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The Most Controversial Horror Novels of All Time

Written by: Matt Molgaard

It’s interesting that a lot of the most controversial stories eventually go on to garner tremendous praise. Some even earn the moniker of classic. Intriguing as it is, just about every book on this list is now regarded as such. Are we so afraid of the innovative that we’d just as soon burn it rather than analyze it with an open mind? Apparently so. Check out the most controversial horror novels (there are a few that definitely stand as hybrid releases) of all time!


American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis: Believe it or not, the extremely graphic nature of Ellis’ psychological shocker earned Mr. Ellis an enormous amount of hate mail accompanied by more than a single death threat. The novel also hit some release issues, as Simon & Schuster – initially slated to release the book – backed right out of the deal, fearful of the ramifications of distribution. Fortunately for fans, Vintage had a sizeable pair of cods, and got this one out on shelves. Today it’s recognized as a legitimate masterpiece.


Justine – Marquis de Sade: The destruction of this book was ordered in France back in the 1800s. Rape, torture, rape, torture, rape, torture, wrongful imprisonment, rape, torture, rape, torture. Get it? This one wasn’t always easily obtainable, but there’s a version now readily available.


Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 may not have been as controversial as the bulk of other novels listed in this piece, but it left a dent in the mind of the public back in 1953. And a lot of folks just didn’t dig the material. This dystopian tale drops readers in a world where the book is outlawed. They’re burned publicly, owners punished. You see, to own a book comes with an extremely serious price to pay. It’s a wild idea that led to mass metaphorical comparisons. The suppressing of nonconformist concepts is the most radical interpretation of the book, and it’s also a major piece of the controversial foundation. Interestingly enough, we now live in a world that feels strangely similar – in a distant way – to the world presented in Fahrenheit 451. Slowly but surely physical books and their releases have thinned out, overtaken by the digital boom. Print feels near obsolete. And believe it or not, there are more than a single book on this list that have also been publicly burned. It’s a strange world.


The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling: Is the Harry Potter series outright horror? Absolutely not. It does however contain some extremely dark elements. Monsters, perilous ventures, near ultra-violence, witchcraft and plenty of death – the last two being the biggest bones of contention among critics – aren’t issues the faint of heart deal with easily. Potter books have not only been challenged for years, they’ve actually been burned all over the globe. In my opinion, completely unreal… but hey, we don’t want to raise a bunch of witchcraft practicing murderers, do we?


Frankenstein – Mary Shelley: Frankenstein was released in 1818, but a whole lot of people didn’t know that Mary Shelley had written it. The content of the story was so profoundly taboo that it was initially released anonymously – Shelley’s name would not appear on the book until 1823. In the early-1800s it’s rather easy to understand the harsh criticism this one received. It was embraced by many as nothing more than an abomination. Frankenstein was considered a sacrilegious piece, a direct slap to what the bible stands for. Today, the idea behind reanimation and walking dead is a well-traveled and often embraced notion. Funny how time’s got a way of changing things around on us, eh?


Lord of the Flies – William Golding: Like the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Flies isn’t typically categorized as a full-fledged horror work. However, it scared the piss out of me the first time I read it, and apparently it had some similar effects on many a-shocked critic. There isn’t much need to leap into details here, as most of us know the gist of this one. It’s a character study of the darkest, most depressing nature, turning innocent children into savage murderous animals. Amazing, but paralyzing. Quite the negative attention grabber (it seems sporadically, though it’s generally acknowledged as a monumental effort) as well, might I add.

About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

7 Comments on The Most Controversial Horror Novels of All Time

  1. Way back in 1991 when ‘American Psycho’ was first released here in Australia, it was sold in a sealed plastic wrapper with a ‘Rated R’ sticker on the front (meaning that it could only be sold to those 18 years and older). From memory, only it and ‘Final Exit’ (a non-fiction self-help book about asisted suicide) have had to be sold like that here.

    In 2001, a friend went to a major bookstore here in Sydney to buy ‘American Psycho’ to find that it was still plastic-sealed and stickered.

    I don’t know if it’s still sold that way.


  2. That’s very interesting info. I didn’t know most of these books were banned. But there are idiot groups everywhere who will ban just about anything, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.


  3. You guys totally missed a120 days in Sodom.


  4. Wayne C. Rogers // November 24, 2013 at 8:53 pm // Reply

    Great list, Matt. Even the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, has been banned in many schools throughout the South. Stephen King’s Carrie was banned from a number of Florida schools a couple of years ago. When I was in Junior High School, I got sent to the principal’s office for reading Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love in Study Hall. This was the novel President John F. Kennedy raved about. So many people are just plain idiots when it comes to books.


  5. Catcher In The Rye was banned from our local High School a number of years back…while this is definitely Not a horror novel…Banning books is…just saying…Vitina…the old hippie


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