40 of the Creepiest Book Covers of All Time
Open if You Dare
It’s October, which means everything is now officially just a little bit spookier—and I’m not only talking about your Twitter handles. To celebrate the season, please enjoy this collection of a few of my favorite creepy book covers, from the campy to the gross to the truly unsettling. There are so many creepy covers out there, particularly in the horror and mystery genres, so I make no claims about this being any kind of comprehensive list; rather it’s a selection of book covers from various genres—literary, horror, kids’ classics, etc.—that happen to creep me out. And just like beauty, creep is in the eye of the beholder, so feel free to post the covers that send shivers up your own personal spine in the comments below.
William W. Johnstone, Cat’s Eye; cover by Richard Newton, Zebra 1989 edition
This one is a true gem. But how did this cat-baby come to be, one would have to wonder. It seems like the mother may have brought this upon herself.
Richard Matheson, I Am Legend; Orb Books 1997 edition
That skull-headed vampire (vampire-zombie?) really is the worst. All I can say is I’m happy book covers are not yet 3-D experiences.
Richard Matheson, I Am Legend; Corgi Books 1960 edition
It’s not the violence or even the murdered woman that makes this cover creepy. It’s the hammer in the hand of the man standing over her, and the suggestion that he’s about to pound that stake into the ground.
Vladimir Nabokov, Despair; Panther 1969 edition
This is one of the worst on this list, as far as I’m concerned. But also, the gaping maw that is also a mirror silently screaming its way into nothingness pretty much sums up despair for you.
Ryu Murakami, Piercing; Ediciones Escalera
Creepy and psychedelic.
Ryu Murakami, Piercing; Penguin Books 2007 edition
This edition hurts your eyes less, but once you begin to unpack its parts—the bunny covering its face, the strange blood-colored hair, the awl—I think it’s even more disturbing.
Patrick White, The Vivisector; Penguin Classics 2009 edition
I am sorry for showing this to you, but not that sorry, because misery loves company.
Dan Simmons, Carrion Comfort; Dark Harvest 1989 edition
This is some epic horror-hair.
William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist; Bantam Books 1972 edition
This one seems pretty tame at first blush, but trust me: the longer you look at it, the creepier it gets. It has something to do with the eyes. Or maybe the hair? I don’t know, I have to look away now.
Ray Russell, The Case Against Satan; Penguin Classics 2015 edition
The glass has clearly been cracked with something hard—once on the right eye and once on the left eye. Or has something hard come out of those dead black eyes?
D. Thin (ed.), Shadows of Carcosa: Tales of Cosmic Horror by Lovecraft, Chambers, Machen, Poe, and Other Masters of the Weird; New York Review of Books 2015 edition
I mean, this is probably what bacteria look like.
Shawn Hutson, Spawn; Leisure Books edition
I actually have no idea what this looks like because I can only look at it through squinted eyes.
Brett Rutherford and John Robertson, Piper; cover by Lisa Falkenstern, Zebra 1987 edition
Dancing children in matching outfits are always creepy, especially when accompanied by a merry dancing death-jester. Just imagine them singing a little wheedling song, too, and we’ll be all set for eternity.
Basically all of the Animorphs covers are deeply upsetting, now that I have a little bit of distance on the matter. More of the creepiest here. K.A. Applegate; Scholastic Books, 1996-2001
Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark; Scholastic Books 1989 edition
Something about this illustration has always disturbed me, even though these books were ostensibly for children—maybe it’s the vague hint of clown makeup, or maybe it’s the skull mushrooming up out of the countryside, fully excited about its brand new unlife.
Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe; art by Chris Mars; Penguin Classics 2015 edition
This one is beautiful in its own way, which only makes it more disturbing—the tiny hand, the gruesome puppet, the wide, deep, shining lips. It gives me chills but I can’t stop looking.
Primo Levi, If Not Now, When?; Penguin Classics 1995 edition
Nightmarish and strangely tactile—I know exactly what this scene would feel and smell like, and it isn’t good.
Adam Nevill, The Ritual; Pan 2011 edition
It’s only a tree, at first.
