The best psychological horror novels to drive you insane

The Books I Picked & Why

Psycho

By Robert Bloch

Book cover of Psycho

Why this book?

First up on my list is the book that inspired what would be considered one of the first “slasher” blockbusters. Deviating a bit from the Alfred Hitchcock film, Bloch’s Psycho is much closer to showing what a serial murdering psychopath would actually look like. Where the film was limited in censorship, Bloch threw everything out on the table. In the book, Norman Bates is not some unassuming young man with mother issues; he is an overweight loner whose sexual repression plays a much larger role in the story and its subsequent outcome. Both book and film are classics in their own rights, but I really appreciated how Bloch showed a realistic, timeless look into what the “boy next door” really looks like: a ruthless serial killer, one who never hesitates to dress up in his mother’s bathrobe and come visit you in the shower. 


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The Exorcist

By William Peter Blatty

Book cover of The Exorcist

Why this book?

Going with the theme of famous books-turned-movies, Blatty’s words hauntingly highlight the tale of an unwitting little girl thrown in the battleground of good vs. evil. One of my favorite aspects is that this novel flies in the face of the readers’ individual faiths, being downright unapologetic about it at times. “You don’t believe in the devil? Well, what happens when the devil shows up at your doorstep?” To this day, there is an unsettling dream sequence in the book involving Father Karras that keeps me awake at night and literally forces me to turn the lights on. Make no mistake about it, this story might be supernaturally charged, but it knows how to gnaw at you in a very real, visceral way. 


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Rosemary's Baby

By Ira Levin

Book cover of Rosemary's Baby

Why this book?

“Oh, he’s picking another book that was turned into an even bigger hit movie.” You bet your sweet britches I am, and there is a very good reason for that! The story of Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse is downright horrifying, mainly due to Levin’s whimsical way of writing realistic, humorous dialogue, while at the same time getting downright creepy without missing a beat. Is the devil involved again? You betchya, and both book and movie make a great pairing to show how surreally dreadful things can be. Gaslighting, insanity, the eventual revelation of what has been growing in Rosemary’s womb all this time…it makes for an incredibly entertaining, unnerving read.


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A Clockwork Orange

By Anthony Burgess

Book cover of A Clockwork Orange

Why this book?

C’mon, my little droogies; let’s traipse down to the Korova and have a wee bit of Moloko and maybe some of the old ultraviolence. That’s a real good horrorshow!

Is A Clockwork Orange a horror novel? Most would say no. I would give a big, resounding yes. It shows from a first-person perspective the ins and outs of an adolescent sociopath who cares about nothing but the next big thrill and how he can exert his perceived control over the world. Extreme sensual violence and hedonism are displayed, and yet it somehow digs into our souls and reveals how we can relate to even the worst examples of the human condition. Alex DeLarge lurks behind every dark alley in the world, and we should best listen to his story in order to avoid being the next unfortunate soul beaten to a pulp just for existing.


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The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Book cover of The Haunting of Hill House

Why this book?

Yeah, you know that cute little mini-series Netflix put out a few years ago? While competently made, that doesn’t hold a candle to the brilliance of Miss Jackson’s original work. I never read this book until I was near thirty years old, and I must say I’d been severely missing out. Being a horror author, I don’t scare easily. Really, I do not. This scares me. The unrelenting sense of unease; the brooding atmosphere; the ever-so-slightly wrong angles of the house. Nelly just wants her own Cup of Stars, her own small sense of belonging and joy in the universe, and Hill House promises to grant her all of that, and then more.

Then whose hand was I holding?” 

Brutal!


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