Keep me up at night!
February 27, 2012 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Scare me please! I am looking for the scariest book out there. I have read most of Stephen King, The Exorcist, etc. But i want to find something new that will frighten me even more than the evening news...
posted by keep it tight to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 133 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For reasons I can't articulate, House of Leaves scared the crap out of me, not in a "hey, the monster's coming for you!" kinda way but in a deep, dark, unsettled way.
posted by jbickers at 1:18 PM on February 27, 2012 [17 favorites]

Lord of the Flies is terrifying... but as far as horror goes, have you read any H.P. Lovecraft?
posted by devymetal at 1:18 PM on February 27, 2012

Best answer: House of Leaves is very scary, in a different kind of way. I won't ruin it for you but you should pick up a physical copy of the book and flip through it.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:18 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris scared the bejeebers out of me, the opening chapter or two were almost too difficult for me (as a dad/husband) to finish, and I've read just about everything King has written.

Seconding the recommendation for Lovecraft, too. You can find tons of it online for free (including the complete works for Kindle for something like 99 cents), but I'd recommend the Joyce Carol Oates-edited collection. And start with The Rats in The Walls.
posted by jquinby at 1:20 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill (Stephen King's son) scared the bejeezus out of me. It didn't help that I was listening to it on CD while driving alone at night down the PA Turnpike. I had to turn it off because I kept frantically checking my rearview mirror for one of the characters and almost ran myself off the road.

And it's not everyone's cup of tea, but "House of Leaves" by Mark Danielewski freaked me out so much that I wouldn't sleep with it in the same room. I had to keep it out in the hall at night.
posted by Aquifer at 1:20 PM on February 27, 2012

Putting "The Other" by Thomas Tryon into Goodreads brought up some really dandy suggestions.
posted by BibiRose at 1:24 PM on February 27, 2012

Diana Abu-Jaber's Origin is really creeping me out right now, much more than the blurb on the book jacket made me think it would. I think I had nightmares last night because of it. Needless to say, I can't wait to get back to it!
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:26 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Terror by Dan Simmons was pretty good, but I suspect you'd have to like the setting. Same with Drood.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:29 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jerzy Kosinski: The Painted Bird.
posted by Rash at 1:29 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: House of Leaves creeped me out like nothing else, and I treat Lovecraft as light bedtime reading.
posted by elizardbits at 1:33 PM on February 27, 2012

I had to put Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist in the freezer in order to get any sleep. And even that didn't work very well.
posted by athenasbanquet at 1:38 PM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: nthing House of Leaves. I don't scare easy, but that one got me.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2012

Anything by Bentley Little, really. I'd suggest starting with The Store. It's so deeply unsettling, and so tied into the American/western reality that it's quite jarring. I don't want to give any spoilers, but I could not walk into any big box store for months after reading that book. Turn of the Screw is equally unsettling due to it's ambiguous nature.
posted by oxfordcomma at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2012

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro (yes) and Chuck Hogan. The second book in that trilogy was not scary in the same way (it was still scary, and well-done, but no nightmares), and I haven't read the third yet, but the first one had some scenes that still pop up on the internal random slideshow.

House of Leaves also.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:56 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

A Choice of Catastrophes, by Isaac Asimov.

50 (IIRC) ways the world, or the universe, could come to an end.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:57 PM on February 27, 2012

TVTropes: High Octane Nightmare Fuel
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:58 PM on February 27, 2012

It isn't horror, but We Need to Talk About Kevin was disturbing enough that I made a special trip to return it to the library as soon as it was done - I couldn't have it in the house any longer than necessary.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:06 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Communion is horrifying
posted by Katine at 2:11 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Two books I did not expect to keep me up at night: The Ruins by Scott Smith and Zig Zag by Jose Carlos Somoza.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:17 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

And I had just closed good reads...

If you don't mind non-fiction, I recommend Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" which is not only scary as all get out, but beautifully written.

Fiction wise: The Track of the Cat (which is a Western with supernatural elements) by Walter Van Tilburg Clark absolutely oozes atmosphere.

Lansdale's horror is often pretty disturbing (he writes a in few different genres, but his short story collection High Cotton would be a good introduction), and Scott Sigler wrote some great sci-fi horror (Infected is my favorite).
There's a reason everyone copies Lovecraft, although his stuff can be a little dated, if you read enough of it the world starts to seem a little... off. I just worked my way through a collection of Lovecraft inspired stories, that would be worth checking out, Eternal Lovecraft.
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:19 PM on February 27, 2012

House of Leaves is very much an acquired taste. I suppose I might have been frightened by it if I hadn't been so annoyed.

