10 scariest Stephen King novels

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

We're devoting the third of our 31 specials for the 31 days of Halloween to Stephen King's 10 scariest novels. And before you leap on us for not including your favorite book, remember—we're not claiming these are the 10 best Stephen King novels, just the ones most likeliest to keep you up at night.

Check back tomorrow at noon for the greatest toys based on H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu.

The Shining (1977)

The haunted Overlook Hotel houses a family that, over one long winter, slowly goes insane together. It's scariest inside poor Jack's head. He's a guy who didn't have to be a monster, but who lives the horror of becoming one.

'Salem's Lot (1975)

We get the unnerving impression that something's gone seriously wrong with this sleepy New England town long before King finally—well into the page count—gets around to revealing that the new neighbors are vampires. Then the bloodsuckers start scratching at windows in the dead of night, and we lose it. It's one of the last times vampires were actually allowed to be scary.

Pet Semetary (1982)

Even the author thought this novel a bit too scary to publish, and held on to the manuscript for a number of years, until Tabitha told him he was just being silly. Bless her for interfering. This novel about a backwoods burial ground that resurrects the dead—though not unchanged—starts creepy and gets creepier with every page, arriving at King's most disturbing final sentence.

Cujo (1981)

The scariest part of this tale of a rabid Saint Bernard on the loose is the suggestion that the dog is not just suffering from a deadly neurological infection, but also is possessed by the crazed murderer from The Dead Zone. (Don't look for that, or the much more powerful ending, in the movie.) Cujo himself actually starts out as a fine dog, which is why we give King extra points for reminding us at the end that none of what happens was the poor pooch's fault.

Misery (1987)

One of two King books on this list that trap their main characters in bed, this one's about a best-selling author who barely survives a car crash only to find himself being nursed in the home of his deranged "number-one fan." Annie Wilkes' mood swings are so unpredictable that it's no use placating her, or reasoning with her, or even obeying her every whim: It's still just a matter of time before she does something horrible. One edition came complete with a parody second cover that featured King posing shirtless, a prospect scarier than some entire novels listed here.

The Stand (Complete and Uncut Version) (1990)

The rapid spread of the plague that destroys civilization may be just the beginning, but it happens to be King at his most relentless. Then absolute supernatural evil shows up in the form of Randall Flagg, who gives the few survivors something even worse to worry about. The Gunslinger series aside, this is the one King book that qualifies as epic, as opposed to just long.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)

A lost child wanders off the Appalachian Trail and almost dies trying to find her way back to civilization, all while being stalked by a beast that may or may not be a figment of her own imagination. Hint: It's not Governor Mark Sanford. This became a pop-up book, which makes it the only King book to literally jump up and say boo.

Cell (2006)

An electronic tone turns everybody who hears it into mindless, rampaging killers. It begins with a terrifying orgy of mass slaughter before the book gradually loses steam. But those early scenes are as nightmarish as anything the man's ever written.

Gerald's Game (1992)

This is the other book where King traps his main character on a bed. The one King work least likely ever to make it to the movies, it thrusts us into the head of a woman who should have spoken her safe word sooner and louder, when an accident leaves her husband dead during an experiment in bondage. Now handcuffed to the headboard with the oaf dead at her feet, she faces an agonizing death by thirst ... only to gradually realize that she's not alone in the house.

Carrie (1974)

A shy, friendless teen who suddenly finds herself invited to the prom. Too bad it's part of a plot to humiliate her. Too bad that she has powerful telekinetic powers and happens to be one cruel prank away from a total freak-out. This is the one that first got King all the attention.

And while you're in a Halloween state of mind, why not check out:

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Day 2: Our 9 favorite crazy zombie kills of all time (video)

Day 4: 14 great Cthulhu toys that make devouring souls fun

Day 5: 15 haunted cereals that will scare your dentist

Day 6: 20 great costumes to dress up your pet

Day 7: 21 (mostly) sexy female stormtroopers (NSFW)

Day 8: 9 movie and TV clowns that scared the hell out of us

Day 9: 10 creepy movie kids even Angelina Jolie wouldn't adopt

Day 10: 6 most awesome Stephen King horror films (plus 3 that sucked)

Day 11: 16 horror movie posters so gruesome they make our eyeballs bleed

Day 12: 16 hot movie and TV vampires who turn us into willing victims

Day 13: 20 awesomely hot Slave Leia costumes (slightly NSFW)

Day 14: 14 lamest horror movie killer costumes (What were they thinking?)

Day 15: 9 of the grossest, goriest X-Files creatures

Day 16: 11 splatterific exploding head scenes from the movies

Day 17: 15 of the most disgusting Halloween candies you can buy

Day 18: 19 freakiest movie and TV neighbors from hell

Day 19: 11 most disturbing Treehouse of Horror segments from The Simpsons

Day 20: 9 rampaging space zombies hungry for our sci-fi brains

Day 21: 10 most nightmarish movie prom nights

Day 22: 11 scary, goofy and just plain revolting movie possessions

Day 23: 13 kick-ass moments from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Day 24:13 real haunted houses you can visit in the U.S.

Day 25: 15 ghoulish apps you can download to your iPhone

Day 26: 20 hot film and TV witches and warlocks that cast a spell on us

Day 27: The 10 most truly, utterly evil things in sci-fi

Day 28: The 15 cursed movie objects you NEVER want to own

Day 29: 14 most twisted original Twilight Zone twist endings

Day 30: 16 sci-fi costumes that would definitely get you fired (NSFW)

Day 31: 12 awesome sci-fi Halloween moments, real and fake