Reader Friday: Scariest Book or Movie

Pick one or answer them all — your call!

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read, and why?

Did you expect to be frightened or did the author surprise you in some way?

What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever watched, and why?

Have you ever written a story meant to frighten readers? Did you pull it off?

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About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (2018-2021). She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers" 2013-2021). Sue lives with her husband and two spoiled guinea pigs in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two psychological thriller series (Tirgearr Publishing) and true crime/narrative nonfiction (Rowman & Littlefield). And recently, she appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series Storm of Suspicion, and will be a panelist at the 2021 New England Crime Bake. Learn more about Sue and her books at

38 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Scariest Book or Movie

    • Ooh, Psycho scared the bajeezes out of me. I took baths instead of showers for a long time afterward. Then, on my first shower, my black cat hopped up on the rim and fell in, and I almost had a heart attack!

    • I read the Helter Skelter book and had to stay up all night because it terrified me so. The bit about creeping into people’s houses and rearranging the furniture… whew.

  1. Salem’s Lot (the book). I expected it to be scary because hello, vampires. But I didn’t expect the scary suspense parts, and I had to tuck my feet up under my bum when I was reading because I was too scared to let my feet dangle. Willard (or The Ratman’s Notebook) was scary for a different reason: it was too plausible with all the rats, eek!

    Blair Witch was a scary movie. I kept holding my breath. Oh, the low-light scenes and the isolation and dread!

    Yes, I love writing about ghosts and goblins and whatnot. Sigh, I don’t have anything published (yet), but I’ve gotten good enough at my scary scenes that my husband refuses to read them any more.:-)

    • Hahaha. Being able to scare the hubby is an excellent sign that you’re on the right track! I’ve never read Salem’s Lot. Always meant to, though. Thanks, Priscilla!

    • I used to work outside of Washington DC. I can’t tell you how many times I had to explain that there is no real woods where Blair Witch really happened. It was only a brilliant marketing scheme. The social media campaign from that movie fooled so. many. people.

  2. I can’t watch/read scary stuff like that. However I did see a bit of Helter Skelter that JSB mentioned above–and what little I did see was enough to creep me out for a lifetime.

    • Psycho is one of those movies that never leaves you. I’m not a fan of horror, either, Patricia, even though some claim my novels have elements of horror. Real life is frightening enough. Some of the scariest stories I’ve ever read happened in real life. Brr… chilling.

  3. I work in psych. Not much scares me.

    No book has scared me yet.

    But this did. One stormy Thanksgiving at the lake house we lost power. We were sitting around the fireplace with the next door neighbor, who at the beginning of his career had worked on Psycho. He told the story, complete with voices. My best friend and I were terrified (we were thirteen). Years later, when we finally saw the movie we agreed it wasn’t nearly as scary as that night at the lake.

    Side note – one of the creators of Blair Witch was in The Night of the Iguana with me while Blair was being made. It was fun hearing about it backstage.

  4. No books really come to mind as actually scaring me. Seeing the original Halloween movie on TV when I was babysitting (maybe 13 years old) ON Halloween–that freaked me out! I had to stay on the phone with my girlfriend til the parents got home.

  5. This is difficult to answer because I like “scary” stories & movies. (Caveat: I actually don’t read a lot of the horror genre because much out there is too mainstream for my tastes. But Poppy Z Brite has the ability to chill me in a way that King & Koontz do not.)

    Honestly, Sue, the post you did awhile back about the two real life serial killers was the most disturbing thing I’ve read in a very long time.
    That’s probably why the movie I I’ve found “scariest” most recently was Devil’s Rejects, directed by Rob Zombie. While it might seem outlandish to some, the modern-day set and depravity of the characters ring all too closely to the real thing. (And yes, I’m ready for number three to hit theaters. RIP, Sid Haig.)

    • I agree, Cyn. Real life offers terrifying stories, even some too sinister to wrap our heads around (like my post on the Toolbox killers). Those stories scare me the most, because if the ghastly crime happened once, it could happen again.

  6. I’ve read a lot of scary stuff and for my money Priscilla is right—Salem’s Lot was the scariest followed closely by the one and only Dracula. Of course with Dracula I was 14 or 15 and finished it at 2 AM, then took my dog for a walk. As we stepped outside 2 bats passed through the streetlight’s halo. My poor dog had a very abbreviated walk that night. LOL!

    As for movies, the Salem’s Lot mini-series with David Soul. When the kid sat up in the coffin I nearly dented my parent’s living room ceiling. Second was Hitchcock’s The Birds. I still look at flicks of birds differently.

  7. I can’t choose scariest, but here are some that rank at the top of the list. Often they rank this way because of what else was going on at the time. I’ll try no to leave SPOILERS:

    1. Movie: The Woman in White: The scene where the villain is revealed and you see the evil rise to the killers face when he realizes the MC KNOWS.
    2. Movie: The Stepfather: Again, the dichotomy between the public and the private face of evil was the clincher.
    3. Book: Stephen King. The Shining. Read this for a college class while dog sitting in someone else’s house. And the dog would… move and make tiny noises in the quiet house.
    4. Book: Stephen King. It. Well, of course.
    5. Book: Dan Simmons. Summer of Night. It perfectly echoed the imaginings that terrified me when I was young. The monster from my dreams was in it.

