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An American Haunting
Directed by Courtney Solomon
Produced by Christopher Milburn
Andre Rouleau
Courtney Solomon
Written by Courtney Solomon
Starring Donald Sutherland
Sissy Spacek
James D'Arcy
Rachel Hurd-Wood
Music by Caine Davidson
Cinematography Adrian Biddle
Distributed by Freestyle Releasing
Release date(s) May 5, 2006
Running time 90 min
Language English
Budget $14,000,000

An American Haunting is a 2005 horror film written and directed by Courtney Solomon. It stars Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Rachel Hurd-Wood, and James D'Arcy. The film was previewed at the AFI Film Festival on November 5, 2005 and was released in U.S. theaters on May 5, 2006. The film had an earlier release in the U.K. on April 14, 2006. The movie was panned by critics[1][2] and audiences[3] and performed poorly at the box office.

The film is based on the novel The Bell Witch: An American Haunting, by Brent Monahan. The events in the novel are based on the legend of the Bell Witch. The film switches from the 19th century to the 21st, and features a side story about a recently divorced mother whose daughter is going through something like the same experience as Betsy Bell.




The movie begins in present times with a young girl having a dream about being chased by something unseen through the forest and into her house. Her mother comes to wake her up and finds an old binder of letters from the 1800s, as well as an old porcelain doll. The letters are from a previous occupant of the house, warning the mother that if she is reading the letters, and noticing supernatural happenings, then the unthinkable has come to pass. The movie then switches to the 1800s, to a village that used to stand around the house, and we hear the story of the Bell Witch.

John Bell is taken to Church court, having been accused of stealing a woman's land. The church finds him guilty of charging her too much interest, but lets him go because "the loss of his good name is punishment enough". The offended woman, Kate Batts, who is infamous in the village over claims of witchcraft, tells him to enjoy his good health and the health of his family (especially his daughter's) while he can, scaring John Bell.

Soon after that, strange things start happening. John Bell sees a rabid black wolf that keeps disappearing, and his youngest daughter, Betsy, hears noises in her room, as if there was someone in it. She then starts hearing noises more frequently, and has terrible nightmares about a little girl in a red dress and an evil entity that always comes into her bedroom after everyone else is asleep.

At first, everyone thinks they're just nightmares. But then the whole family sees Betsy suspended above the floor by unseen hands, and they watch as something seems to slap her across the face. John Bell thinks that Kate Batts has cursed him.

Betsy starts to look very sick in class, and her schoolmaster, Professor Richard Powell, who has an interest in her, notices. He learns of what the Bells have been experiencing, and as an educated man he initially tries to justify the incidents with reality, and tries to convince them that what they saw was their illusion, and finally offers to stay the night at their house to dispel their fears. The haunting gets worse, and chairs, books, and people are pulled around by some entity. As they try to read from the Bible to scare it off, the Bible is thrown to the ground and the pages are ripped out, thrown into the air.

Soon the family finds blood on Betsy's dresses in the morning – it appears to be blood due to the lost of her virginity. The hauntings become more violent, and Betsy is dragged up the stairs and around the house, and the spirit even rapes her at one point. John Bell begins to get sick, and he starts seeing ghosts as well. The mother begs Professor Powell to marry her daughter and take her away to live with him. He says that although he is smitten with Betsy, he cannot marry her just to protect her.

John Bell begins to go insane, and goes to Kate Batts' house and asks her to kill him. She holds the pistol to his head, cocks it, and hands it back to him, saying "I didn't curse you, you cursed yourself." John stumbles into the forest, falls to his knees, holds the gun to his head, and pulls the trigger. The hammer clicks, but the gun doesn't fire, as the spirit haunting his house will not allow him to commit suicide.

There is blood on Betsy's dress again, and John Bell has become even more ill. Betsy finally has a revelation: The attacks she suffers from are caused by a being who was born out of her innocence, and the reason for them was for her to "remember". She needed to remember that the true cause of her pain was that her father has sexually abused her. Lucy, Betsy's mother, has the same revelation while sitting on the porch, as she had witnessed the assault herself. Both had apparently repressed the incident.

John Bell is coughing in bed, and we see a girl's hand pour cough medicine into a spoon and bring it to his mouth. He takes the medicine and begins to choke, and then dies. The girl who gave him the medicine is Betsy; her mother is sitting in a rocking chair watching as Betsy poisons her father. We see Betsy at her father's grave, and hear the narrator say that Betsy was never haunted from that point forward.

The story then returns to present day, where the young girl's mother has been reading the journal. As she finishes reading, her daughter comes to her telling that her father (who was divorced from her mother) had come to take her for a weekend stay with him. She sends her daughter to her ex-husband, who is waiting outside. Returning to her house, Betsy's apparition (wearing a white dress which has a blood stain at her crotch) suddenly appears in front of her and cries "Help her!" then disappears. Shocked for a couple of seconds, the mother suddenly realizes that Betsy is trying to warn her that something is amiss between her daughter and her ex-husband.

Instantly, she runs out of her house, only to catch a glimpse of her daughter's worried face as she and her father drive away in his car; it is thus implied that her father has already begun abusing her. The film ends with the mother running after the father's car.

Inconsistencies with the legend

While modern research and even some earlier accounts of the legend seem to suggest that the poltergeist only referred to itself as Kate Batts, as she may have outlived John Bell, there have never been any accounts of Betsy Bell creating the Bell Witch to protect herself.

The allegations of John Bell's sexual abuse and subsequent death are new additions to the story. The movie adds and subtracts many things from the traditional legend of the Bell Witch. For instance, the movie ends with the idea that Betsy created the Witch to protect herself from her father's abuses, while the traditional legend tells that the family still believed that the witch was Kate Batts. Though it cannot be ruled out because abuse may have been too delicate a topic during the time period, this may have been invented to explain why the poltergeist seemed to warn the other members of the Bell family.

John Bell's actual death in legend has traditionally been the fault of the poltergeist, Kate Batts or otherwise. In the film, a muddled turn of events seems to instead suggest that Betsy is responsible for John's death, and that his wife is complicit in the act.

Critical Reception

The movie was panned by critics,[4] with the review–tallying website Rotten Tomatoes reporting that few critics' reviews for the movie were positive as shown by a 12% rating.[5]


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