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


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

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