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The First Great American Horror Film The Avenging Conscience Includes Griffith’s 1909 drama Edgar Allan Poe D.W. Griffith indulged his lifelong fascination with Edgar Allan Poe in this ambitious amalgam of the writer’s poetry and prose: “Annabel Lee” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” flavored with shades of “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Conqueror Worm.” Poe’s tales are interwoven in one tragedy-laden narrative of a young man (Henry B. Walthall) who yearns to escape from his overbearing, one-eyed uncle (Spottiswoode Aitken). After the nephew murders the ogre, he and his lover (Blanche Sweet) are wracked by guilt and tormented by nightmares, ghosts, and demonic entities that drive them to even more horrifying extremes. Just as Poe cloaked his horrors in artful poetry and prose, so does Griffith filter the story’s macabre elements through a Victorian lens, gilding it with quaint symbolism without diminishing its impact. When asked, in 1925, to rank the cinema’s greatest achievements, critic Gilbert Seldes called special attention to this film. “The picture was projected in a palpable atmosphere,” he wrote in his book The Seven Lively Arts, “After ten years I recall dark masses and ghostly rays of light.”

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KI6422 Avenging Conscience DVD (1914/D.W. Griffith) $24.95 $22.49