. Three years before her death in 1965, Shirley Jackson published her final work, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. In this hauntingly suspenseful family saga set in 1960s Vermont, Jackson paints a twisted, eerily compelling portrait of the lives of Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian—the remaining members of the Blackwood family. 

Although the story hinges on the unsolved murder of the Blackwood clan, the novel is neither grotesque nor gory. Instead, the fear factor hinges on Jackson’s disturbing, psychological style, building to a crescendo of unsettling revelations and perverse conclusions. While this is perhaps not the most traditional of spooky stories, it is certainly not for the faint of heart, landing it on a solid 5/10 spookiness.

3. Room by Emma Donoghue 

Switching gears, Room invites readers to ponder real-life horrors, rendering with agonizing clarity the experiences of a woman abducted and held captive for much of her life, forced to bear her captor’s child. Even a summary of Room gives us the shivers! Though the story is ultimately redemptive, it reminds readers that horror does not restrict itself to fiction—and that the shadows that haunt our worst nightmares are very much real.

For some, this might be a step down in spookiness, but here, we’ve ranked it a 6/10 on the spookiness scale because of the clarity with which Donoghue paints the narrator’s experiences with lost agency and personhood. What’s scarier than that? 

4. I am Legend by Richard Matheson

Our list wouldn’t be complete without a monster novel, and with Shelley and Stoker out of the picture, Matheson’s 1954 vision of post-apocalyptic America does the trick. Picture this: it’s Los Angeles, 1976. A pandemic has infected the population, turning people into bloodthirsty vampires determined to destroy the last vestiges of humanity. It’s been years since the world fell apart. Worse? You’re the only survivor. 

Physical horror and psychological terror intertwine to offer a perfect mix of grotesque violence and existential musing. Sure, this summary doesn’t say much about the novel, but rest assured, I am Legend’s ending will leave you quaking, earning it a solid 7/10 on the spookiness scale. Be sure to read in bed, tucked in tight, and don’t let the vampires bite!

5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

What could be scarier than Room, we asked? Here’s the answer: Danielewski’s 2000 debut novel, a 709-page descent into chaos, insanity, and paranoia. Ask ten people to describe this book, and you’ll get 20 wildly different answers. Ask those same ten people, “Is House of Leaves scary?” and you’ll get 20 more. Part puzzle, part satire, part horror, and part flat-out weird, this book keeps you on your toes, never quite sure where Danielewksi will lead you next. 

Told by several overlapping narrators and often placing the nature of reality into question, House of Leaves provides readers a glimpse into the strangely academic world of obsession and fixation, watching as the primary narrator, Johnny Truant, slips slowly from sanity. Danielewski earns himself an 8/10 with this one—in no small part because of the terrifying page count. 

Honorable Mentions

For those curious about how Room might unfold from the perspective of the narrator’s captor, we recommend John Fowler’s The Collector, which details the interior life of a lonely young man as he plots and executes a plan to abduct a young woman. Readers beware: Fowler captures his young captor’s psyche exactly—often to disturbing effect. 

If you’re worried about jumping at the scary scenes, get the inside scoop on Hollywood’s classic adaptations of the best scary stories with our guides for Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Stephen King’s The Shining, and more!

Need more spooky in your life?

We’ve got 15 extra scary stories for you in parts one, two, and three of “Stories to get you in the Halloween spirit.”

We’re on quest a to find the best scary stories, so if you’ve got a 10/10 spookiness title to terrify our editors with, drop it below! Who needs sleep, anyway?