When you’re in the mood for a really good scare, a well-crafted horror novel is often the best place to turn. While movies and TV shows might reach a wider audience, frequent horror readers know that the written word is practically unmatched when it comes to delivering potent chills. Perhaps that’s because the reader is forced to use their own imagination to fill in all the nightmarish details that the writer conjures up in prose. Reading a terrifying novel provokes an unconscious response in us that even the best films achieve seldom, and because of that, the scares cut deeper and the fear lasts longer.
Naturally, the same principle holds true for horror audiobooks. In a way, hearing an expert narrator read a creepy novel aloud from cover to cover recalls the feeling of sitting around a crackling camp fire at night, listening to spooky stories about hook-handed killers and ghostly hitchhikers. There’s something elemental about that type of old-fashioned oral storytelling that works especially well when it comes to tales of terror.
So if you’re the market for a shiver, here are a dozen horror audiobooks that are guaranteed to chill your blood. Rather than focus on obvious modern masters like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Clive Barker, or classic authors like Bram Stoker and HP Lovecraft, we’ve instead selected an assortment of books by writers that might be a bit less familiar, but no less terrifying.
In literature more than film, monsters get a bad rap. While popular movies like “A Quiet Place” and Bong Joon Ho’s “The Host” reap universal praise, novels about slithering beasts and gooey mutants rarely end up on best of the year lists. And that’s unfortunate for author Ania Ahlborn, whose novel “The Shuddering” was easily one of the most heart-stopping reads of 2013 and deserved to be included alongside the top titles of that year. When twin siblings Ryan and Jane Adler head to a remote mountain cabin in Colorado with some friends and get snowed in after a storm, the worst they expect is some temporary claustrophobia. But that’s only because they don’t yet realize they’re being watched by a forest full of misshapen humanoid creatures whose twisted bodies and jagged teeth are enough to drive you insane on sight. That is, before they rip you apart limb from limb. For the book’s audio edition, skilled voice actor Luke Daniels brings Ahlborn’s ghastly story to life with her superb narration.
Joan Samson’s shattering 1976 masterpiece “The Auctioneer” deserves to be taught in schools along with the unsettling works of Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy. One of the finest examples of 20th Century American fiction that you probably haven’t heard of, “The Auctioneer” tells the story of a tightly knit farming community in rural New Hampshire that falls under the spell of a charismatic traveling auctioneer who sets out to improve the town by gathering donated items from the locals and then auctioning them off publicly to raise funds for the police department. Yet what begins as a seemingly innocuous request for old clothes and broken furniture doesn’t stop there. As the insidious auctioneer and his starry-eyed followers demand more and more items for auction, lives are destroyed and violence explodes. A chilling sociopolitical allegory tucked inside a remarkable horror novel, Samson’s macabre tale will make you wish she’d written a second book. Sadly, this was her only one of her.
Hot take: ghost stories work much better on the page than they do on the screen. Just think about the best examples of the literary subgenre – “The Signal-Man,” “The Turn of the Screw,” “The Haunting of Hill House” – and what springs to mind instantly is their ominous atmosphere and foreboding menace rather than extreme visual shock. Bestselling author Jennifer McMahon understands that perfectly, and her spine-tingling 2019 novel “The Invited,” about a couple that unwittingly build a haunted house from scratch on an unholy plot of land in Vermont, just might be the eeriest ghost story of the last decline. Effortlessly alternating from scenes set in the distant past to the horrors of the present day, McMahon’s book is part supernatural thriller, part historical mystery. For the audio edition, narrators Amanda Carlin and Justine Eyre conjure up McMahon’s prose like sorceresses bringing a malevolent spirit to life.
Picture “Re-Animator” director Stuart Gordon helming an adaptation of “Lord of the Flies” and you might begin to get an idea of the nightmare you’re in store for when you listen to the audio edition of Nick Cutter’s savage 2014 novel “ The Troop.” The story of five unlucky teenage boy scouts and their adult scoutmaster whose weekend on a remote island in the Canadian wilderness turns into a thick fight for survival, Cutter’s award-winning book is perfect for fans of Scott Smith’s “The Ruins” and Eli Roth’s “ Cabin Fever.” What makes this twisted tale of science-run-amok so memorable is how the author balances psychological suspense with jaw-dropping scenes of body horror that would make David Cronenberg wince in revulsion.
If you’ve read and enjoyed classics like “The Exorcist,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Amityville Horror,” then by all means give the audio edition of Robert Marasco’s disturbing thriller “Burnt Offerings” a listen. The basis for the 1976 film adaptation starring Karen Black and Oliver Reed, this story of an innocent family that rents a beautiful historic mansion on Long Island for the summer starts off warmly enough, but it gradually burrows its way beneath the reader’s skin as the house begins to affect the characters’ minds and personalities in sinister ways. If you’ve ever set foot in an unfamiliar location and felt a disquieting sense of unease wash over you for no apparent reason, imagine that feeling sustained for an entire novel, until it erupts in a gray climax of shocking horror. Haunted house stories don’t get much scarier than this one.
