Book that will scare the hell outta me?
October 19, 2006 5:58 PM   Subscribe

I want to read a book that is gona scare the living daylights out of me. Preferably a thriller, not monsters and vampires, and it should be smart and believable. Show me the book that will make it hard for me to sleep after reading.
posted by pwally to Media & Arts (85 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
American Psycho. Live the dream.
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:59 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" did it for me when I was a kid.
posted by nasreddin at 5:59 PM on October 19, 2006

State of Denial: Bush at War by Bob Woodward

Though my kind of scared may be different than yours.
posted by rileyray3000 at 6:02 PM on October 19, 2006

Does 1984 count?
posted by cosmicbandito at 6:04 PM on October 19, 2006

Anything by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs. A good starting point is the book Relic. Scared the bejeezus out of me.
posted by drewcopeland at 6:07 PM on October 19, 2006

Helter Skelter
posted by bukvich at 6:09 PM on October 19, 2006

"House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski. It scared the crap out of me. Plus it's smart.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:10 PM on October 19, 2006

I second Relic. Stephen King's "The Dark Half" scared the woolies out of me when i was younger. Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is scary, IMO, but possibly not exactly what you are looking for.
posted by casconed at 6:11 PM on October 19, 2006

Second on House of Leaves.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 6:15 PM on October 19, 2006

Third on House of Leaves. Especially if you live in a large-ish house, double especially if you live there by yourself.
posted by dogwalker at 6:20 PM on October 19, 2006

"The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James. Ooga Booga. Although it's not really a scary story, James' "The Aspern Papers" freaked me out for a very long time.
posted by Ohdemah at 6:21 PM on October 19, 2006

The Shining did a number on me when I read it years ago.
posted by scallion at 6:22 PM on October 19, 2006

Stephen King's "The Stand," because it feels like it could happen.

If you want something new, go for Scott Smith's "The Ruins."
posted by GaelFC at 6:24 PM on October 19, 2006

The Shining did a number on me when I read it years ago.

Seconded. I had no idea how different it was from the Kubrick movie. I read it recently and it freaked me out a little. Very intense and unsettling.
posted by loquax at 6:27 PM on October 19, 2006

Alan Moore's From Hell kept me awake at nights... especially at the end of chapter two. I was so scared I couldn't turn the page, and yet I had to.

Also, another vote for House of Leaves.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:29 PM on October 19, 2006

and again, House of Leaves.

Parts of the 'Wind Up Bird Chronicles' also scared me.
posted by nadawi at 6:40 PM on October 19, 2006

House of Leaves.
posted by BorgLove at 6:41 PM on October 19, 2006

American Psycho is the very first thing that came to my mind, too.
posted by briank at 6:56 PM on October 19, 2006

The sheep look up by John Brunner.

I used to think it was science fiction.
posted by b33j at 7:02 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

As long as everyone's talking Ellis, Lunar Park was pretty good too, and matches your requirements maybe a little better. Though you'd have to read it after American Pyscho I think. Glamorama might fit too, at least the second half. Less scary but definitly smart and chilling and more than a little mind-bending. Plus Zoolander was loosely based on it so...I've forgotten my point.
posted by loquax at 7:06 PM on October 19, 2006

The Ruins, definitely. Beware of the sneaky "there are no chapter breaks so you can't possibly put it down ever" thing. You'll be up all night reading it. The Stephen King blurb on the back was something like "This book does for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for New England beaches."
posted by judith at 7:11 PM on October 19, 2006

Along the lines of American Psycho, another Bret Easton Ellis favorite of mine is Glamorama.
posted by roomwithaview at 7:15 PM on October 19, 2006

I recently read some of M R James' "Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary" which you can get for free via Project Gutenberg.

I was reading them at night.

