Everyone enjoys a good scare. Books may either spring out at you and scream “boo!” or they can creep under your skin, raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and keep you turning the pages late into the night. Enjoy our compilation of these horror books.
The best psychological horror novels explore the reader’s most intense anxieties.
The scariest of all is what pokes and prods from within our very own thoughts, more so than evil things that go bump in the night or extraterrestrial beings from millions of miles away.
Psychological horror books serve as a constant reminder that we are all teetering on the edge of the unknown and could fall into the abyss at any time.
They range from disturbing tales of misfortune that could actually happen to reality-distorting stories about people who don’t know if they can trust their own senses.
However, the distinction between psychological thrillers and psychological horror literature is subtle. Books about psychological horror are not mysteries or whodunit.
Instead of using violence, chase, or even actual gore, they arouse terror through innuendo, anxiety, and suggestion.
These psychological horror books have all won some of the most prestigious awards in the field, and they’re all certain to keep you up at night or give you nightmares after the lights go out!
1. Outer Dark by Cormac Mccarthy
The book that most people are familiar with is The Road by Cormac McCarthy, not just because it was chosen for Oprah’s book club and won a Pulitzer, but also because it is a horrific psychological horror novel about civilization after the end of the world.
It is wonderful. Outer Dark is the same way. It centers on a sister in Appalachia who is giving birth to her brother’s child. He leaves it there to die in the wilderness.
She goes looking for it. According to a popular saying, cannibalism, incest, and death are the Big Three motifs in horror films. With each, Cormac McCarthy is successful.
2. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
I’m not sure what to say if Silence of the Lambs isn’t on your list of the scariest psychological horror novels. Clarice Starling must deceive Hannibal Lecter in order to enlist his assistance in apprehending yet another serial killer.
Hannibal Lecter is a certified psychiatrist who manipulates his patients into becoming his physical dinner.
Furthermore, Robert Ressler, one of the top criminal profiling FBI agents, was consulted in the writing of this book because it is based on actual events involving Ed Gein and his victims.
3. Perfume by Patrick Suskind
In Perfume, our main character has a particularly keen sense of smell and no noticeable body odor.
His ultimate objective in life is to imitate the body odor of a beautiful lady he inadvertently killed, therefore he spends a significant portion of his time not only mastering the art of smell curation but also intentionally killing women in an effort to imitate the original’s essence.
The writing in this book is flawless, but what is most terrifying about it is how wildly popular it is and what its message is.
Men should make art at the expense of everyone else, is that right? Gross. And it appears like everyone is okay with the idea.
4. The Exorcist by William Blatty
The core demonic occult story found in this horrifying psychological horror book is as frightening as they come.
But the inconclusive cliffhanger plot conclusion is what most people overlook. The story seems to come full circle and end firmly. You then begin to consider it while you are in the aisle with the washing detergent.
5. Let Me in by John Ajvide Lindquist
Let Me In is a vampire novel, thus some could claim that it doesn’t qualify as a psychological horror book, but I disagree.
The least terrifying component of this book is the vampirism. Instead, consider Oskar, the youngster who harbors aspirations to murder his tormentors.
Eli’s status as a young vampire. The idea that the hunter she has hired is a pedophile who is passionately in love with her. And the horrors don’t stop there; this is merely the top of the list.
6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
It’s about slavery in this novel. and the associated psychological fear. And the spirit of Sethe’s kid, who passed away unidentified and whose tombstone is inscribed with the word “Beloved,” is a presence in her new home.
You should read this book if you haven’t already.
7. Psycho by Robert Bloch
What brazen list of terrifying psychological horror books could leave out Psycho by Robert Bloch? The Slasher genre was essentially created by Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaption!
Psycho is based on real events, just like many of the most horrifying books on this list. Even days after reading it, you still wonder: What kind of creature is this?
8. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
Despite being written three centuries ago, this book undoubtedly ranks among the scariest psychological horror books I’ve ever read.
A man’s existential crisis, whether or not he is predestined for heaven, and whether or not his new friend with the Bible scribbled in red ink has anything to do with his salvation are all topics that are covered in the book in addition to the horrors of corrupt religion.
9. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
You probably know Margaret Atwood most recently from The Handmaid’s Tale, which takes place after an infertility plague, and in a dystopian, misogynist state run by religious fundamentalists.
Alias Grace is a different kind of psychological horror book. Grace is an Irish immigrant who was convicted of a double murder during the age of spiritualism.
This is her story as told by her. Although this book is a work of fiction, Grace Marks was a real person, and her story–the truthiness of it—will haunt you.
10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The question of whether or not humanity is inherently good or evil is addressed in this horrific psychological horror book.
In order to survive on the isolated island, a group of choirboys who were shipwrecked attempt to create a hierarchy among themselves. It’s amazing, and even now I have to crack jokes about it when I discuss it.
11. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
Although this book is made up of short stories, a larger story threads them all together. Writers are admitted to a retreat where they are completely cut off from the outside world.
Each of them sets out to create a survival experience once they get there, not realizing that everyone else is doing the same.
