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20 Books That Terrified Me

by Annie Kapur 2 months ago in book reviews · updated 2 months ago

Happy Halloween!

20 Books That Terrified Me
Photo by David Menidrey on Unsplash

Halloween is my favourite season not just because everything is scary and dark, but also because of the flavours. These include: ginger, pumpkin, dark chocolate, almond, apple and so many more. They are such delicious flavours and you can eat them warm. But in reality, everything is still scary and dark.

Over the years, I have always looked forward to producing my list especially for Halloween and so this year, I decided to give you twenty books I have read in my lifetime that scared the hell out of me. They are in no particular order but I will be giving a little anecdote with each just to show you how scared I was when I read it.

Have a wonderful Halloween guys!

20 Books That Terrified Me

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

"Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

The first time I read this I was about 12 years' old and I thought it was going to be one of those classic haunted house stories. But it wasn't. It was something much worse. By that terrifying ending, I think I remember quite well that I was crying. I wasn't emotional or anything, I was simply terrified. That book still haunts me, I can't go to any house that has been abandoned and I even have some problems going into houses that are for sale. Unfortunately, only a few months before reading this, my family had moved house - so you can only imagine how I felt. Yes, even today, I am still terrified by that book because of the memories it brings back.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

“I lay in bed and thought about how easy it was to hurt a person. It didn't have to be physical. All you had to do was take a good hard kick at something they cared about.”

I was about seventeen or eighteen when I first read this book and I'm not going to lie to you that I didn't find this on my own. Someone recommended it to me and I should have known because of the cover when I found it. It was jet black with just a house on the front, the name of the book and author was in big gold lettering. It looked intimidating not to mention what the hell was going on in that book. Even years later, I cannot seem to shake off some of the violent and vile things I had read in that book. I would be really happy to never read or see that book ever again for as long as I live.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

“I seemed to float not into clearness, but into a darker obscure, and within a minute there had come to me out of my very pity the appalling alarm of his perhaps being innocent. It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent, what then on earth was I?”

I read this book when I was in my early teens because I loved classic ghost stories. However, as I had already read "The Woman in Black" by Susan Hill, I was looking for something a little more. Remember: I said 'a little more' not 'The Turn of the Screw' but I ended up reading it anyway and it terrified the daylights out of me. I was so scared for those poor children and then there was their nanny and you could never know what actually happened to her because of that bloody framing narrative. If there was any book which left me with questions, it was that one.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

“No matter how bleak or dire, end-of-the-world scenarios appeal to us because we take meaning from the end... there's also undeniable allure to witnessing the beginning of the end and perishing alone with everyone and everything else.”

This book is one that I read about a month after its release. Now, I'm a big Paul Tremblay fan and have read all of his books to date - honestly, this one has to be the most frightening to me. A couple, a child and an apocalyptic cult, even though this came out a few years ago - I still remember it like it was yesterday. I read the whole thing in one sitting and had to take a shower afterwards because I was covered in sweat like I had just been for a run. I was actually sweating and I was terrified. It was just heart-thumpingly scary. I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that reading experience.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

“When we die, these are the stories still on our lips. The stories we’ll only tell strangers, someplace private in the padded cell of midnight. These important stories, we rehearse them for years in our head but never tell. These stories are ghosts, bringing people back from the dead. Just for a moment. For a visit. Every story is a ghost.”

The one thing I remember about this book is that it made me so queasy that I threw up. A repulsive book that in my opinion, shouldn't have been written, it was a terrifying and more often than not, a sickening read. My friend who recommended it to me initially told me to listen to the audiobook and because I had some spare time, I gave the book a go instead of the audiobook. When I had read the book, I basically went back like an angry customer of a garage who's car has broken down halfway up a hill and asked them what the hell they were thinking when they thought I would like the audiobook to this modern nightmare.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way.

Everyone who has read "Blood Meridian" knows which scene I am talking about. I read this book whilst in university because it was the favourite book of someone I knew. After I read it I kind of just looked at them with an expression that said 'why the hell am I friends with someone who enjoys this book?' It's that one scene that always got me. The baby-eating scene. Yes. The scene where the baby is eaten. Absolutely sickening, repulsive and absolutely vile. Cormac McCarthy may be a genius for writing the "Border Trilogy" but this book goes a step too far.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

“What you go searching for and what you find aren't always the same.”

A genuinely terrifying book, I read it shortly after it came out and honestly, it was the tree and the whole thing about the kid that scared me the most. At first, you suspect that the parents aren't all that nice considering what happened to the kid, but as the story progresses, you tend to ask yourself what you would do if you were in that situation. Good grief, the ending was really harsh though, I swear I didn't sleep for the next few days - I just felt really quite upset about the whole thing. It's one of those books that you don't want to read in one sitting but you almost feel like you have to because you need to know the 'why'.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

“Perhaps once we might be able to sneak a death past him. Immortal, yes, but not indestructible. I saw that when AM withdrew from my mind, and allowed me the exquisite ugliness of returning to consciousness with the feeling of that burning neon pillar still rammed deep into the soft gray brain matter. He withdrew, murmuring to hell with you. And added, brightly, but then you're there, aren't you.”

