By W. Scott Poole
Publisher: Counterpoint, 2018
David F. Beer, Reviewer
David F. Beer, Reviewer
|A Classic Photograph from the Great War
The author claims the war destroyed most of the human values and outlooks that existed before 1914 and shocked and horrified the world so much that it has never really recovered:
In every horror movie we see, every horror story we read, every horror-based video game we play, the phantoms of the Great War skittle and scratch just beyond the door of our consciousness. Numberless dead and wounded bodies appear on our screens, documents of barbarism coauthored by the Great War generation and all the forces that have fed off them in the decades since (3-4).
Although this idea might strike us as somewhat overstated, there's no question that Poole has assembled a great deal of supporting evidence. The destruction and horror that took place during this war (compared to previous wars) forced an indelible impression not only on those who fought but also on the public, and these effects were long-lasting. Literature, art, and film reflected and perhaps even prolonged the trauma.
|The Cripples, Otto Dix, 1920
The book includes a Foreword, "Corpses in the Wasteland," and an Afterword, "The Age of Horror." In between are five chapters with apt headings: "Symphony of Horror," "Waxworks," "Nightmare Bodies," "Fascism and Horror," and "Universal Monsters." Useful end notes are provided also. Each chapter discusses numerous examples of literature, art, and film from the 1920s to the 1940s, which the author employs to support and illustrate his thesis. Although the last two chapters tend to look more toward fascism and its attendant horror, most of the book focuses on creative work of the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, Britain, and the United States.
Film was perhaps the strongest influence on people's memory and fears after 1918. We meet numerous directors in this book and often get interesting information about their lives and quirks as well as their work. F.W. Murnau, Albin Grau, Abel Gance, Bertolt Brecht, Max Brooks, and Fritz Lang are but a few of the earlier producers of influential films. Of the latter, the author states:
Fritz Lang, home from the war but most certainly bringing the war home with him, had long been fascinated by the macabre, the nature of evil, and the relationship of both to the social order. His work, like that of Murnau, Gance, and Leni, shows us more than how the Great War inspired a generation to embrace a death obsession. We see how such a fascination, in some sense the beginning of the horror tradition itself, both critiqued and called into being societies in the thrall of dread (101).
. . . the gorefest of the slasher films began in the 1970s and has never really stopped. Blood spurts in red fumes from empty-eyed victims who, in some cases, become collections of body part. . . The horror has remained with us because the conditions that made for the Great War and its aftermath are still in place (254).
Wasteland's author, W. Scott Poole, is a college professor who teaches courses and writes books about horror and popular culture. Although some of his connections might seem a bit strained to some of us, he obviously knows what he's talking about and he makes a good case. In some ways I can agree with him that the age of horror began during World War One and still flows onward. I recommend this book as a fascinating and original take on the Great War.
David F. Beer