“The book is so much better than the movie.” It’s a phrase you hear often from the most advanced bookworms, especially horror enthusiasts who love to discover terrifying new worlds from the comfort of their own (occasionally haunted) homes. No jump scares. No monsters in SFX makeup. No image of scream king Patrick Wilson banishing a demon. Just you and the deadly silence, flipping through pages of the most hauntingly beautiful tales about ghosts, spirits, and life beyond the grave. The year 2020 has given us plenty of time to dive into the most dread-filled novels – ranging from dark fantasy and gothic horror to the post-apocalyptic. But you can’t go wrong with a classic ghost story – detailing the experiences of spirits who (knowingly or not) haunt the living world, and you’ll definitely find yourself looking over your shoulder with every creak or crack you hear while reading these haunted books.
Author: Steven King
No list of best haunted books would be complete without The Shining – an epic novel from the godfather of horror, Mr. Steven King. In fact, you could even argue that this was King’s breakthrough story. The Shining focuses on the life of Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic working as an off-season caretaker at a hotel in Colorado. His son Danny, who possesses psychic abilities referred to as “the shining,” begins to pick up on the hotel’s tragic past – with haunting visions and terrifying threats coming his way. Danny and his mother, Wendy, soon find themselves in great danger when supernatural forces begin to take control of Jack – and a snowstorm traps them inside the hotel with their deranged loved one and evil forces. The Shining was made into a film in 1980 – earning its status as a horror classic and pop culture phenomenon. Here’s Johnny!
Within These Walls
Author: Ania Ahlborn
Lucas Graham’s life is falling apart – his marriage crumbling while his formerly successful career as a true crime writer has come to a halt. What’s a man to do when he has nothing left? Tell the story of Jeffrey Halcomb, a convicted cult leader who has avoided media interviews for many years. Seeing his chance for redemption, Graham gives up his life in New York to move into Halcomb’s old home – until he discovers that the residence, and Halcomb’s history, is far more sinister than he could have imagined. Many haunted house tales begin with a more modern type of horror story – a person’s fall from grace. They move into a new house hoping for a fresh start and sense of purpose, just like Graham, only to discover that their demons (and other evil spirits) will always follow them. Within These Walls is a terrifying horror story that’s more relatable than most of us would believe.
The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
If you’ve watched the hit Netflix series based on this novel, you know that it’s not just ghosts that bring the terror, but complex relationships. But unlike the group of siblings you follow in the show, the book focuses on four strangers – brought to stay at Hill House for the summer under the guidance of Dr. John Montague, as he attempts to prove the existence of the supernatural. It’s safe to say that he succeeds, as the participants begin to notice strange noises, ghosts roaming the halls, blood written on walls and other paranormal occurrences that are terrifying in every decade. As much as you loved watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, now may be the time to step away from the laptop and pick up the novel that started it all. Undoubtedly one of the best books about hauntings ever written.
Author: Richard Matheson
Most horror fans have a fairly high tolerance for the gruesome, strange, and disturbing… but Hell House takes it to the next level. You’ll definitely feel a little uncomfortable while reading this 1970’s novel, yet also find yourself unable to put it down. Pretty standard for the horror genre. The story involves a dying millionaire, William Reinhardt Deutsch, who hires a psychiatrist and two psychics to investigate the existence of the afterlife. Seems simple, right? Not quite.They only have one week to do it, and are required to enter the most haunted house in the world – with a disturbing history of blasphemy, perversion, and murder. Most who enter the Belasco House don’t make it out, and the researchers must solve the puzzle of the afterlife without turning on each other or losing their sanity in the process. Hell House is basically the 1970’s, more terrifying version of a modern escape room – and you’ll be thrown right into it with this terrifying haunted house novel.
The Woman in Black
Author: Susan Hill
Children play a large role in the horror genre – whether they’re the ones falling victim to spiritual trauma, or just the ones doing the killing. This novel tells the story of a grudge-holding spirit named Jennet Drablow, also known as The Woman in Black. After young lawyer Arthur Kipps is summoned to the English town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of Alice Drablow (Jenett’s sister) after her death, he discovers that the townspeople are reluctant to talk much about the woman or her family history… besides the fact that The Woman in Black is frequently sighted before the untimely death of a child. As it turns out, it’s for good reason – as the circumstances behind these experiences are more terrifying (and heartbreaking) than anybody could imagine. The Woman in Black was also made into a 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, but you should definitely read the book first for extra spook factor.
Author: Chanel Harry
If we learned anything from American Horror Story: Murder House, it’s that moving into a mansion is not enough to save your failing marriage. No matter how gorgeous the house is – and especially not when it’s crawling with ghosts. Published in 2017, The Restless follows Stephen and Marlo Coleman as the couple and their twin daughters move into an old house inherited through a family trust. The catch? Marlo’s elderly aunt Anabelle still lives there, and needs daily care – and things begin to take a turn as the woman speaks of a family curse and visions of her deceased daughter walking the halls. While the family initially believes that Anabelle is simply old and possibly senile, things escate as they begin to experience paranormal occurences, and are forced to uncover the family secret that Anabelle has been hiding for years.
The Amityville Horror
Author: Jay Anson
The story of the Amityville house has become legendary in horror and popular culture – with a series of books and films detailing these horrific hauntings. But this 1977 classic is the book that started it all. It tells the story of what happened after Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family at Amityville in 1974, when the Lutz family moved into the house and vacated the premises after less than a month – apparently due to being terrorized by evil spirits and paranormal phenomena. The “based on a true story” claim has been met with controversy over the decades since The Amityville Horror was released, but it’s a must-have read for any horror enthusiast – and will definitely put you in the mood to book a flight to New York and see the real-life haunted house for yourself.
The Good House
Author: Tananarive Due
Like many haunted tales, The Good House begins with the tragic loss of a child. Angela Toussaint lost everything after her son committed suicide – her law practice, her family, and her sense of purpose. She decides to do the unthinkable, and journey back to her grandmother Marie’s house where her son took his own life. While she visits the home looking for answers, she uncovers a family curse that puts herself, and countless others, in a terrifying position. This novel is a gorgeous mix of supernatural, mystery, and magic – featuring everything from ancient Voodoo rituals and terrifying spirits to the real-life horror of losing the things (or people) we love the most.
The Graveyard Apartment
Author: Mariko Koike
The only thing more scary than a haunted house? An entire haunted apartment building. Seriously, you’d think that people would realize that a super gorgeous, underpriced home is definitely haunted – but that wouldn’t make for a good ghost story. The Graveyard Apartment centers on the Kano family as they move into a brand new, luxurious apartment in Tokyo. The downside is that it’s surrounded by a creepy graveyard, and the family begins to realize that their beautiful new place is also home to tons of paranormal activity. Since we all know that Japanese horror movies are some of the best in the genre, just wait until you read this J-horror book that will make you very wary before moving into your next apartment.
The House Next Door
Author: Anne Rivers Siddon
Dive into this haunted house story with a unique perspective. You see, it’s not just those living in the house who are terrorized by spirits and bad vibes, it’s also the poor neighbors watching their sanity and home value decrease. The House Next Door is told from the perspective of a Colquitt “Col” Kennedy, a middle-aged woman who watches the contemporary home next door continuously lose owners to murder, madness, and scandal. As she discovers the power of the house, she needs to decide if she should warn others of its danger, or keep her reputation and safety intact by staying quiet.
I am a lifelong pop culture junkie with immense passion for all forms of art and entertainment. On a typical weekend, I can be found at a concert or musical, chasing ghosts on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, or watching way too many makeup tutorials on YouTube.