Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Our Definitive Ranking of the Scariest Horror Novels and Short Stories of All Time

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Our Definitive Ranking of the Scariest Horror Novels and Short Stories of All Time
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In recent years, the horror genre has experienced something of a resurgence. From spine-tingling folklore to chilling tales of poltergeists and hauntings, we clearly can’t get enough of being frightened. The genre dominates streaming services, with cult TV shows such as The Walking Dead, Hellbound and the Haunting of Hill House enticing a new generation to the terrifying joy of horror. 

According to experts, horror allows us to experience stimulation in a secure setting, triggering the release of adrenaline without actually being in danger. As Halloween approaches, there’s no better time to feel the thrill of fear. 

With this in mind, researchers at McGowan Transcriptions present a definitive ranking of the scariest horror books in existence, trawling through thousands of forum posts to find the most chilling books on the market.

Our top 5 scariest horror novels

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Unsurprisingly, we crowned Stephen King’s IT as the scariest horror story ever written. IT, first published in 1986, has been terrifying readers for almost four decades. The cult classic has spawned numerous adaptations, including a mini-series. A two-part film was recently released to critical acclaim. The novel centres around the “Losers Club”, a group of seven children isolated from their peers and abused by Henry Bower, the town bully, as they band together to defeat Pennywise the clown. King expertly weaves dark fantasy with real-world childhood trauma, delivering a truly terrifying reading experience.

House of Leaves, penned by Mark Z. Danielewski, ranked second place, receiving 3875 votes from respondents. Danielewski’s debut novel, House of Leaves is centred on a fictional documentary about a family whose house is dominated by an apparently endless labyrinth. The novel is claustrophobic, confusing and extremely disturbing. House of Leaves is an excellent choice for horror fans searching for a psychological thrill, but is better suited to more advanced readers, due to its disorientating and unconventional style. Beware – this novel is said to resonate with readers long after they finish the final chapter. 

Pet Sematary, written by Stephen King and first published in 1983, achieved third place on our ranking. Nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and adapted into two films, the novel is responsible for generations of trauma. The story, like many of King’s novels, intersperses fantastical demons with relatable, real-world fears. King took inspiration from his own life when writing Pet Sematary, beginning the novel shortly after his daughter’s pet cat was run over. He has also commented that out of all of his novels, Pet Sematary was the work that scared him the most. 

[H3] The top 20 

Book TitleAuthorNumber of Votes 
ITStephen King4245
House of LeavesMark Z. Danielewski3875
Pet SemataryStephen King3729
Salem’s LotStephen King2474
The ShiningStephen King1607
Gerald’s GameStephen King1507
Bird BoxJosh Malerman725
AnnihilationJeff VanderMeer663
Color Out of SpaceH. P. Lovecraft594
The Yellow WallpaperCharlotte Perkins Gilman 439
The ExorcistWilliam Peter Blatty303
The Hot ZoneRichard Preston271
Carrion ComfortDan Simmons239
DescentJeff Long236
The TerrorDan Simmons212
The RoadCormac McCarthy150
We Need to Talk About KevinLionel Shriver130
Shadow over InnsmouthH. P. Lovecraft125
DraculaBram Stoker 112
The StandStephen King 110

How many pages do I need to read per week to finish a book by Halloween?


Number of pages: 1138 

Number of pages per week: 285 

House of Leaves 

Number of pages: 709

Number of pages per week: 178

Pet Sematary

Number of pages: 373

Number of pages per week: 94

Salem’s Lot

Number of pages: 439

Number of pages per week: 110

The Shining 

Number of pages: 447

Number of pages per week: 112

Gerald’s Game

Number of pages: 332

Number of pages per week: 83

Bird Box 

Number of pages: 273

Number of pages per week: 69


Number of pages: 208

Number of pages per week: 52

Colour Out of Space 

Number of pages: 240

Number of pages per week: 60

The Yellow Wallpaper 

Number of pages: 63

Number of pages per week: 16


To identify our favourite horror stories we used popular forum site Reddit, which has over 430 million monthly active users. We selected threads and comments at random, trawling through thousands of responses and recording mentions of book titles and comment likes. Overall, our tally of comments and comment likes reached 23 444. We recorded mention of 81 unique titles.