Classic Horror Novels Give Readers
a Rush of Fear

Underwater hand

Classic horror novels are evergreen. This means that they’re always popular. Many people enjoy reading horror in the safety and comfort of their homes while feeling the undeniable rush of fear.  

When people think of classic horror novels, one popular modern author that comes to mind is Stephen King. King is a prolific writer who churns out one horror novel after another. Many have been made into movies.

"Horror is a genre of fiction that is intended to disturb, frighten or scare. Horror is often divided into the sub-genres of psychological horror and supernatural horror, which are in the realm of speculative fiction" (Wikipedia).

Classic horror novels have a badass antagonist, one that’s frightening in some way or in many ways. The more frightening the antagonist, the better. Let’s lay a magnifying glass on the antagonist (villain) and see what he’s all about. 

The villain is a character whose actions of wickedness and selfishness will cause fear in the reader. Also, his determination to carry out his dastardly plans will be unstoppable. There’s cruelty about many villains that readers may find surprising. 

The Villains of Successful Classic Horror Novels
are Unique


They may bear a slight resemblance to another villain in another book, but only remotely so. The more unique the character, the better, and the more the reader will appreciate it.

Hannibal Lecter in the book, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, is a glowing example of a successful villain. What makes Lecter unique? Well, for one, he’s highly intelligent, albeit a genius. As a psychiatrist, he shows throughout the story this high degree of intelligence by being cunning. The real kicker, however, is that he’s a cannibal who admits to eating the liver of a census taker with some fava beans.

But wait! Villains aren’t usually evil to the bone. There’s often a side to them in which normal people can identify. The villain can be normal in some ways. And this makes him truly dreaded. Do you mean he can live among us and appear normal? It would be better if he had a small head growing out of the side of his neck so that we could identify him easily.

Alas, this isn’t always the case. Consider Hannibal Lecter’s softer, more refined side. He… 

  • Loves classical music
  • Draws exquisite sketches from memory 
  • Is a gourmet cook (when not incarcerated) 
  • Is polite and speaks in a soothing voice
  • Dresses impeccably
  • Speaks fluent Italian 

Lecter is a lone wolf and an alpha male. He is a man of means who owns his own home and medical practice. He lives among us and is greatly esteemed for his articles that appear in medical journals.

Villains can be sociopaths or monsters. Their behavior is complicated and unpredictable. Below is information on the sociopath and the monster. 

Sociopaths have an antisocial personality disorder. They can distinguish right from wrong and are usually amoral, narcissistic, and impulsive. He lacks a conscience and empathy.

Here’s some enlightening information about monsters:

What makes monsters so terrifying is that much is at stake when they appear in a story because they challenge the victim’s—and the reader’s—sanity and sense of reality. When the monster is on the screen or the page, before the story ends, someone will feel isolated and alone. Along the way, encounters with monsters—including the dead, the undead, the deformed, and creatures not easily categorized—will be emotional high points of a story. (Morrell 243)

The characters in classic horror novels are usually alphas, that is, they’re self-reliant, confident, and highly intelligent. They are very organized in planning and carrying out their devious and dangerous plans.

Villains are risk-takers and many are lone-wolf types. They have different strategies for subduing their victims. Some use drugs while others are skilled with the knife or guns. Some may prefer to use their hands in cases of strangulation. Yet other villains will use other methods, especially if they’re not human.

"I must not deceive myself; it was no dream; but all a grim reality."

—Bram Stoker, Dracula

Below is a Partial List of Classic Horror Novels:

Skull and books
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
  • Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  • The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  • Psycho by Robert Bloch
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells

Reading classic horror novels on dull days might feel exhilarating. Reconsider reading a horror novel as a bedtime story, though. More often than not, if you decide to read one at this time, you may think you’re alone, when you’re actually not.

Horror fiction. (2023, July 23). In Wikipedia.

Morrell, Jessica. Bullies, Bastards & Bitches. 1st ed., Cincinnati, Ohio, Writer’s Digest Books, 2008.

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