Have you been by the old Mercer house? The one surrounded by all the bushes and dead trees? Yeah, I thought it was abandoned, too, but sometimes at night you can see a light go on upstairs. My older sister’s best friend’s boyfriend disappeared there one night on a full moon. He was dared by a group of friends to touch the front door…and nobody’s seen him since.
Sound familiar? You’ve probably had a conversation like this at some point in your life (during your younger years, I imagine). Ever since The Fall of the House of Usher, horror writers (and readers) have been obsessed with the idea of the haunted house. Why no stories about haunted fields? Or lakes, full of constantly swimming ghosts? That could be scary! But, no, there’s something about the structure of a home and the proverbial door closing behind you, shutting out the daylight world you’ve left behind, that really gives us the chills. So in the spirit of all things spooky, here’s my list of the best haunted house books, all made for October reading:
1. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. Maybe you saw the movie, and you’re all like “Ehh…I get it.” But you don’t! The movie doesn’t come close to the greatness of this gothic tale of a night spent in the notorious Hill House. Not only is it an unnerving page turner, it’s also funny and beautifully written—one of my faves.
2. The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson. What is it about the 1970s that fostered such an obsession with horror? This allegedly true story of a couple driven from their new home by demonic activity and paranormal phenomena still gives me the chills.
3. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. Eek! I love this, and it just may be my vote for the best short story/novella in American literature. Ambiguous and confusing, this 19th-century tale of a governess, her charges, and two ghosts that may or may not exist is a suspenseful ride.
4. Hell House, by Richard Matheson. At the behest of an eccentric millionaire, four investigators enter the Belasco House, considered to be the most haunted house in the world. Who among them will make it through the week? File this one under very scary. In fact, I just looked over my shoulder while writing this because I got a weird feeling. Not for grandmothers or the weak of heart.
5. The Shining, by Stephen King. Okay, so the Overlook Hotel isn’t a house per se, but it sure as hell is haunted. We’ve all seen the movie, but have you read the book? Way creepier, and offering way more history on the world’s worst hotel. True story: my best friend’s mom put this book in a Ziploc bag and kept it in the freezer while reading it because it scared her so much.
6. The Rats in the Walls, by H.P. Lovecraft. All hail King Creeper! Lovecraft’s short story of the sound of rats leading to an underground city fueled by cannibalism is extremely disturbing. WARNING: Don’t read alone at night.
7. The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales, by Edgar Allen Poe. If Lovecraft is King Creeper, Poe is the Grandaddy of Freak. He remains one of the most influential writers in American literature, and his tales are timelessly terrifying. This collection contains some of his most popular works of suspense, murder, and the supernatural. “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado” all center around a house of horrors.
What’s your favorite haunted house book?