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Based on the book AN AMERICAN HAUNTING by Brent Monahan, this horror movie uses a current-day setting (the year 2006) as a framing device for a ghost story dating back to 1817 Tennessee. Inspired by manuscripts documenting the only spirit-caused death in U.S. history, the film stars accomplished actors Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland as the mother and father of Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood), an adolescent girl tormented by a mysterious spirit haunting the Bell family home. The spirit is thought to have been sent by Mrs. Batts, a witchlike neighbor who, after having a bitter dispute over property rights with Betsy's father, John Bell, put a curse on John and his daughter. Even though John Bell was the one at fault, it is his daughter who bears the heaviest burden of this spell, being thrown about her room nightly, slapped, and even sexually abused by the mystical force in question. Most of the film takes place in the home, where Betsy's parents, a local priest, and a local schoolteacher (with whom she has a flirtatious relationship) try their best to exorcise the demons away. While the film never fully explains what the spirit is or where it came from, it does propose one disturbing theory near the end that involves the hysterical nature of young female sexuality. But despite being used as a means to connect the present-day story with the 1817 events, this theme is only vaguely hinted at as the story unravels.
I really enjoyed this movie and it was a edge of the seat film...I would recommend it .......
The principle reason anyone would want to tell this story is that it is the supposedly the only early governmental documented case of a true haunting in America. Andrew Jackson himself came down from Nashville to investigate these claims and had been reported to have said that he could face 20 regiments of the Northern flanks himself, but said he would never stay in the Bell House again. Doing a slight bit of history might help trying to understand the direction of this movie. Just knowing there have been over 20 books written about the Bell Witch of Red River, TN helps to give this movie some integrity. The Town in Tennessee is now called Adams, where they are well famous from the telling of this story.
This story was perhaps told as truth throughout the years, and came from hearsay and old wife's tale long before any of us were ever born, but there story had given much rise to actual proof of this haunting. Usually, on hauntings, PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING.
Being born of fear, this story takes place on a the backdrop of a time well forgotten and looked upon as just plain archaic. The Tennessee Red River community set in the early 1800s. We all are wondering where the movie might take us, however, the movie starts off under a modern day premise of an old doll and journal found in an attic in Boston and then flashes back to a time we are not yet familiar with. A dream of a contemporary teen-age girl whisks us back to a family trying to forge their way into their own lives and make better than the other town-folks they seem to so carefully care about. This GOD fearing community takes pride in their own dignity and struggle to overcome the daily obstacles. Yes as time passes, we learn that family is not all as it seems.
The director takes very strong charge of telling the story and getting us used to characters, almost forcing us to care for their present problems and situations. After this, the haunting begins and culminates onto the screen as a fiendish reminder of how these people have no actual control over their own life, liberty, and (property) the pursuit of happiness.
The cinematography is excellent, almost tin-type color of drab displaying a spooky, creepy feeling throughout the entire film.
Spacek, Southerland, and the young girl all play wonderfully in their family spots and the son shows much courage and concern.
The spirit that haunts this family and household will have you on the edge of your bed.
Critically speaking, I'm not quite sure happened here to the script, but many scenes that made it to the unrated version and theatrical version may have wound up on the cutting room floor. As we may not gather on first viewing, we find that the around chapter 17 or so, that the father seems cursed more than others. Donald Southerland's character seems tortured by his on failures. It seems that, if you go back to the deleted scenes on this disc, you will find 3 to 5 alternate versions of the end to this movie which seem to point to Mr. Bel's as the culprit to these spiritual hauntings. It seems that alternate endings point more closely to the cause by zeroing in on an incestuous occurrence between Betsy and her father forced upon her by her father. Two alternate clips make this much more clear in an Ending labeled 15 years later in which the story unravels in the Young Schoolteacher's dream.
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The story of the Bell Witch Haunting is a well known one to ghost hunters everywhere – for two years in the 1800s, the God-fearing Bell family was tormented by a capricious and cruel unseen entity.
The spirit would wait till nighttime, then it would yank the covers from Betsy's bed, slap her face, drag her by her hair, and sometimes even suspend the young teen in midair as her helpless parents, John and Lucy could do nothing but stand by.
While some of the more intense scenes depicting Betsy’s horror are quite hair-raising, the “ghost-cam” or “ghosts-eye-view” conceit (swirling imagery, color fading to black and white as the victims stare and gasp) grows as old as its shown again and again with no variation whatsoever. Hurd-Wood does her level best, accomplishing as many different looks for fear as is humanely possible. Sutherland and Spacek are believable enough as the Southern couple, but we never really get a sense of knowing them (and consequently, caring about them).
PROS AND CONS
The Pros of this movie are....
Superior to either of the other two Bell Witch movies.
Excellent "carriage crash" scene.
Some chilling moments with the black wolf that also torments the Bells.
The Cons of this movie are.....
Reptitive viewings of the hauntings, with little to no variety.
Cinematography lacks any contrast at all, making for a flat, listless look.
Hokey black and white "ghost's eye" view.
Unfortunately, An American Haunting is not the haunting movie-going experience it could have been. The resolution is trite, and the ending scene (book-ended with the opening scene, in present day) is quite ridiculous.
"An American Haunting" (UNRATED VERSION !!!!) -- unveils the "Events Of A True Instance" that still haunts citizens of Tennessee today in 2006. The producers and directors need full standing ovations for this AMAZING HORROR FILM !!!! Taking lessons from the crews that brought us "The Ring" and "The Grudge", they establish this episodic nightmare with the idea of "Less Is More". With classicly established dreary and drone settings amidst an 1800 dropback, the home creaks, the vast property becomes a main character as it's land and forests entrance us into a wicked wicked world. An UnGodly force is upon the land, the Birth of the "Bell Witch" has been unveiled. The film lacks significant color, which adds perfectly to the intense drone atmosphere. Sweeping cinematography brings us to stand on the property as pelting rain storms and shocking demon spirits appear at shocking and frightening moments of complete unexpected seconds. -- Sutherland (Father) and Sissy Spaseck (Mother) sell you on the torment they truly bear in their souls as the unrelenting torture of this family continues night after night without hesitation or pause to even catch your breathe. In particular, the torture aims at the daughter. As the torture grows worse, and the family and workers for the family witness the horrors nightly, the increasing level of ferocity clearly brings us to the scenes associated with "The Exorcist" and "The Exorcism of Emily Rose". To say the film is frightening is to say "The Exorcist" was a little uncomfortable for the kids. "An American Haunting" is acted and played to a visual brilliance. If others could learn the formula, we'd all be packing theaters again, no matter what the tickets cost. -- If you see nothing else, see this TRUE STORY !!!! (MAKE SURE YOU GET THE UNRATED VERSION !!!!) -- And make sure you have your drinks and snacks ahead of time, because the film has no down time and the torment never slows down. There is no time to get up for anything....and you won't want to.
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The movie begins with all the makings of any good horror. Scenes like running and stumbling through the woods, nightmares, etc. It soons takes you back in time to early 1800's Tennessee. The actors, period costumes and scenery are suprisingly realistic.
Sissy Spack performs like the star she as as John Bell's wife Lucy. Patriarch John Bell is played by Donald Sutherland. John's sins get him excommunicated from the church and brings a curse upon the Bell family. Shortly afterwards, angel faced daughter Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is tormented, attacked and physically abused by an unseen entity.
Based on the Bell Witch legend of Tennessee, the tale itself is haunting enough, but an unexpected twist leaves viewers in unbelievable and gut wrenching horror as we are brought back into modern times.
Not the standard horror flick but a genuine, thought provoking, shocker whose gut wrenching effects stay with you long after the movie has ended.