When hilariously snarky Kara – aka Carrot to her pals – agrees to lend a hand at her uncle’s quirky museum of oddities, she doesn’t expect to do much more than dust the vast collection of taxidermied animals on display. But when she discovers an impossibly deep hole in the wall on the second floor that defies the laws of physics, curiosity gets the best of her and she enlists the help of a friendly neighborhood barista to explore the mist-shrouded alternate dimension. Big mistake! You see, this otherworldly portal leads to the dwelling ground of They, a bizarre race of mind-reading monsters with a nasty habit of skinning interlopers alive. In “The Hollow Places,” award-winning author T. Kingfisher deftly blends humor and horror, and incorporates some wildly impressive worldbuilding to create a dark urban fantasy that will delight fans of Neil Gaiman and China Miéville.
If listening to an entire 11-hour audiobook sounds a bit daunting, but you’re still in the market for a solid scare, then a bite-size horror anthology might be just the ticket to terror you’re looking for. And for readers who grew up rocking out to ’80s bands like Dokken, Stryper, and Mötley Crüe, this brand new collection of short horror fiction edited by Staci Layne Wilson couldn’t be a better choice. Featuring 10 music-themed stories penned by talented authors like Mark Wheaton, Darren Gordon Smith, and Brenda Thatcher, “Gory Days” more than lives up to its lurid title. It’s “MTV’s Headbangers Ball” meets “Tales from the Crypt”; meaning it’s perfect entertainment for anyone who’s ever played “Stairway to Heaven” backwards to hear the mumbled phrase “Here’s to my sweet Satan.”
Obsessed with the strange history of the abandoned town where her grandmother once lived as a child, a documentary filmmaker gathers a small crew together to investigate the 60-year-old mystery in Swedish author Camilla Sten’s hair-raising international bestseller “The Lost Village. ” Combining aspects of “The Blair Witch Project” with the “Silent Hill” series, Sten’s enthralling thriller packs a wicked punch once the naïve characters finally realize they’re not alone in the titular deserted mining town. If the scene when they hear a malicious chuckle come over their walkie-talkies while lost in the middle of nowhere doesn’t fill you with dread, it’s probably time to seek professional help. Best of all, after her tension-filled set-up de ella, Sten actually sticks the landing with a truly satisfying denouement. For the audio edition, Angela Dawe’s evocative narration is one of the best we’ve ever heard.
Best known for creating the character John Rambo in his sensational debut novel “First Blood,” author David Morrell has penned acclaimed books in all types of genres; from spy fiction to Westerns to mysteries and historical thrillers. Originally published in 1979, “The Totem” was Morrell’s first foray into the horror genre, and it’s a doozy. Set in a sleepy mountain community in rural Wyoming, the book opens with a local sheriff investigating a series of gory livestock mutilations attributed to either wild dogs or cougars. But as the animal deaths increase in ferocity each night and the townspeople start acting strangely violent, it’s clear that something terrifying is happening in Potter’s Field… something possibly related to the long abandoned hippie commune in the nearby woods. Agonizingly suspenseful in its first half and viscerally horrifying in its second, once “The Totem” sinks its teeth into you, it never lets go.
If you’ve ever found yourself at the mercy of an insurance agency whose labyrinthine rules and convoluted regulations make you wonder if Satan himself is the CEO, then you’ll definitely relate to the characters in the indescribably surreal thriller “The Policy.” Imagine for a minute that you’re approached by a weirdly grinning door-to-door insurance agent who wants to sell you a policy against losing your job or being wrongly imprisoned. That’s what happens to this book’s protagonists when they move to a new home in Tucson, AZ. Yet as strange as those insurance policies might sound, they get much more disturbing each day, and refusing the offered coverage has deadly results. With brilliant horror novels like “The Policy,” “The Store,” “The Mailman” and “The Association” to his credit, no author is better at turning life’s mundane annoyances into skin-crawling terror than Bentley Little.
The late author Jack Ketchum may not have become a household name like some of his more illustrious contemporaries, but he remains a giant in the world of literary horror. Best remembered for controversial classics like “The Girl Next Door” and “Off Season,” Ketchum’s lesser-known works are every bit as frightening, and his harrowing 1987 novel “Cover” is a prime example. Set in the remote wilderness, the story centers on a severely traumatized Vietnam veteran living off the grid, whose encounter with a group of weekend campers leads to unimaginable tragedy. Recalling James Dickey’s classic “Deliverance” at times, what makes this riveting tale so powerful is the empathy Ketchum clearly has for the book’s battle-scarred soldier. Rather than paint the character as Jason Voorhees with PTSD, Ketchum shows us the man behind the madness, which makes “Cover” a truly unforgettable work of art.
James Herbert’s wonderfully grotesque novel about hungry mutant rats that terrorize London captured the imagination of hardcore horror fans around the world when it was published in 1974. In fact, the book proved so wildly popular, it spawned two sequels and a (not very good) film adaptation. Relentlessly paced and overflowing with some of the grisliest rat attack scenes ever imagined, Herbert’s novel purposefully straddles the line of good taste at times, and often leaps right in to sheer unadulterated insanity. Although the characters are as thin as a rodent’s whisker and the plot basically amounts to people being gnawed to death, readers with a sick sense of humor and a strong stomach will find “The Rats” a terrifying and tasty treat.