14 best psychological horror books for eerie entertainment

14 Best Psychological Horror Books for Eerie Entertainment

In Reading Lists by Lanie Pemberton

14 best psychological horror books for eerie entertainment

There are tales of ghouls and ghosts, murderers and monsters, and of things that go bump in the night. But there’s another kind of horror novel where otherworldly creatures aren’t what make people cower, a kind where the terror is more subtle and claustrophobic. Enter psychological horror for the ultimate chill down your spine.

Good psychological horror books are all about the slow burn loss of sanity (unlike the faster-paced sister genre, psychological thriller). Psychological horror novels offer an eerie sense of dread, a growing unsettling feeling that something isn’t quite right, and an intense dive into complex, often disturbed minds. 

If you’re itching to read a scary book that gets under your skin, these psychological horror novels won’t disappoint. From adult to YA, classics to contemporaries, each suspenseful tale promises to linger with you long after the worst is over — including my personal favorite, The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.

This critically acclaimed Canadian creep-fest is a psychological horror saga for the ages. Jake’s girlfriend is thinking of leaving him (as the title suggests), but first she agrees to go to an awkward dinner with his parents on their farm. Things only get more tense, bizarre, and terrifying as the evening progresses. 

Netflix’s adaptation, created by Charlie Kaufman, stars Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, and Toni Collette.

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2. What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Alex Easton visits old friends Madeline and Roderick Usher after receiving word that Madeline is dying. But something is very wrong at the Usher house and the Usher siblings are behaving erratically. 

Multi award-winning author Kingfisher pens a haunting iteration of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” It’s an atmospheric horror novella about a people and a place gone awry — and one friend trying desperately to uncover the truth.

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3. The Deep by Nick Cutter

A bizarre plague is wiping people’s memories, turning them into husks of themselves. Veterinarian Luke Nelson is tasked with researching a new biological substance that could save humanity, but the lab is miles below sea level. When Luke arrives, it’s clear something eerie — possibly evil — is at play. 

Cutter takes readers on a psychologically terrifying journey in The Deep — a book that feels increasingly suffocating, and not just because it takes place in the darkest depths of the Pacific Ocean.

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4. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Malerman’s chilling, apocalyptic debut has been favorably compared to the likes of Stephen King, and most of us saw the Netflix Original film adaptation starring Sandra Bullock (it was all the rage in 2018, even inspiring a blindfold challenge). 

What phenomenon could be so horrifying that one look will be your undoing? In Bird Box, an unknown type of creature causes people who see it to commit suicide, meaning every character — including protagonist Malorie — must learn to hunt, gather, and get around blindfolded. After surviving for several years in a communal home, Malorie and her two children attempt to find a safer place to live, though their plans put them in danger at every turn.

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5. Finn by Stephen King

King’s taut psychological short story about the kidnapping and torture of an innocent young man is at once darkly humorous and utterly chilling. An Everand Original, Finn is a cutting commentary on the dangerous consequences of toxic masculinity, conspiracy theories, and the glorification of spy games.

Of course, there’s no shortage of psychological horror from King, so if you’re interested in a longer read after finishing Finn, I recommend Gerald’s Game.

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6. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of Ghost moves quickly between past and present, challenging readers to discern the truth. 

Merry Barrett is sharing the events that destroyed her family 15 years ago with an interested interviewer. She explains that back then, her older sister Marjorie exhibited signs of schizophrenia, so her parents turned to exorcism and allowed a film crew to watch, hoping this would help Marjorie. But the televised account differs wildly from Merry’s disturbing memories.

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7. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Years after four young Native friends go hunting on forbidden land, an eerie supernatural being stalks them, hellbent on vengeance. The horrors here pair flawlessly with social commentary on the modern Native American experience.

If you’re looking for more psychological horror from Jones and don’t want to get sucked into a series, check out his Everand Original, The Clown Brigade.

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8. Audition by Ryu Murakami

Widowed filmmaker Aoyama is finally ready to get back into the dating game, so he asks a friend to set up auditions for a fake movie, hoping to find an eligible bachelorette. He meets Yamasaki, a young and beautiful former ballerina who seems to be the perfect match. But as their relationship progresses, all is not as it seems. 

Audition seemingly starts out as a mystery thriller and then quickly evolves into full-blown psychological horror that’s perfect for fans of Stephen King’s Misery

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9. The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates

Do you love unsettling tales, but prefer them in small doses? Then this short story collection by National Book Award-winning author Oates is for you.

Oates knows there’s nothing creepier than dolls, so the title story about a traumatized man collecting dolls that aren’t what they seem will send chills down your spine. In another story, a woman vacationing with her husband begins to suspect he has dark motives. There’s also the tale of a murderer whose paranoia gets the better of him. 

Pick and choose, or read them all: Psychological horror abounds here.

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10. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Perhaps you’ve seen the 1991 hit film starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. But if you really want to dive deeper into the mind of the sadistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter, give Harris’ source text a read. 

The hunt for Buffalo Bill, a serial killer, leads FBI trainee Candice Starling (Clarice in the film) to Hannibal Lecter — a criminal psychologist-turned-imprisoned-cannibal. An expert in homicide thanks to his education and dark proclivities, Lecter agrees to help Candice profile Buffalo Bill, but only if she shares stories from her traumatic past first.

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11. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

This novel has been scaring the pants off generations of readers since the 1960s. 

Levin tells of Rosemary, who moves into a gothic New York City apartment building with her aspiring actor husband. Before long, Rosemary falls pregnant, but strange experiences — or is Rosemary just losing her grasp on reality, as her husband suggests? — lead her to believe her new neighbors might be satanists, and her unborn child not fully human. 

Mia Farrow, who played Rosemary in the 1968 film adaptation, narrates this classic work of psychological horror. Once you’re adequately creeped out, dive into the sequel, Son of Rosemary.

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12. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

After a whirlwind romance, the unnamed narrator marries wealthy widower Maxim de Winter and moves into his English estate, Manderley. But it soon becomes clear that de Winter’s late wife has a stronghold over Manderley and its staff, even in death. 

This gothic story — named a favorite by author Katy Hays (The Cloisters) — has all the hallmarks of great psychological horror. Rebecca has never gone out of print since its 1938 publication and has inspired multiple screen adaptations, including a 1940 Oscar-winning film created by Alfred Hitchcock and a Netflix Original film starring Lily James and Armie Hammer. 

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13. The Honeys by Ryan La Sala

The Honeys is rife with toxic masculinity, tension, and grief. After their twin sister Caroline dies tragically and mysteriously, Mars, who’s genderfluid, is determined to learn everything they can about Caroline. The investigation leads Mars to the Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy, where terrifying secrets lurk in the shadows and a group of popular girls known as “the Honeys” may know more than they’re saying.

La Sala’s psychological horror novel won the 2023 Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production for Young Adults, presented by the American Library Association.

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14. Daughters unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

This disturbing YA historical novel is like a mash-up of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie and the 2015 horror film The Witch starring Anya Taylor-Joy. 

When her Pa decides to move the family to the prairie, 16-year-old Amanda Verner is glad for a change after a terrible year. But unsettling events — including finding their cabin covered in blood — push Amanda to the edge, with her grasp on reality tested even further as she harbors a weighty secret.

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About the Author: Lanie Pemberton

Lanie is a San Diego-based freelance writer who loves reading crime thrillers and nonfiction about animals and the natural world. When not writing and reading (or writing about what to read), Lanie spends as much time as possible at the beach with her husband and pampered pittie, Peach.