17 Terrifying Books That Genuinely Seriously Disturbed Readers

I love a scary book, so recently, I asked the BuzzFeed Community to share the most terrifying books they've ever read.

Here are 17 of their top answers:

1."Phantoms by Dean Koontz. The book scared me so badly that I only took baths for over a year after I read it, and I had to stuff a washcloth in the faucet as soon as I shut the water off."

Book cover for "Phantoms" by Dean Koontz, tagged as a New York Times Bestseller with a critique quote

"I still avoid manhole covers to this day. And it provides a disturbing and terrifying theory to a series of still unsolved historical events."


Get your copy here!

2."The Hunger by Alma Katsu. It's a retelling of the Donner Party but with the Indigenous legend of the Windigo, so basically, because of cannibalism, people become horrific monsters."

Book cover for "The Hunger" by Alma Katsu with a figure standing in water and a forest backdrop

"A combo of listening to the audiobook, food poisoning, dark country roads, and my headlights catching a deer just chilling nearby made me literally shit myself from fear, and if that isn't high praise for a horror novel, I don't know what is."


Get your copy here!

3."What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher was sooo interesting but also FREAKED me out. Most horror doesn't bother me, but that was rough!"

Book cover of 'What Moves the Dead' by T. Kingfisher with illustrated hare surrounded by flora and fauna

"I don't regret reading it, though. It was really, really good."


Get your copy here!

4."Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates. It put me in such a depressive mood I had to give it away. Brilliant, though."

Book cover of "Beasts" by Joyce Carol Oates with an artistic illustration of a woman leaning backwards


"That’s a WONDERFUL and VERY UPSETTING novella."


Get your copy here!

5."1984 by George Orwell. I still haven't finished it. I got so freaked out making real-world comparisons that I had to put it down."

Book cover of George Orwell's 1984 featuring an eye motif above the author's name


Get your copy here!

6."Neal Shusterman's Unwind series continues to live rent-free in my head a decade after I read it. I was an adult when I read it and was so disturbed by the premise. It is, ostensibly, a YA series. Sometime in the near future, the compromise to the abortion debate will be to ban abortion but allow adolescents to be 'unwound' or signed over by their guardians for full-body organ donation. It's a procedure you are fully conscious for, and it's described in hideous detail."

Book cover with title "Unwind" by Neal Shusterman, featuring a graphic illustration of a young person's face

"The main characters are an unruly boy whose parents couldn't deal with him anymore, a girl whose group home needs to be culled due to a lack of funding, and — most disturbingly — a kid whose religion has made 'unwinding' a holy thing, and was signed over as a 'tithe' by his family. Again, this is a YA series."


Get your copy here!

7."Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn gripped me so hard. I was depressed the entire time I was reading it. I haven't watched the limited series yet, and I'm unsure if I will."

Cover of "Sharp Objects" by Gillian Flynn, featuring the title and author's name, with praise from Chicago Tribune


Get your copy here!

8."The Rats by James Herbert. We had rats in our attic at the time, and I used to have nightmares where I'd open the trap door and rats would fall on me and eat my face."

Book cover of 'The Rats' by James Herbert, with a foreword by Neil Gaiman


Get your copy here!

9."Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. I love horror, and this book messed with me. It was a psychological terror and left me upset for weeks."

Book cover of "Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill with an ominous road beneath a cloudy sky and the tagline "Sooner or later the dead catch up..."

"I reread books all the time, but I won't ever reread this book."


Get your copy here!

10."John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins. It may not be a traditional horror book, but it's scary because of the traumatic events and character changes. It deeply affected me for months."

Book cover of "John Dollar" by Marianne Wiggins featuring a seashell against a dark background above the title

"It's basically Lord of the Flies but with little girls and way, way more disturbing."


Get your copy here!

11."I know it's not exactly traditional horror, but Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. That book BROKE ME. With the 'donors'…and the 'carers'…I CAN'T. After I talked about this book to my mom (I had to talk to SOMEONE about it!), she seriously cut back on eating meat. Because no matter how well the meat is treated, it's still meat and destined to die."

Book cover of "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro, with critical acclaim quotes and a Nobel Prize winner badge



Get your copy here!

12."Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. You think it's about fantasy creatures being spooky and sexy, but no, it's about mortality and what it means to be alive — or dead. Claudia's immortal condition made me feel claustrophobic; it was horrifying for her."

Cover of "Interview with the Vampire" by Anne Rice, featuring title in bold 3D letters against a two-tone background

"I’ve read plenty of haunting books in every genre, but never have I ever been in the middle of reading a book and had such terrifying nightmares night after night until I read this novel."


Get your copy here!

13."The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I was home from college on Christmas break and had to put it outside in the car each night before I fell asleep. I didn't want it in the room while I slept."

Cover of "The Exorcist" anniversary edition featuring a demonic face and author William Peter Blatty's name

"I'm not a particularly superstitious or religious person (I was raised Catholic, so there's that), but that story felt well and truly evil."


"It's so much scarier than the movie because you can stop a movie, but you cannot silence that mental dialog echoing in your thoughts. 😱"


Get your copy here!

14."The Shining by Stephen King. So much scarier than the movie. I made the mistake of reading it alone...at night...in an almost empty Army barracks. I was too afraid to leave my room to pee."

Cover of Stephen King's "The Shining" with a creepy hallway and text for the sequel "Doctor Sleep."

"I ended up yeeting it down the hallway and locking my door until morning."


Get your copy here!

15."Pet Sematary by Stephen King. An oldie. I was still living at my parents' home during the summer in college. Their house had a large sliding glass door facing the woods and a large hill (how appropriate). I was downstairs reading at night, and I had to close the heavy curtain over it because I was scared of whatever might be out there watching me, although I was terrified to do it."

Book cover of Stephen King's "Pet Sematary" with a cat's face and a spooky backdrop

"And that's not even what happens in the book, but I was very scared in a general way."


Get your copy here!

16."The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. It starts with a simple premise of a girl getting separated from her family on a day hike and getting lost in the woods. After several days, the girl begins to hallucinate, and you don't know if the evil entity following her is real or a figment of her imagination."

Cover of "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" by Stephen King, featuring a girl sitting with her head on her knees

"I love going on walks in the woods, but to this day, 20 years after reading that book, I still get a sudden eerie feeling when I'm alone in the woods, and I'm afraid I'm being watched."


Get your copy here!

17.And finally: "Salem's Lot by Stephen King hands down. It was just so upsetting. I put that book in a freezer in my garage until I could donate it. I didn't want it anywhere near me."

Book cover for Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot' with title and author's name prominently displayed


Get your copy here!

What's the most terrifying book you've ever read? Let me know in the comments!

Note: Some responses have been edited for length/clarity.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.