I have since determined only to read them in direct sunlight, if at all.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:15 PM on October 19, 2006

"The Hot Zone", all about awful, awful diseases and the people who try and stop them spreading.
posted by tomble at 7:17 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks fits the bill.
posted by Vindaloo at 7:26 PM on October 19, 2006

I couldn't read Red Dragon by Thomas Harris after dark, it scared me so much. I'm getting chills now, remembering it (after dark).
posted by donajo at 7:35 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Clive Barker's Books of Blood short story collections have haunted the bejeezus out of me for years.

Also, seconding The Wasp Factory. My skin crawls if I think about parts of it too much.
posted by cadge at 7:37 PM on October 19, 2006

Alright i love the suggestions so far. My only question is about American Psycho. I've seen the movie, love it, is it still worth reading the book?
posted by pwally at 7:38 PM on October 19, 2006

The book is 100% different and 1000% better. You should read it immediately if you liked the movie.
posted by loquax at 7:44 PM on October 19, 2006

Well, maybe 90% different.
posted by loquax at 7:44 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

And you should read everything by Ellis while you're at it too (again, given you liked American Psycho), Less than Zero, Rules of Attraction, Psycho, The Informers, Glamorama and Lunar Park, in order. Do it now. You won't regret it.
posted by loquax at 7:48 PM on October 19, 2006

nthing House of Leaves (which I loved and which gave me the creepy-crawlies even though I was a bit irritated by how precious it was about its cleverness and conceit) and The Shining. Red Dragon for sure (I love that book, I've read it many times, I love the characters and the humour, and then I get to a certain point and I know what's about to happen and...yikes). Other books I've found scary: Pet Sematary (which I think one of Stephen King's best-written, creepiest and also most insightful books), The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson (not supernatural at all), and I'll second The Wasp Factory and add Iain M. Banks' Use of Weapons (which may be science fiction, but which is also disturbing psychological horror).
posted by biscotti at 7:51 PM on October 19, 2006

One of the few things I've read that seriously scared me was Stephen King's The Langoliers. For added effect try reading it on a plane.
posted by komilnefopa at 7:54 PM on October 19, 2006

Sorry not to answer the question, but DAMN - I'm gonna gave to go buy House of Leaves!!
posted by matty at 8:09 PM on October 19, 2006

Magic my William Goldman
posted by The Deej at 8:10 PM on October 19, 2006

*BY William Goldman
posted by The Deej at 8:11 PM on October 19, 2006

"I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson
posted by jbickers at 8:18 PM on October 19, 2006

"After the First Death" by Robert Cormier freaked the hell out of me when I was a bit younger, as did other books by the same author.

Nothing I've read recently though, but that's pretty much all nonfiction.
posted by claudius at 8:33 PM on October 19, 2006

I second "The Hot Zone." The first chapter is perhaps one of the more nauseatingly gruesome things I've ever read, and after reading it, I was terrified to sleep, for fear of dreaming about it. Believeable because it happened, and more terrifying than any thriller for the same reason. Ebola's a nasty bug.
posted by ubersturm at 8:39 PM on October 19, 2006

Seconding Helter Skelter (nonfiction). What happened is scary, but it ain't nothin' compared to what they were trying to do.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:40 PM on October 19, 2006

I'll also throw in for HoL and Ellis's stuff.
posted by dobbs at 8:42 PM on October 19, 2006

I've read the excellent "American Psycho" and I've seen the excellent "American Psycho". Novels are usually superior to movies but this is one (of few) time where I'll make an exception. That doesn't make the movie better, just different.
posted by Neiltupper at 8:44 PM on October 19, 2006

Did someone say relic? pshaw! Relic is for pussies!

Try Amazonia by James Rollins.
Or Sandstorm by James Rollins.
Or Subterranean by James Rollins.
Or Excavation by James Rollins! (notice a theme here?)

