I've never really liked horror movies. It's not that they scare me. In fact, the problem is that they don't scare me. I wait and wait for that moment that will make me hide behind my couch, and it just never comes. Maybe I'm not watching the right ones (I welcome suggestions in the comments).
What does work for me? Horror novels. You know, the ones best read by flashlight, with a blanket over your head to protect you. Modern scary stories are fun, but it's hard to beat the old ones. They have stuck around long enough to be called classics for a reason. Let's celebrate Mary Shelley's 216th birthday by revisiting the classic tales that will still keep you listening for noises in the dark. There's always room for more thrills and chills, so if I omitted your favorites, please share them!
Born out of a friendly competition among writers to tell the best ghost story, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is more than a monster story; it's a cautionary tale about the enduring nature of consequences, and how wrong things can go when a person decides to play god. It's in the public domain, so you can read the book here.
Dracula may not be the first vampire novel (The Vampyre predated it by almost 80 years), but it has become the standard by which all other vampire stories are judged. Stoker invented many of the characteristics we associate with vampires, like the ability to appear human, and an aversion to things like sunlight, garlic, and symbols of faith. Dracula is also in the public domain.
If you saw the 1999 movie version of this book, please forget that ever happened. Jackson's novel about a group of people staying in an old building to investigate paranormal occurrences is the ultimate haunted house story, and is miles better than the film version. The book is beautiful in its language and creepiness, and is so great, even Stephen King recommends it.
The combination of ghosts and children is found in a lot of horror stories (the creepy child it so prevalent that it has become a trope), but few manage to make it as disturbing as James did. The story leaves the reader wondering whether the children are actually being followed by malevolent spirits, or their governess has gone crazy. Either way, it's a great scary story that has held up to the test of time. This is another one you can read for free.
At the risk of losing my book-nerd credibility, I'll admit that I've never read The Shining. It's in my stack of to-be-read-when-I-have-time books, but I always end up picking up something else instead. Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of the novel quickly became a classic, and next month, King will release a sequel, 36 years after the original came out. In our modern age of instant access to entertainment, anything that's relevant after that long has to be amazing. Maybe I'll finally make time for it.