I just re-read The King in Yellow which isn't exactly scary so much as deeply unsettling.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:23 PM on February 27, 2012

Two books I did not expect to keep me up at night: The Ruins by Scott Smith

I know, right? I was lulled by the ridiculousness of the premise and thought I would be ok. I WAS NOT OK.
posted by mochapickle at 2:25 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nthing House of Leaves. Parts of it are self-indulgent and over the top, and there's a lot of po-mo faffing about, but the core story is deeply unsettling and disturbing in a way that will stay with you for years. I'm not sure if there's an ebook version, but definitely get the actual, physical book. The physical presence of the thing and the experience of turning the pages when you're going through some of the more...interestingly typeset sections are pretty important IMO.
posted by yasaman at 2:30 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you're looking for books, but you might enjoy /r/nosleep
posted by empath at 2:42 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

High Rise gave me nightmares.
posted by The Whelk at 3:21 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I have no mouth & I must scream" by Harlan Ellison.

Don't read this. Please, just don't. I read the ending once in an anthology that claimed this story was worse than any other horror story. I think the guy was right.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 3:23 PM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'll second Turn of the Screw, which reliably frightens even jaded undergraduates. Also two short story collections: J. S. LeFanu's In a Glass Darkly (1872) and M. R. James' Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904). See also LeFanu's "An Account of Some Mysterious Disturbances in Aungier Street," which has gratifying effects on one's students (of the I COULDN'T COME TO CLASS BECAUSE I WAS UP ALL NIGHT AFTER READING THAT variety).
posted by thomas j wise at 3:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Turn of the Screw and Lord of the Flies didn't scare me a bit when I read them in high school and as a freshman in college. Unsettling? Yeah, maybe. But not really frightening (like when I watched Insidious and had to turn on every light in the house afterward!). And I've lived a pretty sheltered life, so I can't see you being scared by them. You've already read The Exorcist!

The Ruins (already mentioned above) and The Hole, on the other hand, are my stand-by answers for really mess-with-your-mind, freak you out stuff.
posted by misha at 4:19 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you said you read Stephen King, but if you haven't read Gerald's Game, do so. It remains the only book to have ever actually made me jump.

I'll n'th House of Leaves, if you get past the "aren't I clever"(which fades away once you realize that it actually works), it's deeply, deeply unsettling. And it stays with you.

I'll also second Red Dragon, although it's scary in a real-world sort of way instead of a supernatural sort of way (more upsetting than scary, IMO). The writing is brilliant (and really funny in parts), but the book is hard to read.
posted by biscotti at 4:20 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many of the books mentioned above (The King in Yellow, The Turn of the Screw, An Account of Some Mysterious Disturbances in Aungier Street, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary) are available for free from Project Gutenberg, along with my personal favorite, Algernon Blackwood's The Wendigo. HTML for reading on your computer, or ebook format of your choice.

I've read all of the above with the exception of the LeFanu stories and most gave me chills but none scared me outright. I haven't had that sensation since reading Pet Sematary in my early teens during a stormy night in a new house up in the woods while my parents were out. Based on what I've seen in this thread, though, I'm going to be obtaining a copy of House of Leaves soon as well as looking further into a lot of the other recommendations. Great question!
posted by komara at 4:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding what orrnyereg said about House of Leaves--it just didn't click with me, and I was mostly frustrated when I finished it. However, Heart-Shaped Box, recommended above, really did creep me out, in a way which few books have done. Joe Hill is an excellent story-teller. I found the suggestion for that, by the way, in a comment from a post by The Bloggess about Neil Gaiman's proposition for starting a tradition of giving scary books away on Halloween (later dubbed All Hallows Read). I bookmarked a lot of the recommendations in those comments--you might find some good ones there.
posted by therewolf at 6:42 PM on February 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions...I have read most of House of Leaves but I gave up on it because the copy I was loaned was missing some pages...I will try again.

I enjoyed Red Dragon very much.

I have Geralds Game but I dont remember the premise.

Thanks again for all the suggestions!
posted by keep it tight at 6:49 PM on February 27, 2012

I second the recommendation/discommendation of "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." I read it in a horror anthology. It was the last story in the book. I finished it, felt like I was going to vomit, gave my arms a brisk rub to get rid of the goosebumps and then immediately took it back to the library because I couldn't bear to have it in my house. It's maybe the most disturbing piece of fiction I've ever read.

You probably won't find it online anywhere because Harlan Ellison is, shall we say, litigious, but it's fairly easy to find in anthologies. You' sorry, but you'll be scared, for sure.
posted by Aquifer at 7:27 PM on February 27, 2012

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson scared me muchly. I adored it.
posted by changeling at 9:06 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah I had to put the Haunting of Hill House down a few times, not cause it was gorey or gruesome, but because it was creeping me out too much.
posted by The Whelk at 9:24 PM on February 27, 2012

I agree with House of Leaves. There was one part in particular - I thought I would throw the book out the window.
posted by krikany at 10:36 PM on February 27, 2012

On personal *favorite* of mine was the short story "Hinterlands" by William Gibson. That creeped me out, with a capital C. Seriously, disturbed for days, stopped reading the book right at that point and returned it to the library, couldn't think about anything but that story for a long while.

But as time passed, the creepiness became a "good" creepiness. I've re-read it a couple times since then, and I enjoy it. WG had some thought-provoking ideas there, which are beyond the scope of this post.

And the main creepiness is psychological (although not all of it). It's one of those scenarios where something is deeply wrong, but there are no good answers presented. I think I have one, but it's perhaps implied in the story and not given straight out.