I first read Amazonia about a month ago - and i was scared witless! And immediately went out and bought all his books. I'm yet to start Black Order (his latest) and already the thought of it gives me chills - It's set in a tibetan monastery. But so far my favorites (and scariest) have been Amazonia and Subterranean.
posted by ramix at 9:13 PM on October 19, 2006

Yet another vote for Richard Preston's The Hot Zone. The scariest part is that it's a true story.
posted by blueberry at 9:19 PM on October 19, 2006

House of Leaves wasn't even close to scary. I read it and wasn't even slightly chilled. I just sat there thinking how dumb it was and how irritating the typographical gimmicks were. (How is a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside a premise for a "scary" book, anyway?)

Back when I was a young teen, a book that scared the hell out of me --- far more than a book should ever scare someone --- was Pet Sematary.
posted by jayder at 9:19 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'll play devil's advocate: I love Bret Easton Ellis, especially the much-reviled "Rules of Attraction," but I found "American Psychp" godawful, sickening, and completely unreadable.
posted by GaelFC at 9:21 PM on October 19, 2006

These are the books that scared the hell outta me...

Clive Barker - The Books of Blood, The Damnation Game

Ramsey Campbell - The Face That Must Die

Thomas M. Disch - The M.D.: A Horror Story

Bret Easton Ellis - American Psycho

Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House

Stephen King - ’Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand

Richard Laymon - Midnight's Lair

Jeff Long - The Descent

John Shirley - Cellars, Demons, In Darkness Waiting

Dan Simmons - Carrion Comfort, Summer of Night

Peter Straub - Ghost Story, Floating Dragon, Koko, Mystery, The Throat, The Hellfire Club

Donna Tartt - The Secret History
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:22 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

The only book that's actually UNNERVED me was The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe. If you really want to shake things up inside your head, that's the one to go for.
posted by bunglin jones at 9:43 PM on October 19, 2006

Yet another vote for House of Leaves.
posted by Mikey-San at 9:51 PM on October 19, 2006

Yes to HoL.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:10 PM on October 19, 2006

Massive second on both Peter Straub and The Wasp Factory.

The most terrifying book I've ever read was Jerzy Kosinski's Painted Bird. Less terrifying but more fun is Joyce Carol Oates's trillogy Mysteries of Winterthurn, which is gothic, lurid, and sizzling smart.

As far as House of Leaves is concerned, I don't remember being scared by it, but I did love it to itty-bitty pieces, and it's definitely worth a read.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:33 PM on October 19, 2006

I'm not sure I understand the American Psycho recs. Its extremely unsettling with some great dark humor, but scary? If anything its just graphic and a hard to read at times, due to the Bateman's detachment from his murders. I would say more disturbing and thought provoking then scary or realistic.

Also, the movie version of AP was different, not worse or better, just different.

Definitely second The Shining, and maybe the abridged version of The Stand.
posted by rsanheim at 10:49 PM on October 19, 2006

Does 1984 count?
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:04 PM AEST on October 20

I found Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro deeply disturbing, sort of like 1984, but its not exactly from the horror vein that you're probably looking for.
posted by cholly at 11:23 PM on October 19, 2006

The Road or Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Both gave me nightmares.
posted by Falconetti at 12:02 AM on October 20, 2006

House of Leaves. Read it alone in a dark room with the doors closed. It should come with a free voucher for therapy.
posted by Plinko at 12:30 AM on October 20, 2006

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay
The Magic Cottage, James Herbert

Both frightened the bejebus out of me at age 15 and mid twenties respectively. I suspect that Picnic at Hanging Rock would have the same effect today but I ain't gonna test the theory ;-)
posted by ceri richard at 1:00 AM on October 20, 2006

I love Richard Matheson but I think Hell House is way scarier than I Am Legend. Perhaps it's a matter of taste, but I just reread both and Hell House just raked me over the psychic coals -- it's full of graphic imagery but it's less about monsters and more about how monstrous people can be.

It's easy to underestimate Stephen King, but I think that his collection Different Seasons is very fine, and full of more subtle psychological horrors than gorefests; my favorite story from it is "The Breathing Method." And though it is quite red and wet in spots, I still love many of the more quiet psychological horrors in Clive Barker's Books of Blood series. (I see others have recommended it, along with The Wasp Factory, which I almost wished I'd not read because it's just that frightening.)

