A Copywriter’s Guide to the Best Scary Books & Movies

Halloween scary movies and books list, recommendations from a copywriter

With Halloween just around the corner, I’ve rounded by up my 10 favorite scary books and movies that are sure to thrill, chill, and delight you this season.

Keep in mind, I prefer more classic (and often campy-style) horror, so you won’t find much modern-day horror on this list.

That’s not to say that I don’t like films like Get Out, The Conjuring, Hereditary, and others, but for me, they just aren’t as satisfying as the classics (it’s probably a nostalgia thing).

Plus, I find that a lot of modern-day horror tends to be very bloody/gore-y, which I’m not really into (I kind of like being able to “see the strings” if you know what I mean).

No matter your preferred style of horror, this list is sure to inspire your Halloween, next movie night, or book purchase.

So without further suspense, let’s open up the cobweb-covered coffin and dive right in…

*Note: While it’s hard to choose, I ordered these from least to most favorite. Enjoy!

#10: The Invisible Man (1897), H.G. Wells

The Invisible Man

You can’t beat this 1897 classic.

It’s a perfect blend of horror and sci-fi (my two favorite genres) with a story that immediately hooks you from the very first page.

The 1933 movie version of the book is also great (which is a little surprising considering the movie was shot in the 30s and required some pretty complicated special effects).

I still haven’t seen the 2020 version with Elizabeth Moss, but it’s certainly on my list!

#9: The Blob (1958), Irvin Yeaworth, Kay Linaker & Theodore Simonson

The Blob

If you’re a fan of vintage horror, it doesn’t get much better than the original version of The Blob.

As soon as the title sequence starts rolling, you’ll be hooked by the upbeat, “Tequila-esque” tune and trippy animations that only a 1950’s horror film about a blob from outer space can pull off.

While the premise is a bit absurd, they still managed to make it scary and suspenseful (likely due to the special effects, which are also pretty impressive given the time period).

If you’ve never seen this horror-meets-sci-fi classic, I’d highly recommend it (or check out the 1988 version which is also pretty good!).

#8: Night of the Living Dead (1968), George A. Romero & John Russo

Night of the Living Dead

They’re coming to get you, Barbara!

This wouldn’t be a scary movie list with at least one zombie film and original Night of the Living Dead (1968) is definitely on mine.

While it’s not the first zombie movie ever made (I believe that title belongs to White Zombie from 1932), it’s a classic within the horror sub-genre and certainly opened the door for the many zombie movies and TV series that have since followed.

Of course, it’s really hard to choose just one great zombie movie (there are so many!) so if you’re a big zombie fan, check out my list of honorable mentions at the end of this article.

#7: Suspiria (1977), Dario Argento


I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for years, but was too scared to watch it by myself. ????

However, a few weeks ago, I finally “woman’d up” and watched it (during the day, I might add) and couldn’t be happier with my decision.

I absolutely loved the story and was totally captivated by the eerie, whisper-like music, the strategic (and original) use of color, the strange cast of characters, and so much more.

I haven’t seen the 2018 version featuring Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson yet because it looks even scarier than the original, but perhaps I’ll find the courage again soon!

#6: Friday the 13th (1980), Victor Miller & Ron Kurz

Friday the 13th

I’m not a big fan of gore, but I do love a classic “slasher” film, particularly those filmed in the 70s, 80s, or 90s, as the gore tends to be more palatable and less grotesque (at least in my opinion).

Plus, I can’t resist a horror film set against the innocence of a vintage campground — it creates a sense of nostalgia that brings you back to the days of telling scary stories around the fire with a s’more in one hand and a hockey stick in the other (just in case).

If you’ve never seen one of the films from this long-running series (there are at least 12), start with the original from 1980, which provides the most background information about Jason and the murder spree.

#5: Psycho (1960), Alfred Hitchcock


When I was a teen, my mom and I would rent Hitchcock movies, make a big bowl of popcorn, and settle in.