Due to the nature of the narrative, Haunted is one of the most horrifying psychological novels since each individual creates a brand-new hellscape.
12. Carrie by Stephen King
The more psychologically distressing elements of Stephen King’s debut book deal with bullying, repressive religion, and girls’ coming of age, even though it does play on violent deeds.
13. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Despite what you may expect given that it is an epistolary book, this book is set in Victorian times, so keep that in mind.
They were unable to simply come out and say anything. If you are not reading carefully, you might even miss all of the implicit sexual violence.
Furthermore, because we can only see one aspect of the tale at a time, the style of its writing permits that paranoia to grow.
14. The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates
“Joyce Carol Oates’s anthology The Doll-Master and Other Tales has six stories that push the boundaries of psychology.
After his cousin sadly dies, the youngster in the title story becomes fixated on the doll, and as he gets older, he starts to gather “found dolls” from the neighborhood. But what sort of dolls are they exactly?
15. The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett
Padgett’s short stories “address the riddle of human suffering, the anguish of personal existence, and the terrible means by which someone can seek redemption from both,” according to the text.
Within the hollow box spring of a bed, a bullied child seeks retribution. The unattainable home haunts a person who has lucid dreams.
In 20 easy stages, a dummy displays its own anatomy. The unfathomable mysteries of a mill town can be unlocked by a stammering librarian.
Two words scrawled on a cardboard sign destroy the perspective of a commuter. The time a prospective ventriloquist spends staring in the mirror is a tad excessive. They are all being spoken through by a presence. Yikes.
16. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal Al-Sadawi
This little book, which reads like an interview, tells the story of a woman who is waiting for execution in Cairo.
The most terrifying aspect of her is not that she is a murderer, but all of the horrible, violent, and misogynistic things she endured before she turned murderous, as well as the hope she has lost or never had.
17. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
“The True Account of Multiple Murder and Its Consequences” is what it’s meant to be called. We’re expected to believe that the “multiple murder” refers to the victims’ innocence.
By the end, Capote genuinely persuades you that one of the murders is not guilty.
The actual horror is that. (I mean, the destruction of the family is horrifying, of course, but much more terrifying is the psychological manipulation that a writer as elusive as Capote can depict.)
18. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
A freakshow family makes up the Geek Love roster of characters. More specifically, a couple concocts a plan to create a weird family before starting a freakshow.
You’ll be left wondering how it all came about as a result of the characters’ psychological manipulation of one another and their physical manipulation of one another.
19. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
If you sometimes think, “He has his father’s eyes,” when you see tabloids about celebrity births in the checkout line, you might want to check out this terrifying psychological horror novel.
According to Ira Levin, Roman Polanski’s film adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby was exactly how he envisioned it in his mind.
20. Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert Ressler
The phrase from Friedrich Nietschze that serves as the inspiration for the title of this book reads, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
Additionally, if you stare into a chasm for too long, it will stare back at you.
That this factual book—yes, you read that correctly—is about one of the top criminal profiling agents in the Federal Bureau of Investigation is therefore appropriate.
Although it could appear that this is just another true crime book, the notion of the title—that the abyss is staring back at Ressler and, by extension, you—is what really sets it different.
21. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go, while being primarily billed as science fiction, creates such a sense of unease and impending doom that it must be included among the scariest psychological horror books.
Imagine becoming a clone and learning that you are a replica and that your organs will be used to help people with real souls. Then picture attempting to stop yourself from making that forced donation. Yeah. I believe it is valid.
22. The Ones that Got Away by Stephen Graham Jones
The thirteen weird tales in this terrible psychological horror book “carve down into the flesh of the mind, into our most fundamental fears and certainties, and there’s no anesthetic.”
You can turn on the light, but doing so will only create more shadows.
23. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
You might still believe that this literary classic doesn’t rank high on the list of psychological horror titles, but it does.
There is, in fact, violence. Furthermore, despite his impending damnation, Dr. Frankenstein struggles to reconcile his own blasphemy-related guilt.
In addition, there is the Creature, whom everyone despises based solely on his appearance despite the fact that he has not begged to exist.
24. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The best of Southern Gothic is found in this book. The matriarch of the Bundren family contemplates her relationship with the devil as she hears the construction of her coffin.
When she passes away, her father is adamant about returning her body to Jackson so that she can be interred with her people. Oh, and she has a psychic son. You’ll be plagued by As I Lay Dying for days.
25. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado carelessly destroys the artificial barriers between psychological realism and science fiction, humor and horror, and fantasy and fabulist in Her Body and Other Parties.
The husband begs his wife to take off the green ribbon around her neck, but she refuses. In a world where a plague is slowly consuming civilization, a lady recalls her sexual adventures.
The seams of the prom gowns in the store are where a shocking discovery is made by a mall salesperson. Due to weight loss surgery, one woman ends up with an unpleasant house guest.
There you go. These are the scariest psychological thrillers you should read for a goosebum-py ride. Check out this list of amazing werewolf books to read!
Which one will make it to your reading list? Let us know!