The 10 Greatest Horror Novels of the 20th Century

Feature | 06 November 2015
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How many of these 10 celebrated tales of terror do you know?!

1. The Haunting of Hill House

Author: Shirley Jackson
Year: 1959
Publisher: Viking/Penguin Books

Inspiring two film adaptations and our own terrifying stage play, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is regarded as the perhaps the best haunted house story ever written by critics and fans alike. A terrifying tale which plays with the reader's perceptions of reality, Jackson's novel went on to influence such masters of the macabre as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.

2. The Exorcist

Author: William Peter Blatty
Date: 1971
Publisher: Harper & Row

If you thought the film was scary, prepare for another level of horror with the original Exorcist novel... Inspired by a real-life case of demonic possession in 1949, the attempts of Father Lankester Merrin to exorcise a 'presence' from poorly young girl Reagan MacNeil are, in the worst sense of the word, unforgettable.

3. Interview with the Vampire

Author: Anne Rice
Date: 1976
Publisher: Knopf

The life and exploits of 200 year-old vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac are the subject of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, a novel which has engaged over 8 million readers since its publication, and has spawned an incredible 9 sequels.

4. The House on the Borderland

Author: William Hope Hodgson
Date: 1908
Publisher: Chapman and Hall

This hallucinatory account of a recluse's time spent in the remote and eponymous "house" was cited as one of fellow listee HP Lovecraft's greatest influences. Terry Pratchett also once called the novel "the Big Bang in my private universe as a science fiction and fantasy reader and, later, writer". If that isn't a recommendation to read, we don't know what is.

5. The Hellbound Heart

Author: Clive Barker
Date: 1986
Publisher: Dark Harvest, HarperCollins

While it's true that Clive Barker's work never strays too far from the world of horror (even his Abarat and Thief of Always YA novels paint from a surprisingly dark palette) The Hellbound Heart sees him writing at his most depraved and nightmarish. Anyone familiar with the film adaptation Hellraiser will know the story, but the Devil's in the detail of the original novel.

6. Salem's Lot

Author: Stephen King
Date: 1975
Publisher: Doubleday

To be fair to his unmatched backcatalogue of horror classics, a number of Stephen King's novels could have made this list but well, Salem's Lot is just a personal favourite. More importantly, it's King's favourite too. 

When a writer returns to his childhood hometown of Jerusalem's Lot, things take a turn for the horrific as he discovers that the residents are becoming vampires... And that's just the start.

7. Something Wicked This Way Comes

Author: Ray Bradbury
Date: 1962
Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Lauded by critics as a masterful blend of horror and dark fantasy, Ray Bradbury's story of a travelling carnival and its mysterious leader Mr Dark- who wields the suspicious ability to seemingly grant the townspeople's secret desires- was also praised for its subtle and grounded storytelling. Notable fans include Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and RL Stine.

8. I Am Legend

Author: Richard Matheson
Date: 1954
Publisher: Gold Medal Books

Cited by many as the most important novel in popularising the concept of a zombie apocalypse, Richard Matheson's legendary I am Legend follows Robert Neville, the apparent sole survivor of a global pandemic which causes a form of vampirism among the infected.

A factoid for those who don't know: In 1957 Hammer approached Richard Matheson to adapt I am Legend for the screen with Val Guest directing, under the title Night Creatures. The British censorship board unfortunately decided that the project as written would have to be banned and so it was dropped...

9. At the Mountains of Madness

Author: HP Lovecraft
Date: 1936
Publisher: First published in Astounding Stories

Another horror heavyweight, and an influence on practically every other writer on this list, it's interesting to note how few novellas Lovecraft actually wrote (much of his lasting impact comes through his substantial collections of short fiction). At the Mountains of Madness, one of his few longer works, remains one of his most terrifying. A framed narrative in which an Antarctic expedition gone wrong, scary lifeforms are discovered and pretty much everybody gets killed - this is quintessential Lovecraft.

10. The Collector

Author: John Fowles
Date: 1963
Publisher: Jonathan Cape (UK), Little, Brown & Company (US)

A claustrophobic, locked-room horror story to make one appreciate the great outdoors, John Fowles' debut novel follows obsessive loner Frederick Clegg as he spends his days collecting butterflies to watch them die. When beautiful art student Miranda becomes the new object of his obsessions, it's clear that Clegg has plans for his newest butterfly. 

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9 COMMENTS / View All
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  • No Silence of the Lambs???

    Faruq
  • I love Barker, but I would have put sacrament or coldheart canyon in instead

    tara
  • Nice list. Any list, of course, begs for comments as subjectivity must come into play. Hellbound Heart is a great story, but I think Imajica is his magnum opus, even if it is also more grounded in dark fantasy than strictly horror. Great and Secret Show would also stand in as a finer example from my perspective. I also seem to remember that Hellbound Heart was more of a novelette, but it might come in at the under for considered length. Never read House on the Borderland, though, and that will be rectified soon. Thanks for the list.

    Phil Thron
  • I am proud to say I have read them all. (being 'old' has some advantages) However, didn't find any scary.

    B5dragon
  • T.E.D. Klein´s "The Ceremonies" and Peter Straub´s "Ghost Story" are my favorites...but Salem´s Lot is very close!

    Carlos Branca
  • Bit confusing list. Horror novels, or horror films? The Exorcist by Blatty doesn't qualify to be one of the greatest, although the movie does qualify. Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out will definitly qualify, although the film won't. Similary, the list misses out Stoker's Dracula and Shelley's Frankenstein (taking into account, Lee's and Karloff's sterling performances). The list misses out Ghost Story by Peter Straub???

    PC Sarkar
  • Would've liked to have seen Adam N evill on that list.

    amanda bush
  • Dan Simmon's "Carrion Comfort" or "Summer of Night" might also be suitable candidates. I would also consider Finney's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".

    Blair Leggett
  • Clive Barker, so many, but I would have went with The Damnation Game.

    Anthony

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