I’m not sure why we never watched Psycho together because (while it’s hard to choose) I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite Hitchcock film (to see some of my other faves, check out the list of honorable mentions at the end of the article).

I think the best part of this movie is the plot — it’s just so creepy and suspenseful, plus it’s full of twists and turns right through to the end.

#4: Pet Sematary (1983), Stephen King

Pet Sematary

While I also love the 1989 movie version of this spooky tale, the book — which is filled with vivid descriptions and eerie suspense — is even better.

I also love how original the story is (of course, it was no doubt influenced by H. P. Lovecraft’s 1922 story Reanimator, which is also a fantastic read and was the inspiration for the 1985 film series Re-animator).

I recommend watching the movie then reading the book to compare (plus, if you watch the movie, you get to see Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall — he does a fantastic job bringing that character to life).

I also recommend the newest Pet Semetary movie, which came out in 2019. It’s very similar to the original movie, but updated and a bit scarier (particularly the scenes shot in the dark woods…lots of mist and very spooky!).

#3: ‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King

'Salem's Lot

I’ve read a lot of King’s novels and ‘Salem’s Lot is my absolute favorite. You just can’t beat the setting, the characters, the delicious descriptions…it’s all there.

I’ll never forget the scene of the little boy floating outside his friend’s window trying to convince him to let him in…oh, the horror!

The 1979 movie version is also pretty great; it’s a little slow to start (and like the book, it’s long), but once you get into the scary stuff, beware…it’s hard to look away.

#2: Dracula, Bram Stoker


I’m a sucker for nineteenth-century novels and Bram Stoker’s Dracula is no exception.

From the epistolary writing style to the gothic setting and unforgettable descriptions (like Dracula climbing up the side of his castle in full lizard mode), this creepy classic is definitely worth a read.

On a related note, I also recommend several movie adaptations of the book including:

  • Nosferatu, 1922 (silent, but very dramatic and fun; Nosferatu is absolutely monstrous)
  • Dracula, 1931 (this film uses a lot of silence which adds suspense and spookiness; this version also features my favorite versions of Dracula and Van Helsing)
  • The Horror of Dracula, 1958 (in color and very dramatic!)

#1: Halloween (1978), John Carpenter & Debra Hill

Halloween movie, 1978

To me, this 1978 thriller is the ultimate expression of Halloween.

First, it’s set on Halloween. Second, it incorporates nearly all of the traditional Halloween elements (including costumes, trick-or-treating, old cary movies, carving pumpkins, mischief, etc)

Third, it’s a classic slasher film where the characters are slowly picked off one by one and a monster that seemingly can’t be stopped (I mean, what’s scarier than that?!).

And finally, there’s the music. Oh, the music.

The Halloween score (“dun dun dun dun dun dun, duh … dun dun dun dun dun dun duh…”) is iconic and I don’t know about you, but every time I hear it, my heartbeat picks up a little.

I recommend watching this film on Halloween night with a bowl of popcorn (this recipe is to die for, pun intended), a pumpkin beer, and a jack-o-lantern glowing in the background.

Happy Halloween, spooky friends. And as Elvira would say, unpleasant dreams…

Elvira GIF 

Honorable mentions

As a horror film nerd, choosing just 10 scary books and movies is pretty tough, so I’ve listed some of my other favorites below. Which are your faves? Comment below and tell me! ????

  • The Birds (1963)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • Suspicion (1941)
  • Frenzy (1972)
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  • It Came From Outer Space (1953)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  • Alien (1979)
  • The Amityville Horror (2005)
  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • The Horror of Dracula (1958)
  • Dracula (1931)
  • Nosferatu (1922)
  • The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1990)
  • Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)
  • Halloween II, (1981)
  • Halloween IV, (1988)
  • Halloween V, (1989)
  • Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
  • The Fog (1980)
  • IT (1990)
  • Carrie (1976)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Child’s Play (1988)

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