Review by Pat Fitzhugh of The Bell Witch Site
Transparency Notice: I am in this movie. However, I do not receive monetary compensation based on its sales.
December 20, 2020 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Tennessee farmer, John Bell, allegedly by the hand of a malevolent entity called the “Bell Witch.” The saga of Bell’s tragic death and the sinister grasp of terror that his family was forced to endure has evolved into one of America’s greatest supernatural legends.
Days before the somber anniversary of Bell’s passing, Ohio-based film company Small Town Monsters released “The Mark of the Bell Witch,” a supernatural, docu-horror movie that focuses on the Tennessee version of the legend between the years 1817 and 1821.
In early 2020, while discussing my involvement in the film with writer-director Seth Breedlove, I remarked that most Bell Witch-related shows use the same worn-out approach to tell the same old story, and that I am constantly asked whether anyone will ever “get it right.” A few months later, Small Town Monsters got it right.
“The Mark of the Bell Witch” takes a historical approach by relating the earliest stories in their original form, providing true-life reenactments that depict genuine human fear rather than thrills or frills, and placing the stories along a well-thought-out storyline that intertwines the story with expert commentary while keeping a solid pace and maintaining the logical order of events. The film is divided into well-transitioned chapters that advance the story in such a way that viewers can digest the story as it unfolds.
Small Town Monsters cemented their historical focus by allowing Bell Witch researchers and related subject-matter experts to peel back the layers of time and provide depth, context, and perspective throughout the production. This approach, which is arguably one of the film’s strongest points, helps viewers to understand not only important details and developments that have surfaced, but also how the legend came about, how it has evolved, its cultural effect on the region, and its place in American history and folklore. Many previous film interpretations have lacked value because they required researchers to simply tell the story and do nothing more. Conversely, by allowing researchers to come full circle and discuss their findings on camera, Breedlove and his crew have added significant value and validity to their production.
Of particular interest to me was the interview with African American local historian, John Baker. He is a treasure trove of information about the area’s African American history, including slave ownership and how it likely had an impact on the Bell Witch legend. All too often, certain families and groups are omitted from Bell Witch-related productions, although their stories and perspectives need to be heard. Kudos to Small Town Monsters for seeking Mr. Baker’s input and perspective in the making of this film.
It is also noteworthy that “The Mark of the Bell Witch” is unbiased. With the Bell Witch being such a controversial case, well-balanced research and interpretations are hard to find. Small Town Monsters presents the legend in a clear, open fashion, without trying to prove or disprove it. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions. Bravo!
Lauren Ashley Carter’s narrations are impactful and on point, performed with perfect timing and absent hesitation or distraction. Small Town Monsters made highly effective use of paradox in selecting Lauren as the narrator. Her voice and tone make the perfect counterpoint to the terrifying subject at hand, cutting a mark that runs deep. I was also impressed with the storytelling and historical analyses provided by Heather Moser, a classics professor and researcher at Small Town Monsters. Her research is spot-on, and she articulates her findings very well. Her professional demeanor is second to none.
The actual Spirit, played by producer Adrienne Breedlove, looked intense and downright creepy, just as how I would picture “Old Kate.” A lot of careful thought and planning obviously went into the Spirit scenes and character.
The other actors, Amy Davies (Betsy Bell), Aaron Gascon (John Bell, Jr.), Thomas Koosed (John Bell, Sr.), Grayden Nance (Drew Bell), and John Bell’s hair-do, did an awesome job as well. Their wardrobes were accurate to the period being portrayed, and their acting realistically portrayed how the Bell family likely reacted when faced with their unwelcome “visitor.”
The filming, scene compositions, still shots, audio, and overall production quality are of a class that is typically reserved for household name companies with huge budgets. One of the biggest things I noticed during onsite filming was the crew’s passion for getting the job done right; they all share a sincere interest and did everything it took to make a high-quality film. Well done.
With “The Mark of The Bell Witch,” Small Town Monsters have brewed up a perfectly blended concoction of history, folklore, expert input, and reenactments, to create what is, in my opinion, the best Bell Witch film interpretation to come along thus far.
Blues and Roots Radio, a large international broadcasting network, has ranked The Bell Witch – Let the Game Begin in their global Top Ten, debuting at #7.
Kudos to my partners in crime–Snapper Long, Jimmy Williams, and Lydia Bain–for their hard work and musicianship, and to the others for their behind-the-scenes dedication to the project.
And, special kudos to the Bell Witch for leaving us alone while we worked, at least up to the point when we shot the promo trailer video (which is another story).
Haven’t heard it yet? Give it a listen at YouTube.
Want to know more? Check out the promo trailer with behind-the-scenes footage and performer interviews, here.
For the last 25 years, the public-facing hub of my research and other Bell Witch-related activities has been the Bell Witch Web Site (www.bellwitch.org). In fact, most Bell Witch-related online resources I have created are offspring, or “extensions,” of that site.
What began as a single-page information repository on my personal “Our World” web space at CompuServe in February of 1995, morphed into a small collection of such pages on my later Geocities web space, and in four short years became a large, full-service web site with its own domain.
Since then, the site has received millions of visits and has undergone periodic updates as new information surfaced. Now it is time for the NEXT chapter.
