THE TENANT (1964), ROLAND TOPOR
Synopsis: Mr. Trelkovsky moves into a strange apartment building; more specifically, he establishes residence in a room previously occupied by a suicide victim named Simon Choule. It doesn't take long for Trelkovsky to lose his marbles and think he's becoming Choule.
Why it's scary good: Like Roman Polanski's underrated film adaptation, Topor's frantic novel is akin to waking up in an inescapable bad dream. Trelkovosky's nosedive into madness is a hoot, layered with dark comedy and Topor's quirky sensibilities. It's a one-of-a-kind, brain-melting stew.
Movie adaptations: The Tenant (1976)
THE OTHER (1971), THOMAS TRYON
Synopsis: Set in the 1930's, The Other is about 13-year-old twins living in a quaint Connecticut town, where they practice personality transference... just not safely.
Why it's scary good: Tryon's haunting novel isn't easy on its reader; his prose is enigmatic at times, seeped in abstract metaphors that demand undivided attention. He's also an especially disarming author, slipping in a key reveal earlier than expected, leaving the reader to think, "How bizarre can this get from here?" Try newborn-baby-slaughter nuts.
Movie adaptations: The Other (1972)
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1988), THOMAS HARRIS
Synopsis: With the help of an imprisoned and cannibalistic serial killer named Dr. Hannibal Lecter, FBI trainee Clarice Starling must track down "Buffalo Bill," a sicko who kidnaps fat women, starves them, and carves their skin off. In other words, he's quite the romantic.
Why it's scary good: On the surface, Harris's thrilling police procedural doesn't seem like a quintessential horror novel. But all it takes is one sit-down with The Silence of the Lambs to understand why it made this list. What's not horrifying about the book's many gore-drenched, and realistic, kill sequences? We'd like to see James Patterson write a murder mystery even half as raw as Harris.
Movie adaptations: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I AM LEGEND (1954), RICHARD MATHESON
Synopsis: After an outbreak of vampirism turns mankind into creatures of the night, the sole survivor, Robert Neville, devotes his lonely existence to fighting the monsters and researching possible cures.
Why it's scary good: Hopefully those Smigel-like, CGI-gone-bad creatures in 2007's Will Smith blockbuster flick haven't coated I Am Legend in corn, because Matheson's original novel is a master class in intelligent horror. Though it's largely about a man coming to terms with extreme loneliness, I Am Legend also puts human nature under its microscope, and the results aren't pretty. If that's too heavy, rest assured... there are plenty of coochie-flashing vamps and nasty bloodsucker fight sequences.
Movie adaptations: The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), I Am Legend (2007), I Am Omega (2007)
THE EXORCIST (1971), WILLIAM PETER BLATTY
Synopsis: A young girl named Regan shows signs of demonic possession, which leads to visits from a Jesuit priest experienced in the field of exorcism. But Lucifer won't go down without a fight.
Why it's scary good: Director William Friedkin's film adaptation is regarded with more fanfare, yet Blatty's source material is superior in many ways. Seeing Regan's head spin and mouth spray vomit like a fountain in the movie is good dirty fun, yes, but allowing Blatty's descriptive writing to form loony images (such as Regan slithering along the floor like a snake while spewing blasphemy) in your head is what's really good.
Movie adaptations: The Exorcist (1973)
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