Saturday night, August 14th, I saw the new movie "The Bell Witch
Haunting," which I can best describe as being a carefully researched,
enlightening, and entertaining rendition of the legend.
Moreover, I came away with a greater understanding and appreciation of
the legend. The only other
production that left me feeling that way was "The Bell Witch Story,"
a play that was directed and produced by the team of Ric White and Linda
Thornton, the same people who have now brought "The Bell Witch
Haunting" to the "big screen."
Was this a
mere coincidence? I don’t think
so. They "grew up" on the Bell Witch and have
researched the legend extensively. Now,
add the fact that they are accomplished actors and directors. This is precisely the "history meets drama" concept
that I have been writing about for years, where a good Bell Witch movie comes
about when historians and movie people pool their abilities and work together
[WHAT A CONCEPT!].
Bell Witch Haunting" relates many of the original Ingram stories, as well
as a few first-time accounts that are most likely rooted in the writer’s
perception of what might have happened but was not related in early accounts
– which is fine. The Ingram
stories are portrayed as they were originally told, with dimension
occasionally being added for color and depth, but not changed or embellished
in any way. The stories added by the writer are seamlessly interwoven
with the original story, which makes for an enhanced and more entertaining
account. Writing in such a manner
that the audience is presented with a cohesive, hybrid account of the legend,
is a work of art – in my opinion.
stood out as being better – or worse – than the others.
All did an excellent job, and I applaud them relentlessly.
Scenes, such as the look on James Johnston’s face when he first
encountered the "Spirit," and the agony experienced by John Bell as
he lay on his deathbed, give the legend a dimension that no printed work - bar
none - can effectively convey. Sure,
we can spend pages upon pages describing the fear and agony experienced by the
characters, but a single portrayal by good actors paints a more vivid picture
than written works that employ "a thousand words to paint a picture"
of the agony.
where Betsy Bell tried to greet visitors while in a trance was downright
frightening. The pale and
downtrodden look on her face -- in many scenes, actually -- serves as a vivid
reminder of the abuse she endured at the hands of "Kate."
I was equally impressed by the way in which the "tree lady"
was alluded to in multiple scenes. It
is one of the most frightening parts of the legend, and deserves more than
just one scene. Job well done.
particularly impressed with the careful attention paid to the chronology of
events, something that few published works have done.
It was nice to be able to watch the events unfold in the right order;
and, the carefully planned transitions made for a pleasant and sometimes
accuracy was seamlessly embedded into the movie.
A case in point is the scene depicting Betsy Bell’s outdoor birthday
party, where you can see breath vapor as people speak, if you look closely.
How does this relate to historical accuracy?
Betsy’s real birthday is in January, the coldest month of the year.
"But why would anyone be so crazy as to have an outdoor party in
January?" you might ask. The
answer is, "the original legend says they did."
But why? Ask Ingram, not
the movie director - he is only trying to keep the movie accurate per the
example of historical accuracy is the characters themselves.
In terms of age and physical appearance, they closely resemble the
people being portrayed, as per historical descriptions.
I was also impressed by the candlelit scenes, which help the viewer
understand the household environment back in the day of John Bell.
historical accuracy in such a manner allows the ghost story to flow freely
while giving the audience a history lesson in the process.
pleasantly surprised by the set and camera work, and especially the
director’s choice not to go overboard with special effects.
The movie was filmed in middle Tennessee, not too far from where the
legend took place. The only
downside, which lasted only a few seconds, was the lighting in one of the
outdoor scenes. It was too
bright, but did not materially detract from the movie.
The choice of land gives the viewer what I feel is a good picture of
what the actual Bell farm might have looked like.
The house on the set is not made of logs, but resembles the real one,
per historical descriptions, in every other regard.
served its purpose well; however, if had been mixing it, I would have
incorporated some spooky, wind-like sounds - or something along those lines -
into the transitions between scenes. But
notwithstanding, the transitions and music are fine like they are.
are a Bell Witch expert, novice, or armchair historian, I think you will enjoy
and learn from "The Bell Witch Haunting."
I highly recommend that you go see it and get the DVD as well – you
will probably want to watch it again and again.
"An American Haunting"
Director: Courtney Solomon
kept two key things in mind while watching this movie: 1) they don't say
it is a true story, they only say that it is BASED on a true story, and 2)
there is a disclaimer at the end of the movie, stating that the ending is one
of many possible outcomes and that the legend remains unsolved. I also
reminded myself that it's not a "horror" movie, but simply a ghost
story; horror movies and ghost stories are not the same thing.
American Haunting" does not follow the actual legend well.
Even John Bell's death was portrayed differently, as was Kate Batts' role in
the legend (assuming the real Mrs. Batts even played a role to begin with,
which is debatable). Many key parts of the
legend were missing; e.g., Andrew Jackson, Dr. Mize, the witch family, the
revival, the stockings, the simultaneous sermons, the slaves' encounters,
thought the acting was very good as a whole. I was especially impressed
with the actress who played Kate Batts. While I don't agree with the
script and storyline given to Kate Batts, the actress looked the part and had
a very nasty disposition. I was also impressed with Sutherland and
Spacek's performances, but I expected nothing less from them. I was
disappointed in Rachel Hurd-Wood's performance, however. Her face and
hair were too model-like and not pioneer-like, and her twists and jolts looked
more like she was "acting them out" as opposed to actually
experiencing them. I was very impressed with James D'arcy's performance
as Richard Powell. Although he wasn't scripted to be dignified
and pompous like the real Richard Powell, he looked the part and his disposition
The filming and setting were great. It's
amazing how the Romanian countryside resembles the Tennessee countryside.
The house they used for the Bell house was perfect in every aspect -- it was
grand, inviting yet intimidating, and homey yet creepy-looking -- a giant
paradox, the perfect setting for a haunting. I was impressed with the
various camera angles at different times, as well as the smooth tracking
through the snow-covered terrain. I feel that a little less panning, or
perhaps slower panning in certain spots, would have achieved a better effect,
was pleasantly surprised to find myself being interviewed on the "special
features" side of the DVD, under "Internet Promos," regarding
the legend's actual background. There were also interviews with David
Alford, the late Carney Bell, Tim Henson, and
the late Omer Gene Brooksher,
the Mayor of Adams, Tennessee.
in all, I think "An American Haunting" is a good movie for its
"movie value," but keep in
mind that it's only a movie. Watch the movie and enjoy it; be afraid!
And when you're done, come to bellwitch.org if you're interested in learning
about the intriguing and fascinating legend behind it.