The Best Creepy Audiobooks to Listen to at Night

One horror-obsessed editor (and glutton for punishment) takes 10 of the spookiest stories ever recorded out for a spin.

Earlier this fall, I set myself a challenge I will probably regret. I was putting together a list of the creepiest audiobooks for Halloween—then for some reason, I decided to road-test them by listening (or re-listening) to them myself...all alone...at night.

OK, not quite alone. But my late-night dog walks, accompanied though they are by my mini Goldendoodle, Louie, are spooky. I’ve always found the suburbs unnerving—who knows what lurks behind closed doors, or that rustling bush?!—and though I am a certified horror fiend, the genre also makes me really scared (which is when I love it the most!). The scariest is when Louie and I explore the big golf course behind our house, which tacitly admits neighborhood dog walkers after closing but most of the time is utterly eerie in its emptiness, and one doesn't know if it would be better to run into another human—or worse.

For this list, I focused mostly on classic horror novels I'd already listened to as well as a few newer ones, and some creepy short stories perfect for finishing over a dog walk or two. My ratings are totally subjective and reflect only my personal experience of fear when listening, not literary merit, performance, plot, or otherwise (though as they are written by some masters of horror and thrillers, they're definitely firing on all cylinders). Enjoy—as for myself, a great romcom or anxiety-soothing listen might be just the palate cleanser after this!

Beloved

Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer-winning masterwork, Beloved is a stunning, lyrical portrayal of a foundational slice of American history; it’s also a crime story, based on a real-life lurid headline Morrison discovered from the 1870s. Is it creepy? Well, in case you’re unfamiliar with the story or it’s been a while, Beloved features a haunted house, a mysterious stranger who might be the ghost of a child murdered by her own mother, and the gruesome brutality of slavery in all its unvarnished horror. The audio version is read by the author, in a quietly commanding delivery that polarizes some listeners who find it slow. For me, listening late in the still moonlight, it was nothing short of captivating. Its literary merits make it much more than a creep-fest, but creepy it still absolutely is. Creep factor: 6/10

I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream and Other Works

I look forward to diving further into this collection of stories from Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Harlan Ellison, newly recorded by prolific performer Luis Moreno. For this challenge, I listened to the title story, whose unforgettable name is matched by its reputation as an instant classic of post-apocalyptic sci-fi at its bleakest and most horrifying. A villainous supercomputer named AM tortures the world's five remaining humans as vengeance for his own lack of freedom. In just 45 minutes, Ellison takes you on a journey from curious and vaguely suspicious to dawning horror and nihilistic despair. Honestly, it’s almost beautiful in its efficient conveyance of pure nightmare fuel. Beautiful, and creepy in the extreme. Creep factor: 9/10

The Vanishing Negative

In this utterly absorbing and genuinely shocking audio play, stage legend Betty Buckley plays a famous psychic disgraced by a terrible public tragedy. Channeling her iconic role as fragile femme fatale Norma Desmond, Buckley’s character is recording a podcast meant to set the record straight on her legacy, and as she careens from diatribes against social media and psychic skeptics to excruciating details about the night that changed her life, her hypnotic performance kept me glued to the tale. Where it went, in just an hour and a half, I will not spoil, but let’s just say that the play’s creeping air of Grand Guignol panic doesn’t go to waste. Creep factor: 7/10

The Exorcist

William Peter Blatty’s novel inspired the eponymous film, and as a kid I read the book and watched the movie in obsessive bursts; as soon as I’d sufficiently recovered, I’d dip right back in to retraumatize myself. As an adult, I discovered the audiobook. Blatty’s own reading is legendary—the man could have been a professional narrator. He reads Chris, the mother, in his regular voice while effortlessly distinguishing the other characters with different vocal styles and signatures. His enunciation and pacing are perfect, his acting totally natural. His demon voice is savage and ancient; his Chris, so plainly desperate it delivers us the novel’s true horror: a mother who cannot help her child. Compelling throughout, The Exorcist often goes down like a great detective story—till the devil steps in and takes possession of the tale. Creep factor: 9/10