Sorry I'm digressing. Good story though.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 10:41 PM on February 27, 2012

Can we all just agree that anytime anyone asks for a book recommendation, "House of Leaves" is the default answer?

That said, HoL freaked me out so badly I actually stayed up all night to finish it just because I was to afraid of my house to turn off the light.

The Descent by Jeff Long scares the crap out of me just thinking about it now. It's only slightly related to the movie of the same name. That was one of those books that I had to put in the laundry hamper before I could sleep at night.

Someone else mentioned The Painted Bird. It's REALLY grim and depressing. It's one of only a handful of books I just couldn't finish because it was making me hate humanity so much. I don't think of it as scary as much as horrible.

Clive Barker can be a good bet. Damnation Game is a pretty good choice.
posted by evilcupcakes at 11:05 PM on February 27, 2012

Just remembered another one: Night Work by Thomas Glavinic. Soooo freaky...
posted by evilcupcakes at 11:13 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second M R James. He wrote all short stories. Start with "Oh Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad." He had to stop writing the stories because he was scaring himself into insomnia.
posted by tel3path at 3:45 AM on February 28, 2012

I'm kind of surprised not to see a recommendation for Jack Ketchum's Off-Season.

Supposedly after the first edition sold out it was withdrawn from publication due to its intensity. It's not for everyone - it's fairly gory - but I found it to be just what I was looking for.

Who's the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum. - Stephen King
posted by Nabubrush at 3:45 AM on February 28, 2012

Susan Hill's ghost stories, particularly The Woman in Black. Don't watch the recent film though. It's awful.
posted by permafrost at 3:50 AM on February 28, 2012

I'm so glad that I wasn't the only one horrified by House of Leaves! I had to finish it and GET IT AWAY FROM ME!, and even then I couldn't sleep for a long time after completion.

The Ruins.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:04 AM on February 28, 2012

I like HP Lovecraft a lot, but I think time and familiarity have dampened the qualities of 'cosmic dread' and frightful suggestiveness that people tend to associate with his work. I rediscovered those qualities in the works by authors who influenced him. In particular - The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen, And The House on the Borderlands, by William Hope Hodgson. The Great God Pan is possibly the more straightforward novella, with its horrors immediate and unrelieved, while I usually describe The House on the Borderlands to friends as the work of short fantasy most suffused with a sense of doom and paranoia that I've come across and enjoyed. Both are freely available on Project Gutenberg.

The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a classic short story without supernatural elements (if that affects your choices), and is also available online. Seconding recommendations for The Wendigo and stories by MR James. The best part about all of these works is that you can read them all for free, probably in an afternoon (or shadowy evening), and scare yourself silly by the time you need to start trying (futilely) to get to sleep.
posted by gyges at 8:05 AM on February 28, 2012

It may not have held up too well, but when I was 12, Stephen King's The Tommyknockers scared me so badly that I couldn't finish it and had nightmares for weeks.
posted by bluejayway at 10:54 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, which is about hemorrhagic fever (this includes bleeding from the eyeballs) and how it almost got out in Virginia.

The Road isn't scary per se, but it's one of the darkest things I've ever read.
posted by cnc at 12:49 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thomas Ligotti is an author you might like. Lovecraftian elements to his writing. Teatro Grottesco is probably his best known work.
posted by zerobyproxy at 2:10 PM on February 28, 2012

John Fowles' The Collector is scary and sad.
posted by Conductor71 at 2:55 PM on February 28, 2012

The Rats is kind of old, but I didn't sleep for two nights after reading it. Gory, horrible, creepy.... if any of these are NOT what you are looking for, don't bother. If you don't find the thought of packs of giant hungry rats discomforting, you will
posted by Redhush at 3:04 PM on February 28, 2012

I found Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' pretty chilling. Maybe not like a horror story that it seems you're after but still.. maybe because it's all real it definitely had an effect on me.
posted by CheechesChong at 5:47 AM on March 1, 2012

Today as I walked out of the shop where I'd just bought some bread and cheese and turned towards the grocery store to pick up something tasty for dessert I found myself halted in front of the large picture window of the small indie bookstore situated between the two. I walked in and said, "House of Leaves?" and the gentleman tending the shop said, "Right over here. I was just looking at it a second ago."

I took that as a sign. I'm about 40 pages in now. I'll see you all in a few days.
posted by komara at 6:10 PM on March 1, 2012

Here's a short story you might appreciate: Quiet Types, Loners Mostly.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:23 PM on March 2, 2012

Conrad Williams.

Specifically, One by Conrad Williams.

Loss of Separation and The Unblemished are both good, but One will kick your damn face off. Scary as hell.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:05 PM on March 5, 2012

Michael Swanwick's _The Iron Dragon's Daughter_. Some bits creepy, some bits nasty, most very strange and a little silly, even after you accept the basic conceit. Mostly haunting. And then there's the stuff that follows me around like a shadow. As long as I don't think about it, it's not really there.
posted by wobh at 5:41 PM on March 5, 2012

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