I think everyone who read this book in the 2010s was absolutely terrified. The only reason I read it is because I heard about it on Reddit (of all places) and back then I couldn't have been more than about eighteen years' old. I wanted something to frighten me, but seriously I think I got more than I bargained for. The ending to this book has some scenes of torture which at times, was difficult to handle and then there is the very end where you realise what has actually happened and then, you compare it to our own time. I had to try hard to push this story our of my brain but it kept coming back for some reason. It still makes me shudder.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

“Like the brief doomed flare of exploding suns that registers dimly on blind men's eyes, the beginning of the horror passed almost unnoticed; in the shriek of what followed, in fact, was forgotten and perhaps not connected to the horror at all.”

I read this when I was no more than about seventeen years' old. I'm not going to lie to you - yes, I had already seen the film multiple times and yes, it is one of my favourite films ever. But the book in my opinion, is far more frightening - it feels darker. To a person like me, who was once a teenager with a very over-active imagination, this book was like being in hell. The way in which things were left ambiguous, the way the scenes of possession were graphic and the fact that it all happened to a child. You know the story, now witness it told in an even more frightening way than Freidkin could have ever imagined.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G Wells

“The crying sounded even louder out of doors. It was as if all the pain in the world had found a voice”

I was fifteen when I first attempted this book. By then, I had already read "War of the Worlds" mainly because I watched the film. I was familiar with "The Invisible Man" and had read the story just once before. But nothing really compares to the horrors you witness in "The Island of Dr. Moreau". It's like reading a scientific nightmare. Well, you've heard the stories about a mad scientist, this one is even worse. There is a scene with a panther and a hell of a lot of blood and honestly, there is no way to tell you how much something like this can frighten you when you know, as the main character found out on the ship near the beginning, there is no way out.

The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill

“It was of a Venetian carnival scene. On a landing stage beside the Grand Canal and in the square behind it, a crowd in masks and cloaks milled around among entertainers… people were climbing into gondolas; others were already out on the water… The picture was typical of those whose scenes are lit by flares and torches that throw an uncanny glow, illuminating faces and patches of bright clothing and the silver ripples on the water, leaving other parts in deep shadow…”

Old paintings are creepy enough without Susan Hill making them even creepier. A very dark and gothic book shows us the nature of being trapped, quite literally, in a painting. The whole thing is just scary from start to finish in a dark and hopeless sort of way. It fills you with dread for each character and I read the whole thing in one sitting - much to my mind's distress. I don't think I slept that night, I was only a teenager and it was just one of those books where you cannot stop thinking about the various possibilities of the characters who were directly involved with the painting.

Let's Go Play at the Adams' by Mendal W Johnson

"We got her - we got her .... we got the babysitter! And they won't be back for a week!"

It took me a long time to find a good copy of this book since all of the hardback copies were in the hundreds of pounds at the time. I eventually bought a copy on my phone and got around to reading it a month later. At this time I was about twenty years' old and I was in the second year of university. So the book was pushed in amongst textbooks that I had downloaded on to my phone as well. It took me about two days to read it because I had to put it down halfway through. There is a feeling of dread that sort of flushes over you when you realise what is happening to the babysitter. The whole book leaves you feeling a bit empty and a bit horrified. It's just that kind of book. I just found it really quite violent. It made me really sad to think that this is actually perfectly possible.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.”

I think most people who read this book realised that they had to read it over about the course of a week if they didn't want the ever-living-daylights scared out of them. It's one of those books where you're not sure whether it is happening exactly the way you are reading it, or whether there is more or less to the story. I read it a few years ago and thought that this was a book that couldn't scare me. Of course, I was wrong. It was terrifying. The whole thing about Johnny finding that video and that house that defies the laws of physics and then there is what is on the actual video alongside the unreliability of our narrator. It seriously messes with you that book does. By the end, I just closed it, sold it, and I never want to see it again.

The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

“Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence– whether much that is glorious– whether all that is profound– does not spring from disease of thought– from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.”

I grew up with an older brother who was pretty clever to be perfectly honest. I was about nine or ten when I got my first iPod and on it was an audiobook of the complete stories of Edgar Allan Poe as read by Christopher Lee. At this time, yes, I was perfectly aware of who Christopher Lee was - I knew him as the guy from "Lord of the Rings". But when it came to listening to the stories, and then some years afterwards, reading them - I don't think I slept for a while after reading the likes of "Tell Tale Heart", "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Raven", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Cask of the Amontillado" and "The Masque of the Red Death". Imagine a 9-10 year old listening to Christopher Lee tell them those stories. It was terrifying at the time and it is an experience I could never quite forget.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

“You all have your own distinct personal backgrounds. Of course some of you come from rich families, some from poor families. But circumstances beyond your control like that shouldn’t determine who you are. You must all realize what you’re worth on your own.”

