Horror Classics Everyone Should Read: The Essential Reading List

Horror Classics Everyone Should Read: The Essential Reading List

Read & Co. presents this must-read essentials list for lovers of dark fantasy and supernatural horror fiction – a collection of 14 horror classics from some of the best authors of the terrifying and macabre. Quietly stalking ghosts, sinister vampires, and unsettling monsters fill the pages of these horror classics. Here you will find the perfect spine-chilling volume to read in the dead of night.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

A classic masterpiece of gothic horror fiction, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a chilling tale of disturbing events, dark desires, and the harrowing world of vampires. Exploring themes of sexuality and religion, and written through a series of letters and correspondence.

Jonathan Harker travels to the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania to assist the infamous Count Dracula with the purchase of an English house. The newly-qualified solicitor finds himself soon out of his depth as he discovers horrifying details about his client’s life through a series of spine-chilling events. This supernatural novel tells of quietly monstrous incidents and curious circumstances as Harker becomes the focus of Dracula’s bloodthirst.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

Frankenstein is the unnatural uncanny tale of dark scientific experimentation and its monstrous consequences. Known as the first science fiction novel, Mary Shelley‘s masterpiece redefined gothic horror literature.

Young scientist Victor Frankenstein pillages graveyards for body parts and organs to fulfil his macabre desire to create life. Piecing together fragments of corpses to fashion the ‘perfect’ human, Frankenstein’s unorthodox experiment plunges into a nightmare when he shocks his creation to life with electricity. The grotesque being that emerges is a monster beyond his creator’s capabilities, and he is sent out into the world alone, confused, and consumed by an uncontrollable hatred for Victor Frankenstein.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)

The greatest ghost story in the English language, Henry JamesThe Turn of the Screw is a hauntingly atmospheric tale of supernatural events and an excellent exploration of human psychology.

A young governess takes over the charge of two orphaned siblings, Miles and Flora, in a large, isolated country house. Unguided and almost entirely alone, the governess attempts to bring normality and joy into the children’s lives but quickly comes to believe that something sinister is threatening her new charges. Is an intruder lurking within the house’s grounds or could a more malevolent, ghostly force be behind the terrifying events at Bly Manor?

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)

One of America’s greatest gothic tales, Washington Irving‘s horror classic takes place in a small New York town on the edge of the forest where whispers of a horrifying ghost are slipping from one person to the next. 

School teacher, Ichabod Crane, is new to the small isolated town of Sleepy Hollow. It isn’t long before he hears the terrifying tales of a headless horseman who plagues the town at night. The ghost rumours torment him as he travels back through the forest each evening. It isn’t until he’s making his way home after a party one autumn evening that he begins to wonder whether the blood-curdling tales could be true.

At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft (1936)

A horror tale of gripping tension, thrilling creatures, and tragic incidents, At the Mountains of Madness is a classic work of science fiction from the prolific writer H. P. Lovecraft.

A group of ill-fated explorers set off on an expedition in Antarctica. Reaching a mountain range beyond the Himalayas, the scientists uncover the long-forgotten remains of an ancient civilisation, older than the moon itself. The mysterious ruins remain home to the partially preserved ‘Elder Things’, and it isn’t long before the scientists begin to suffer at the fate of these unidentifiable prehistoric lifeforms. 

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe (1839)

From the inventor of detective fiction, Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher is a slow-burn masterpiece of gothic horror, full of supernatural forces and chilling psychoanalysis.

When an unnamed narrator is called to the House of Usher by his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, he is unaware of the horrors that await him. Arriving at the house, the narrator discovers both his friend and his friend’s sister, Madeline, are gravely ill and on the brink of complete madness. Roderick believes their house to be alive and that it is the malevolent force behind his and his sister’s illness. Could he be right?

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a semi-autobiographical short story of a woman’s mental demise as she is forced to endure a period of lonely isolation, told through a series of chilling journal entries. 

Following a bout of postpartum psychosis, an unnamed woman is prescribed bed rest by her physician husband. The couple rent an old mansion in the countryside, and she is trapped in an upstairs nursery with loathsome yellow wallpaper that slowly takes over her mind. She’s banned from working or writing and does so secretly while commenting on society’s complex patriarchal oppression, recounting her slow turn to insanity through a string of unsettling diary entries.

