Small Town Monsters Spotlights Legendary Tale with Mark of the Bell Witch

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Mark of the Bell Witch

“…Strange appearances and uncommon sounds had been seen and heard by different members of the family at times, some year or two before I knew anything about it…Even the knocking on the door, and the outer walls of the house, had been going on for some time before I knew of it.”

So goes an account written in the memoirs of Richard Williams Bell, one of the seven children born to John Bell Sr., an affluent Adams, Tennessee farmer who, two centuries ago, played host to one of the most infamous and thoroughly examined hauntings in southern American history, that of a violent, wrathful entity referred to as The Bell Witch. From 1817 to 1821 the Bell family endured one otherworldly assault after another, beginning with mysterious poltergeist-like noises, scratchings from within walls, to hideous disembodied voices, physical attacks and unexplained illnesses, culminating in the appearance of a fearsome female specter that called itself simply, "Kate Batts, witch."

Now Small Town Monsters Productions aims to deliver what may be the definitive celluloid examination of the case in The Mark of the Bell Witch. Director Seth Breedlove’s carefully delineated documentary offers an in-depth dissection of the phenomena that’s as unnerving as any horror movie, layered with dread and overflowing with a potent array of macabre visuals and a foreboding atmosphere that serves to intensify the spookiness of the subject matter. In a concise narrative, Breedlove follows the history of the Bell family as it descends into darkness, covering the recorded events from every conceivable angle, using folklorists, historians and Robertson County locals who have kept the legend alive for two-hundred years to move the eerie sequences along with stunningly sinister results. Throughout the documentary every question is raised about the origin of the happenings that plagued the Bells: Was it a shape shifting monstrosity? A cryptid? A poltergeist? Or was it all just a sophisticated hoax?

The insidious accounts relayed in the film, the movie's format and even the title itself may allow those without pre-existing knowledge of the subject matter to wrongfully assume The Mark of the Bell Witch is an ignorable, twice-removed mockumentary cousin of 1999's The Blair Witch Project or any of the innumerable paranormal-hunting shows that haunt the late hours of cable television. Yet the desire to send a shiver through audiences seems less important to the filmmakers than painting a portrait of a time that's become lost in our modern Shangri-La of technological wonders, when ordinary men and women spent their days struggling to craft civilization from the dark bowers of the world and shared their nights with sprites, real or imagined.

John Bell Sr. died in December 1820, a victim of poison, after enduring lengthy bouts of illness. Some say the Witch, who promised during the period of tormenting the family to see 'Old Jack' dead, was responsible. Others claim that the haunting never ceased and that the phantom of the Bell Witch still lurks amid the Tennessee cave that bears its name. Whether the legend is true or merely an elaborate tall tale whose roots are shrouded in the distant past will perhaps never be known, but The Mark of the Bell Witch will offer even those viewers who don’t believe in ghosts something to ponder.

I give The Mark of the Bell Witch a 3.5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. (Add a point if you have a keen interest in the paranormal.)

Grade: 
3.5 / 5.0