Shirley Jackson is a lot more subtle and scary than "The Lottery" would make you think -- try The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Finally, an oddity: I remember reading Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel with pretty much perfect nausea -- but if you are at all a Southern Gothic fan, like difficult fiction, and have a very strong stomach you might love it.
posted by melissa may at 2:36 AM on October 20, 2006

Husband and I went through a true-crime reading phase a few years ago that wrecked my sleep cycle. I don't know if I'd call them scary so much as suspenseful, but for me at least (a huge wuss), they got my heart going. The most memorable one for me was Bitter Blood by Jerry Bledsoe, but I also remember reading a lot of Ann Rule.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:07 AM on October 20, 2006

The Shining, absolutely. When I was reading it, I couldn't sleep unless the book was in a different room. Sometimes the book was so intense and frightening that I had to put it down for a minute so my heart would stop beating hard. Second scariest S. King is Pet Semetary.
posted by Mavri at 5:42 AM on October 20, 2006

Stephen King's It.

You will likely freak out the first time you get a cold after reading The Hot Zone.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:29 AM on October 20, 2006

Yeah, old Stephen King is what you want. The Stand (unabridged!), the Shining, It, Dead Zone (more creepy than scary) and definitely 'Salem's Lot (goddamn, feel like such an idiot but every time I read it I get to a point where I start looking around for the makings of a cross, just to be on the safe side.)

/off to buy House of Leaves
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:39 AM on October 20, 2006

Call me crazy, but the online novel John Dies at the End was pretty scary.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:14 AM on October 20, 2006

Not long after reading House of Leaves, I was staying in a guest room at a friend's house. I woke up in the middle of the night, looked around, and was absolutely positive that the closet door was now in a different place than it had been in when I had gone to sleep. Creeped the hell out of me.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:22 AM on October 20, 2006

Somebody recommended a bunch of James Rollins books, including Subterranean, which I have read. It's one of the most ridiculous, unintentionally funny books ever. Beyond suspension of disbelief, it requires that you suspend all critical faculties for it to work. I wasn't able to. A truly silly book. At the top of one page, his hero is telling the group of neophyte cavers that their batteries are the most important things they carry, because without them, there's no light. Further down the page, everyone fires up their carbide lamps. It's full of stuff like that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:48 AM on October 20, 2006

Night of Camp David, Fletcher Knebel

Political thriller about the president going insane. Written forty years ago but strangely prescient now.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:57 AM on October 20, 2006

Stephen King's "The Shining" is the only book I've ever had to put in the freezer. The only thing that people seem to be missing is it doesn't quite fit your qualifications, it is a little more on the monsters side than the thriller side. That could be debated, though... maybe it's not monsters but rather mental illness. You should definitely give it a shot anyways.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:01 AM on October 20, 2006

Actually, after having reread your question and a bunch of replies, I think I should unrecommend a few books. In particular, most of the Stephen King Books. You wanted no monsters or vampires, and that's pretty much what he writes about. They are really excellent books (like CunningLinguist said - the old ones) but not in the style you are looking for.

Also, I have never read HoL, but I am damn well going to now!
posted by arcticwoman at 8:08 AM on October 20, 2006

Came here to mention Stephen King's short stories ("1408" in the more recent Everything's Eventual is very good, too), House of Leaves, and Lunar Park (which violates one of your criteria, but not the more important one).