Daphne du Maurier, Don’t Look Now; NYRB 2008 edition
The blurred scream is always more upsetting than the sharp scream.
Daphne du Maurier, The Birds and Other Stories; Pan Macmillan 1977 edition
This bird is coming for you, my friend. It’s almost through the last layer of the book (or the screen). Seriously, should we be running right now?
Roberto Arlt, The Seven Madmen; NYRB 2015 edition
First you don’t see it, and then you see it.
Roald Dahl, Kiss Kiss; design by Alan Aldridge; Penguin 1962 edition
A visual representation of how it feels when you find out what Roald Dahl was really like as a person.
Agatha Christie, A Caribbean Mystery; cover art by Tom Adams; Fontana 1978 edition
To me, this cover—which to me is equal parts beautiful and creepy—looks like an image of Ophelia after her death, just a moment before she wakes up in The Other Place. (This hereby begins a run of Tom Adams covers for Agatha Christie novels—the man was a legend, and creepy as hell.)
Agatha Christie, A Caribbean Mystery; cover art by Tom Adams, Fontana 1980 edition
New creepy treatment; same creepy eye.
Agatha Christie, Appointment with Death; cover art by Tom Adams; Fontana 1980 edition
When she made the wish, she only wanted to see how she’d look with bangs. Now her brain has been replaced with a spider.
Agatha Christie, A Holiday for Murder; cover art by Tom Adams; Bantam 1985 edition
This is creepy, but it’s also nonsense, which makes me love it. A lake of blood! A broken glass! A fallen statue! A disgruntled monster-man! A chair! Holly!
Agatha Christie, By the Pricking of My Thumbs; cover art by Tom Adams; Fontana 1972 edition
Broken baby dolls are guaranteed to disturb.
J. G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition; Panther 1972 edition
It’s not that the person is completely wrapped in gauze, or the incongruous wine, but the look of sheer addled emptiness that does it. (Well, isn’t it always?)
Jonathan Carroll, The Land of Laughs; Ace 1983 edition
I am deeply upset by the yellow thing eating ice cream. Is it supposed to be cheese? Is it just an anthropomorphized triangle in clown makeup? Is it sexually interested in the man? Will it murder us all? Also, who is trapped in the house?
Kathe Koja, The Cipher; Dell 1991 edition
Ramsey Campbell, Incarnate; Tor Books 1984 edition
So much going on here: the giant eyeballs in the windows (are they the house’s, or were they simply left there?), the shadow on the stairs, the tiny window of blue sky that the shadow will reach, if the eyes don’t get him, and will the world be saved then, or will it be ended?
Albert Camus, The Plague; Penguin Books edition
This is the rat that never ends.
Harlan Ellison, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream; Ace Books 1976 edition
It’s not the mouthlessness so much as the little legs that gets me.
Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear it Away; Faber 1985 edition
Where are you going, where have you been?
Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle; Popular Library 1962 edition
Not scary, but certainly creepy. The white fingers, the escaping tendrils, and the reminder that a mere bit of ravaged wood is enough to turn any girl into a cyclopean demon.
Shirley Jackson, The Bird’s Nest; Popular Library 1976 edition
Relatively tame-seeming—and with some pretty birds to boot—but then you wonder how the girl’s head got into the nest. And then you see what’s coming out of that egg.
H. P. Lovecraft, The Lurking Fear; Beagle 1971 Edition
It may not surprise you to learn that there are a ton of creepy Lovecraft covers out there, especially from the 70s. This one, oddly, looks a lot like the recurring nightmare I had as a child, wherein I had to continually bop the monsters coming out of holes in the ground in order to save my dad, so that’s why I have chosen it. Which only goes to show just how personal creepiness can be.
Stephen King, Night Shift; Signet/New American Library 1979 edition
I actually love this cover; it’s really clever, and almost cute. But it’s also a hand swaddled in gauze and covered with eyes, so, you know—creepy too.
Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho; Vintage 1991 edition
The scariest of all monsters: the dissatisfied, privileged, misogynist, violent-minded white man. Sleep tight!