For the most part, I'm very difficult to scare, especially in terms of books and movies. Generally, whenever I'm expecting to be scared or whenever there's a lot of hype, I finish the story and think "Huh? That's it?" That feeling is almost a disappointment in a horror story - when you're prepared to be chilled down to the core of your bones, but it's anticlimactic when it never happens. That was my experience with "The Exorcist," "It," The Shining," every single demon/haunting/doll movie or slasher killer suspense with stupid jump scares, etc. There are only 5 movies and 4 books that have genuinely terrified me on a deep level that disturbed me after the story was over. The factors that those stories all had in common was that I never originally expected any of them to haunt me, so it caught me off surprise when the horror took over. Enter Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." I read almost the entire book in the course of a few days. I had known the gist of what it's about (a father and young son traveling on an abandoned rural road in a post-apocalyptic setting), but had always had the impression that it was less raw and more abstract: a lot of philosophical musing about end-of-world morality that took place mostly inside of the characters' heads. I have no idea why I had thought that, maybe because of how it was described, but it was an extremely raw story that packed a huge punch. In this story, the main antagonists are Spoiler cannibals - a threat made all more easy to dread because, unlike a ghost or curse or monster in another world, they are real and thus could theoretically happen in our own world. However, this is the first time in a story that a real-world antagonist seemed more scary than a well-done demonic/otherworldly. In "The Road," the antagonists are far scarier than your run-of-the-mill slasher killer with a messed up backstory. What made them so scary to me were: 1) The philosophy/spirituality (and I'm not even religious) of the way they are human and inhuman at the same time. While still technically people, they're the epitome of evil. And unlike Ramsay Bolton or the Joker, who are psychopaths that kill for the power/fun of it and seem too satirical to really scare anyone, the antagonists in "The Road" have devolved into monsters for survival. The book makes a clear distinction -- those who maintain their humanity even when facing death, and those who become beasts and predators in order to "survive." But once you've lost your humanity, you're not a human anymore, so if you're still alive then what really are you? 2) The silent yet menacing way they come across, when the protags see them in their car caravans and marching in a war gang. While mainly seen from afar, they're portrayed as being almost mechanical as they clutch pipes, spears, guns and other weapons while dragging chained victims behind them. Most killers, like in American Psycho for instance, will act charming on the surface and at least maintain the appearance of humanity (so you don't see the true evil underneath). But the antagonists of "The Road" don't bother trying to hide their hideous core, and they have the numbers and power to mostly not need to. Think of the most scary-looking boogeyman you imagined in your closet as a kid, and then imagine it stalking you through the forest....these people are ten times worse. 3) "The basement scene" - the most disturbing scene from any fictional story that I've ever watched or read. Spoiler While out of supplies and desperate for food, the main characters break into an abandoned mansion to see what they can get. The man sees this as necessary exploration for food/supplies they need, but the boy has a terrified gut feeling and keeps trying to make his dad leave the house. Eventually they come to a basement and the father starts prying open the trapdoor, while the son freaks out worse and worse. They go into the basement and see what's inside. A bunch of assorted people who are naked, starving, and missing various limbs and chunks of flesh that have been cauterized. Cannibals own the house, and trap their victims to keep in the basement as human livestock so that they can take pieces of meat as needed while keeping their meat fresh. The people in the basement had no hope, the full fear of knowing they're slowly being literally eaten alive, and no way to escape. As the dad and son are fleeing, the cannibals return to the house - they set up the house with booby traps to alert them when someone walked in, and they know that they are there. The son and dad narrowly flee out a window and escape into the woods, while the cannibals unsuccessfully try to hunt them down. While they're hiding, the father tells the son they have to shoot themselves if they get caught, or else they'll meet the fate in the basement too. The whole scene is just mind-blowingly disturbing to me, especially imagining what the victims/food-source people must be experiencing. If you have no hope, no escape and are being literally eaten by human monsters piece by piece while being kept alive long-term over the course of several weeks or more, then you aren't really alive at all...and these people weren't. They had turned into desperate, pathetic, already-dead souls.[/spoilers] I cannot think of anything more hellish than that. But in addition to the horror, "The Road" does end on a very hopeful and positive, although bittersweet, note. The man and boy maintain their humanity and ethical decency throughout the dehumanizing nature of the apocalypse, which is their ultimate victory in the end. They are empowered - the young son, who serves as the father's moral compass and reason to live, acts truly like a compassionate Christ-figure and is even implied to be divine goodness. "The Road" is not a religious book, and I am a non-religious person, but it does deeply go into spiritual themes -- in the face of the worst catastrophe and desperation possible, some people will become evil in order to try and survive it, while the true heroes will refuse. This is portrayed in a subtle and graceful way, without any heavy-hammering, in a literary style that's poetic and moving. Easily best (and most disturbing) book I've read in a long, long time.