Dark Carnivals: Horror and the Dirty Wars of American Empire

Author: Poole, W. Scott

Publication Date:

October 2022



Original language and publisher

English | Counterpoint Press

Territories Handled

World excl. English North America


Art, History, Politics

Dark Carnivals: Horror and the Dirty Wars of American Empire

Author: Poole, W. Scott


Nearly every horror movie you love is actually about World War I . . . Historian W. Scott Poole argues the Great War gave filmmakers the visual language that make up scary movies. — Vice

[A] thoroughly engrossing cultural study . . . Poole persuasively argues that the birth of horror as a genre is rooted in the unprecedented destruction and carnage of WWI. — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Wasteland, W. Scott Poole’s exploration of some of the Great War’s consequences for popular art, is fully attuned to the conflict’s devastating psychological impact . . . Highly persuasive . . . Poole’s general conclusions about World War I’s transformation into art, and the process of psychological displacement that accompanied it, are incontestable. — D.J. Taylor, The Wall Street Journal

W. Scott Poole combines smart readings of the horror classics with detailed knowledge of twentieth-century history, art, and literature to dig deep into the serious side of these popular entertainments. I thought I already knew the subject inside out, but Wasteland introduced me to fresh facts, new ideas, and surprising connections . . . Wonderfully readable. — Christopher Bram, author of Gods and Monsters

Elegantly written and cogently argued, Wasteland convincingly demonstrates the modern horror genre’s origins in the great Dance of Death that was the First World War. — David J. Skal, author of The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror

W. Scott Poole makes a compelling case that [the First World War] launched a great age of horror fiction . . . Poole has made an important contribution to cultural history. Wasteland reveals how horror stories can have even darker roots. — Bryan Alexander, Reason

By approaching horror less like a film or literary genre and more as a mode of storytelling, Poole casts a wide net for his admittedly bitter history. Wasteland explores the postwar output of writers, poets, painters, and filmmakers alike, moving neatly between the works of artists from Franz Kafka to James Whale. He also draws direct connections between emerging horror icons and the medicine and machinery that allowed more than 40 million people to die during the war . . . A must–read for those chasing our own cultural demons, real or imagined. — Matthew Monagle, The Austin Chronicle

From Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Get Out, Dark Carnivals tells the panoramic story of the filmmakers and writers who, through their work in the horror genre, asked us to imagine the consequences of unchecked American power dominating the world.

With Dark Carnivals, author W. Scott Poole, an expert in horror and its impact on American history, reveals how the horror genre as a way of seeing the world has become one of the most incisive critiques of America and its history and influence around the globe.

Following World War II, America took its place on the world stage, its growing imperial shadow becoming ever more evident. But even as the American empire emerged, propaganda at home convinced ordinary Americans that not only had their country kept its hands clean on the world stage. The nation, enshrined in the aspirational words of its founding documents, found itself enjoying a primal innocence, despite a host of evil forces insidiously growing more rooted each day: racism and violence, deadly viruses and fear of the other.

From the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) to Get Out (2017), horror films have long acted as the shadow that reveals uncomfortable political realities and inhuman crimes perpetrated by the United States for the last century with near impunity. In fact, the influence of American horror culture—in films, literature, online forums, and even video games—continues into our contemporary experience, continually challenging the myth of American innocence and exceptionalism, acknowledging our culpability abroad, and, most importantly, our failures at home.

Marketing Information

  • The Washington Post, One of the Best Books to Take You Off the Beaten Track
  • Recipient of the AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award
  • Book Authority, 100 Best Horror Film Books of All Time