The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft (1928)

The Call of Cthulhu is H. P. Lovecraft’s most well-known and celebrated work of supernatural horror fiction. Explore the Lovecraftian universe at its best in this nightmarish tale of hellish monsters and ancient secrets. 

Francis Thurston is sorting through the notes of his late grand-uncle, a renowned professor of Semitic languages, when he stumbles across chilling evidence related to the existence of a cult that worships an ancient demonic god. As he follows the horrifying connections made by his grand-uncle, he begins to realise the horror and madness that lies in waiting for the world.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is an enduring masterpiece of gothic horror, exploring the corruption of humanity, our desire to sin, and the extremes vanity will lead us to.

Young, handsome, and privileged, Dorian Gray has his portrait painted by the talented Basil Hallward. When Sir Henry Wotton convinces Dorian of the need to indulge in one’s own vanity and to take advantage of his good looks, the young man makes a wish that could become his downfall when he exchanges his soul for eternal youth. As Dorian lives out a selfishly decadent lifestyle, he remains the picture of a perfect gentleman to those around him, but his portrait displays the consequences of ageing and sinful existence.

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen (1894)

Condemned by the media for its sexual content and horrifying imagery when it was first published, The Great God Pan is a mesmerisingly dark novella by Arthur Manchen, often regarded as one of the best horror stories ever written.

The book begins with Dr. Raymond and his attempts to perform a highly dangerous experiment on a young woman named Mary so that she may make a connection to the spiritual world. His friend Clarke witnesses the horrifying brain surgery from which Mary awakes in awe, claiming to have been in the presence of the great god Pan. But Mary quickly deteriorates, and what follows are many strange, and often deathly, events. 

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s prolific gothic thriller, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is a story of the struggle between good and evil as a doctor slowly descends into madness.

Dr. Jekyll creates a drug that separates the good and evil in his heart, splitting his personality in two with horrific consequences. His wicked alter ego, Mr. Hyde, is the monster that evolves from this ghastly experiment and quickly he becomes a wanted murderer. Set against the foggy backdrop of Victorian London, Dr. Jekyll desperately tries to fix his mistake, but is it too late? 

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1909)

One of the most influential gothic horror novellas ever written, Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera is a chilling tale of tragic romance and supernatural intervention.

When a Parisian opera house is taken over by new managers, they ignore the previous owners’ desperate warnings of ghostly happenings on stage. The incredibly talented soloist Christine Daae is closely haunted by the Phantom ghost as he coaches her to sing. As romance blossoms between Christine and a charming Viscount, jealousy brews within the Phantom and it’s not long before tragedy strikes. Christine vanishes and the Phantom’s ghastly secrets are revealed.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Phantom of the Opera can be found in the short story collection Five Classic Horror Stories:

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The Vampyre by John William Polidori (1816)

John William Polidori’s classic gothic horror tale, The Vampyre, recounts one of the first vampire stories in English literature. 

Lord Ruthven is a mysterious newcomer among England’s social elite. A young gentleman named Aubrey is fascinated by the suave stranger and is intrigued by his often curious behaviour. While travelling in Europe amid rumours of vampire killings, the pair are attacked, leaving Ruthven on his death bed. As he draws his last breaths, he pleads with Aubrey to keep his death a secret for just over a year. When Ruthven reappears in London alive and well, Aubrey realises that his friend might be hiding dark and horrifying truths behind his seductive fabrication.

The Vampyre was written during the ‘Lost Summer of 1816’, when John William Polidori was among the group of friends who accompanied Lord Byron to the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva. This short, stormy stay in the mansion led to a horror story writing competition in which famous tales such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were first produced. 

The Vampyre can be found in the short story collection Ghostly Tales from the Lost Summer of 1816:

To discover more terrifying and spooky books you’ll love, browse our full collection of Fantasy and Horror stories. Or, for more recommendations, unveil 15 scary books to read this Halloween with this list of our favourite Halloween horror tales.


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