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Carnivals are just creepy. Even back in the 1960s, when clowns were still the stars of children's birthday parties instead of horror films, Ray Bradbury knew it. This classic horror story, more creepy and sinister than flat-out scary, follows two 13-year-old boys in midcentury Illinois, where the carnival has come to town. But this isn't just any carnival, if the ominous line of Shakespeare’s in the title didn't quite give that away. Strange and surreal goings-on tempt the boys with mystery and mayhem, led by the mysterious Mr. Dark. Christian Rummel's performance is spot on, and as I revisited this one on my evening walk, I felt swept up in the deliciously dark take on small-town Americana and innocence lost. Creep factor: 7/10

Never Saw Me Coming

I needed a new go-to listen from inside the mind of a psychopath, since my constant references to You, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Killer Inside Me had finally begun to wear thin. Well, those three iconic psychopaths will now have to share the stage with the seven in this twisty thriller, whose bonkers plot follows a clinical study of psychopaths at a DC-area university, where scheming, plotting, and murdering ensue. Do we love stories about psychopaths because we're envious of their confidence, charisma, and total lack of anxiety? Or is it because we suspect the line between us and them is actually razor thin? Debut author Vera Kurian nails the dark allure of psychopathic literature with a compulsive plot and a memorable cast of nuanced characters. Creep factor: 6/10

American Predator

I listen to true crime for all kinds of reasons: I'm curious about the quirks and extremes of human nature; I love the puzzle and mystery of unsolved cases; and I think crime has a lot to tell us about ourselves, our history, and our society. I don't really listen to true crime to scare myself silly—but if I did, American Predator is the book I'd pick. Israel Keyes was the most frightening kind of killer I can imagine: totally methodical, impeccably prepared, and with no discernible victim profile or preference. He'd bury kill kits in states far from his home base of Alaska; months or even years later, he'd fly to retrieve them and use them on victims he had meticulously selected in advance, leaving no trace. Maureen Callahan's comprehensive audiobook lays out his crimes and the botched attempt to bring him to justice, read with eerie calm by Amy Landon. Creep factor: 9/10

The Only Good Indians

In Stephen Graham Jones's iconic novel, a vengeful monster called the Elk Head Woman, a twist on a spirit from Native American mythology, stalks a group of Blackfeet Indian men who had killed a herd of elk on a hunt 10 years prior. Listening to The Only Good Indians on moonlit walks was a chilly delight—Blackfeet narrator Shaun Taylor-Corbett is the perfect conduit for this gritty, gory, and often very funny horror tale that imagines what might happen if Jason Voorhees came to the reservation. I fell in love with every character, even though I knew damn well I was going to have to say goodbye to most of them in the grisliest of manners. Inventive, atmospheric, and a modern classic. Creep factor: 8/10

Another Name for the Devil

What's the difference between creepy and scary? For me, creepiness is when our alarm bells start to go off, but we lack enough evidence to run, scream, or otherwise act on our fear. It's the unsettling stranger on the subway who puts you on your guard, though not enough to get up and change cars, or the unreliable narrator who drops hints you feel in your bones before your mind has worked out why. Mason Deaver's forthcoming audio novella works brilliantly on both levels: as a classic study of mounting dread, in which the main character tries to drown out his intuitive terror with logic, and as a pure horror story of demonic possession. With chilling sound effects and a knockout performance by nonbinary performer Avi Roque, this devilish queer horror story captivates with authentic occult details and shocking twists. Creep factor: 7/10

Pet Sematary

A lot of horror is subjective. Sure, we all agree that Stephen King is terrifying, but precisely which of his ideas scare us and why says something about who we are. I adore The Shining, Misery, and It—but when it comes to pure terror, nothing makes me say “nope” faster than Pet Sematary. I blame the goofy yet sneakily petrifying 1989 film adaptation and general "Monkey’s Paw" vibes (a tale that also scares the pants off me). But keep in mind that King also calls this his scariest novel. I had largely steered clear of it for the past three decades, but for the purposes of this experiment, I queued it up. I skipped ahead past the novel’s early, sweetly domestic chapters, praying I wouldn’t run into Rachel’s demented sister Zelda along the way. I had heard raves about Michael C. Hall’s narration, and even in the moderately frightening scene where I landed (in which Louis awakens to discover his visit to the deadfall was no dream), Dexter delivered. And by that I mean: He delivered me straight out of the golf course, running at top speed toward civilization like a bat out of hell, my surprised dog galloping alongside. Creep factor: 10/10

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