From late 2020 until the spring of 2021, the site will undergo a full renovation. This will include a complete site rebuild and redesign on a new hosting service, optimization for mobile and tablet users as well as desktop users, the addition of updated and new Bell Witch information, tighter integration with social media platforms, and a set of new tools to make it easier for people to interact with the site.
As for the site’s name, it has called “The Bell Witch Web Site” for the last 20+ years, which is very direct and to-the-point–a good thing. But it’s also redundant. Within the context of the internet, the term “site” implies WEB site. So, the new site’s name will be simply, “The Bell Witch Site.”
All of this will occur on a new, separate site that will remain offline until all work and testing has been completed. After that, the bellwitch.org domain will be pointed to the new site. No changes will be required from your end, as the site’s URL will remain the same.
Along with the new site will come two new social media accounts (you can follow now, if you like):
- Twitter (@Bell_Witch_Site)
- Instagram (The_Bell_Witch_Site)
This is a very exciting time for bellwitch.org and its users. Stay tuned for a better, more modernized, and more engaging Bell Witch site!
Pat Fitzhugh, Author/Researcher/Website Owner
With behind-the-scenes footage + performer interviews!
WHERE LEGEND MEETS SONG
The legend of the “Bell Witch,” America’s most documented haunting, has woven a web of fear and intrigue around the world for over 200 years. The epic tale of terror on Tennessee frontier has been the subject of books, movies, and documentaries the world over.
Nashville guitarist Pat Fitzhugh, who has researched the infamous legend for over 40 years and written books about it, has teamed up with award-winning songwriter and folklore enthusiast Mike Richards to put the legend into song.
Their timely collaboration comes full circle with virtuoso fiddle player Lydia Bain and award-winning vocalist Jimmy Williams rounding out the project.
WATCH THE SONG TRAILER HERE
Don’t be left out–get the song at:
and other major retailers.
My new song, “The Bell Witch (Let the Game Begin),” is now on the Featured Artists list at Blues and Roots Radio. They have 3 main stations (Canada, US, Australia), and have affiliate stations around the world.
The song will be rotated on their “Featured Artists” show from time to time (avg. once daily), and can also be played from the Featured Artists page.
Greetings, Friends and Enemies:
A year ago today, I was relaxing after a busy last few years and contemplating much of the same for 2018. As it turned out, I was right. Although I haven’t “rested up” from the whirlwind called 2018, and probably will not for some time, I must admit that it was a great year on all fronts and I couldn’t be happier.
On the musical end, I did several key projects this past year. And more importantly, I made many new friends and contacts along the way. It is an honor and a privilege to know and work with them.
The paranormal world was busy as well, with investigations, lots of behind-the-scenes research on some alternative and new-to-me areas of the field, several special guest appearances at conventions, a handful of radio interviews, three TV appearances, a musical guest appearance with the OrbTones (a rock band composed of paranormal researchers), and some well-attended lecture and book signing events.
To those who attended any, or some, of the events listed above, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You (fans and friends) are the folks who matter, and are why I’m here and do what I do; you have my full loyalty. The paranormal activities and events are special in the same way that musical activities are special. They afford me the opportunity to meet many exciting people and make strong, lasting friendships, and offer me the privilege of being able to relate to, and learn from, those people.
Having been in the paranormal field since 1978, I have seen the field recycle, reinvent, and redefine itself many times. Interest reaches a peak every five years, and then resets in the sixth year. 2019 will be the fourth year of the current cycle. Look for more great things; not only from me, but from others as well. We are only a year away from the very top of the roller coaster. Enjoy.
Looking to the future, I first think of all the “new me” statements people make, especially on social media. Why? I mean, let’s reason together. How often does a new year—a predetermined date on a calendar—automatically and suddenly alter a person’s life and attitude? It doesn’t, except for rare cases when someone manages to keep their New Year’s resolution.
This brings me to my own New Year’s resolution for 2019, which I should be able to keep because it hasn’t changed in 40 years: “keep on keeping on, stand strong and firm in my convictions, maintain my standards of research, and don’t change a thing.” The “new me” is still the “old me.”
A couple exceptions might come into play, however. I am looking at extending my efforts and research into an area that I feel would greatly benefit from it, but as with everything else, I look before I leap. And, I am still looking. I am also pondering some new and big paranormal opportunities that have recently been offered to me. (Side note: I will not discuss them, so please don’t ask). As good as the opportunities sound, I can’t lose sight of the fact that everything usually looks good on paper, but paper often amounts to nothing more than the proverbial “sheep’s clothing.” I must evaluate the opportunities very carefully, and wisely.
But, most importantly, I would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2019!
Its history, its stories, and my spending two nights there
(a long article, so grab a pot of coffee)
On the grounds of the Bell School building and city park in Adams, Tennessee, a tiny and rustic house sits quietly, paying homage to a bygone era. For over two hundred years, her now rusty nails and withered logs have stood witness to the triumphs and tragedies of those who came before us. Some even say she holds secrets; if only those logs could talk.
Known as the “Bell log cabin,” the aging two-story house is named after the John Bell family, who moved to the area in 1804 and settled nearby. The cabin and park occupy a tiny portion of what was once John and Lucy Bell’s massive farm, where their family allegedly endured a four-year reign of terror at the hands of a malevolent entity known as the “Bell Witch.”