About HoL: Give it time. It took me some initial effort to click with the book, and I probably would have put it down permanently if I'd tried to absorb everything at once. Once I was going with the flow, though, the typographical stuff really started to work.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:20 AM on October 20, 2006

Seconding Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Very disturbing with that uneasy feeling that stays with you long after you've finished the book. More creepy than out-and-out scary, though.
posted by witchstone at 8:21 AM on October 20, 2006

Ghost Story by Peter Straub. I pretty much stopped reading horror after that because it freaked me out that much.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:47 AM on October 20, 2006

(It's been almost 25 years, and I still occasionally imagine the face of Fenny Bate floating outside my window.)
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:48 AM on October 20, 2006

Okay, people who don't read the question drive me crazy and here I went and did it. Yeah, Stephen King is all monsters and vampires so I take back my recommendation. (Though the parts in the Stand that I love aren't the monster parts but the apocalypse parts.) But I'll third A Secret History, which can get twee but really kept a strong sense of dread going.

And oh! A Simple Plan is a great, lean thriller that sucks you right in and is also full of dread.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:49 AM on October 20, 2006

Cormac McCarthy's Child of God kept me from sleeping for weeks. I find it scarier/more disturbing than his other books.
posted by smich at 9:09 AM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Misery by Stephen King honestly made me throw up. And not for any scene that later made the movie.
posted by frecklefaerie at 11:55 AM on October 20, 2006

Stephen King's short story The Mist was one of the scariest things I have ever read. I still get creeped out when i see fog. Also, they are supposedly making a movie about directed by the same guy that did Shawshank and Green Mile.
posted by jessica at 3:13 PM on October 20, 2006

Seconding The Sheep Look Up, for precisely the same reason b33j gave. It looks less and less farfetched every year.
posted by flabdablet at 5:33 PM on October 20, 2006

hehe..the first thing i thought was 'american psycho'...and i actually did become physically ill reading a particular part about hungry rats...i totally puked, man! someone gave me the dvd as a gift, but i've still never watched it...i found it scary with the realization (that grows as i get older) that more people are rather like the main character...(i found 'glamorama' rather fun in comparison)

'helter skelter' freaked me out for similar reasons, but i read it back in high school, so i don't know how i'd react to it now at 39...

i loved 'house of leaves' and i remember it did put me in a different place...i'm hoping to read it again soon..maybe around the holidays...just because ritalin has made my reading comprehension like 500% better, and i'm sure i'll engage with it a lot more...though it was unsettling even before...

...i'm totally in the mood for a scary book now...
posted by troybob at 6:38 PM on October 20, 2006

Check out this thread of mine for more suggestions.
posted by orange swan at 7:00 PM on October 20, 2006

2nding Stephen King's Misery as a no-monsters, tense, 100% creep-out book. ugh.
posted by carsonb at 7:24 PM on October 20, 2006

The Ringway Virus by Russell Foreman
posted by b33j at 8:13 PM on October 20, 2006

Here's my vote for "Helter Skelter". My wife couldn't get past the first 100 pages she was so scared.
posted by JPowers at 12:05 AM on October 21, 2006

Stephen King's "The Stand" and "The Shining" are both excellent recommendations—the former was so scary when I was younger that I threw it across the room shortly after I began reading it and didn't pick it up again for several years.

Others not mentioned: the first couple of "Amityville Horror" books also got thrown across the room after I read them late at night in my dark basement bedroom during high school.

Also, "The Hot Zone" did well at that for me, too. For more medical, quasi-sci fi scariness, pick up pretty much any Robin Cook novel.

As for the suggestion of "From Hell" above, I'd skip it—I picked it up at one point and couldn't actually stand to read it beyond the first couple of pages 'cause Eddie's Campbell's artwork and handwriting suck so much.
posted by limeonaire at 12:14 AM on October 21, 2006's late, but i went out and got 'the haunting of hill house' per this thread...i read it over a couple nights (last night staying up late to finish it), and it was cool and creepy! i might pick up 'house of leaves' again, but i might seek out something new for me...

...thanks for the thread...
posted by troybob at 3:42 PM on October 26, 2006

troybob, you should check out Robert Wise's film version called The Haunting (1963). One of those rare instances where the book is great and the movie is great. Avoid the Jan de Bont remake at all costs.
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:18 AM on October 28, 2006

I still think The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is scary.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:41 PM on July 3, 2007

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