Before you ask, yes I watched the film before I read the book purely because I didn't know the film was made from a book - I had only ever seen the manga version, I had no idea it was a novel. I read the book when I was about thirteen maybe fourteen - all I remember is that it was the Winter of 2009/2010 and I remember that because the very thought of the book kept me up at night (and also because I had only seen the film that summer just gone). I remember having read some pages and just staring at it in the darkness, wanting to read more but not wanting to scare the pants off of myself at 2am. Some of the descriptions in that book can really knock the wind out of you. Brilliant as it was to read, the "Hunger Games" would come out later and felt like a comedy novel in comparison. I never thought the "Hunger Games" lived up anywhere near "Battle Royale" - absolutely nowhere near.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

“In years to come, Jim Jones would frequently be compared to murderous demagogues such as Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson. These comparisons completely misinterpret, and historically misrepresent, the initial appeal of Jim Jones to members of Peoples Temple. Jones attracted followers by appealing to their better instincts. The purpose of Peoples Temple was to offer such a compelling example of living in racial and economic equality that everyone else would be won over and want to live the same way.”

Here's a funny story for you. I'm doing my Master's Degree. I'm about 22 years' old and I'm sitting in the university bar on a bar stool in the middle of the room. It's empty and it's quiet as hell on a Monday mid-morning. I'm reading this book and all of a sudden I just start to cry. The descriptions of that psychotic man, the way he treated people, the way they simply followed him and to think that all of this stuff not only happened, but didn't even happen that long ago. It was one of those books where I had to put it down and gather myself again. Someone actually came to ask me what I was crying about but I simply told them it was the book. Fact is: they understood once they saw the cover. It was just a horrifying experience to read - I can't imagine how the people who lived it felt. I would finish this book that night at home, and by the end I was so angry I was kicking the side of my bed, sitting on the floor in floods of tears.

You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce

“Good girls smell like burnt tangerines for those with bad intentions-- fragrant but bitter, it is a repellant. Bad girls like me smell like ripe apples, ready for picking, juicy and tart.No one will miss them at all.”

I only read this one this year. It's about a woman who is writing a kind of 'confession letter' about how she came across something called the 'Pepperman'. After a while, this 'pepperman' starts to have some weird requests and sooner or later you start to realise why the book is called 'You Let Me In'. I highly recommend not reading this book before bed because it was absolutely terrifying. It is so very dark and brooding, it has these moments where you're actually scared to look up from the book and these other moments where you cannot possibly read on. The ending will always be the biggest shocker to you if you do read it - and you'll only understand why it happened if you understand why the 'pepperman' is there in the first place.

The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd

“Those that remain are streaked with bird mess and felted with moss, making the cottage look less like it was built by human hands and more as if it was raised from the soil by an evil wizard's spell.”

Again, I read this one this year and honestly, I thought I knew where it was going. The first part didn't really scare me as much as the 'realisation' period of the book did. The realisation is in the second half where everything starts to unravel and you get to know what the 'memory wood' is all about. It is a horrifying realisation and to be honest, I was happier not knowing. This was one of those books where you feel like you could figure it out given some time, but I will tell you now that you won't. You could guess a hundred times and you will still completely miss the whole thing. You won't even be close.

Love as Always, Mum by Mae West

‘Mae, I mean this … I’m not a good person and I let all you children down …’

I did try to read this one some years back and I could only get a hold of half the book - which was actually a relief since after reading half the book I really didn't want to read anymore. But, recently I came across the whole book and I tried reading it again to see if it was really as frightening as I thought it was. Yes. Yes it was. A book about the Fred and Rose West Murders by their own daughter - Mae West, this book goes into harrowing detail about the inner-workings and dynamics of this terrifying household where serial killers were the parents of these poor children. It is upsetting as well as horrifying and I highly suggest that if you're sensitive to texts containing descriptions of abuse, you stay the hell away from this one.

All Quiet on the Western Front by EM Remarque

“We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.”

I remember being at school and it was World Book Day which meant the same thing it meant every year - free books, cheap books and good books. My teacher handed me a World Book Day copy of "All Quiet on the Western Front" - I was probably about fourteen years' old. I actually went home and read it even though I'm not sure any of my classmates read their copies. I'm not going to lie to you when I say I went to school the next day white as a sheet. Some of the descriptions of war I read in that book were so harrowing that when I read them again years later in a copy of "War Stories" edited by Sebastian Faulks - I had to put the book down because I felt like I'd be sick if I didn't. Some of the descriptions in that book are far too graphic to read when you're about to eat, after you've eaten, or even before bed. I was terrified for quite a long time afterwards and wouldn't go near any books to do with the wars.


Of course, there would be far more than this, but these are the ones that have some particularly nasty experiences attached to them and there are ones that even today, I haven't been able to get off my back. I hope that this Halloween, you can scare yourself silly with some of these titles. Have a wonderful holiday season.

book reviews

Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

116K+ Reads on Vocal

Focus in Film: Adaptation from Literature, Horror Filmmaking Styles and Auteur Cinema

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

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