Dark Carnivals: Modern Horror and the Origins 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: Modern Horror and the Origins of American Empire

Author: Poole, W. Scott


“In Dark Carnivals, W. Scott Poole takes a sharp knife to the long history of horror in the United States, dissecting the politics behind the genre, but maybe more importantly, exposing the horrors that live at the heart of American exceptionalism. Poole’s book examines the violent events behind some of the most recognizable horror titles (drawing a direct line, for instance, between the 1966 University of Texas tower shooting and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), but it also shines a harsh light on the appetite that American audiences have for violence on the screen. Who will survive America? That’s the question Poole dares his readers to delve into the darkness to answer. I’ve long been a fan of Poole’s work, but this may be one of his best.” —Lisa Kröger, Stoker- and Locus-award-winning author of Monster, She Wrote

Dark Carnivals is a fascinating, exhaustively researched historical polemic. Poole unflinchingly leads the reader through the horrifying history of the American empire and how it’s reflected and refracted within horror cinema. You can’t cover your eyes and say, ‘It’s only a movie.'” —Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts  and The Pallbearers Club

The panoramic story of how the horror genre transformed into one of the most incisive critiques of unchecked American imperial power.

The American empire emerged from the shadows of World War II. As the nation’s influence swept the globe with near impunity, a host of evil forces followed—from racism, exploitation, and military invasion to killer clowns, flying saucers, and monsters borne of a fear of the other. By viewing American imperial history through the prism of the horror genre, Dark Carnivals lays bare how the genre shaped us, distracted us, and gave form to a violence as American as apple pie.

A carnival ride that connects the mushroom clouds of 1945 to the beaches of Amity Island, Charles Manson to the massacre at My Lai, and John Wayne to John Wayne Gacy, the new book by acclaimed historian W. Scott Poole reveals how horror films and fictions have followed the course of America’s military and cultural empire and explores how the shadow of our national sins can take on the form of mass entertainment.

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