    • Sorry for my delay. We lost power and are now operating on just a generator. Sigh.

      Excellent examples, Robin!! I’ve refused to read IT or watch the movie, or I’d never get that clown out of my nightmares.

  8. My scariest movie was Night of the Grizzly. I was twelve and went alone to the matinee. I’ve been terrified of grizzly bears ever since. My phobia has developed further with each story about bear attacks. I can’t even look at a picture of the big bears without hyperventilating. Add, in that I live in bear country and an encounter is not unlikely, there is the stuff of nightmares.

    • I have a friend who fears bears. I love ’em! Some of our greatest times involve watching black bears, who sneak onto our deck to lap up the scraps left by the chippies.

  9. Dark fantasy is as dark as I will read, no horror. Oddly, the novel that has bothered me for many years was science fiction. I no longer remember the name because I wasn’t writing reviews so no record. Anyway, the premise is that scientists have discovered that existence will cease to exist in the next week because the expanding universe has reached its furthest point and will collapse destroying everything. The novel follows a police detective who has decided his final days will be spent finding a killer to give the victim justice, and he does so while human chaos surrounds him. The worst reactions were pregnant women and parents. How could anyone deal with that? This was before scientists decided that the expansion was infinite so it was plausible enough to freak me out.

    You can’t put me in a room with a horror movie so I’m going TV. THE DEAD FILES, a reality ghost show about people with dangerous hauntings in their homes, has a medium and a retired police detective going to people’s homes. She walks through the home to find out who or what is haunting it. The former police detective talks to the people who own the home about their experiences, then he does due diligence about probably causes like electrical issues and animals in the attic. He also does historical research on the property and the surrounding area. At the end of the show, they share their findings with the homeowners and each other. The medium then tells the homeowners how they can stop the problem or that they need to run for their lives. The idea of dead serial killers, demonic things, nature spirits, and things so weird I can’t wrap my head around them existing is not a comfortable world view for me.

  10. The Amityville Horror – book. I’ve never thrown a book away, but after I read it, it went in my dumpster, just in case it was haunted. There are a lot of movies that have “grossed me” out scared but the movie that seriously scared me to death and surprised me was Hide and Seek.

    • Oooh, great flick, T. Very creepy!

      Gotta a quick story for you about Amityville Horror. One day last summer I was “in the zone” writing when the phone rang. I checked the caller ID to see who it was, and it read “Amityville.” When I picked it up only static crackled in my ear. Freaked me right out!

  11. I don’t like horror, Salem’s Lot, the movie, scared the crap out of me when that kid floated up to the window. I was so grateful we only had a ranch home, with no second level for vampires to fly up to. At 12 years old I assumed vampires were to light to stay on the ground and crawl into my window. But the real kickers for me were the silent film Nosferatu and then the 1930’s Bela Lugosi Dracula about that same age. I was unable to sleep for days after watching those two.
    As for reading, I narrated a book called Dead Souls by Michael Laimo a few years ago. In narration I typically work at night when it is quiet around the house and neighborhood. Dead quiet. So dramatically narrating a novel that involved ritual incantations to raise ancient Egyptian deities, evocation of demons, and the psychological collapse and eventual murder of the entire family, made it quite difficult at times to open the door to my booth and step out into a pitch dark room to make my way to bed. It was a good paycheck, but oh…the price to my soul.

  12. Movies- Psycho, and the older version of It. TV – parts of the first season of Twin Peaks. Oh I forgot Lost Highway. That is definitely on my list. Books don’t scare me as much. I am usually trying to figure how the author accomplished what they did.

  13. The scariest movie for me was Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte with Bette Davis. The first time I saw this I was only 13 years old and babysitting my nephews for the weekend. I popped popcorn and had a soda with ice and was lying on the floor on my stomach, propped up my elbows. I saw a particular scene and just at that time the family dog came up and laid by me putting his cold nose on my hand. I screamed, and soda and popcorn went everywhere! I have watched that movie since but I’ve never forgotten that first time. As far as a book goes, there are many but the scariest is The Stand. It was so believable and the ultimate in good vs. evil.

  14. The Shining. The novel of course. The Big Wheels hallway vignette and the bathtub embrace (I’m being general as I don’t want to be the spoiler dude for anyone who hasn’t read it) are the primary reasons.

  15. An old episode of Alfred Hitchcock had me terrified for years. Nurses were in a house with a strangler on the loose. And it turned out the “big” nurse was indeed the feared strangler. I remember as his wig slid backward, hands around a neck, one nurse was crying she had forgotten about Sam. They had unfortunately done in the old caretaker named Sam, without realizing he could have been their savior. “Yes, you forgot about Sam.”

    • Yikes, Mary. Sounds terrifying. Alfred Hitchcock sacred me half to death on more than one occasion. And yet, we kept coming back for more. Go figure. 😀

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