hauntings

Review: “The Mark of the Bell Witch” by Small Town Monsters

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.

RIP, John Bell

John Bell RIP

Pat Fitzhugh - More Ghostly Cries From Dixie

About My Upcoming Title – More Ghostly Cries From Dixie

From the murky swamps of Louisiana to the misty hills of Appalachia, the American South is enshrouded by a mystical element that rouses the senses and kindles the imagination. This mystical element has for years inspired tales of ghosts haunting old houses, creatures roaming dark forests, and headless figures waving lanterns along train tracks.

Every little town and rural community south of the Mason-Dixon, it seems, has a resident ghost and a dozen stories to tell. These stories will never go away or become outdated. They, along with the landscape of our region, are permanently etched into our human experience.

In this chilling collection of ghostly tales from the land of moonshine and magnolias, Pat Fitzhugh artfully recounts Dixie’s most terrifying legends and the disturbing history behind them.

From a ghost-infested bed and breakfast in Tennessee to a cursed Civil War battlefield in Georgia, and from a rural spook light in Arkansas to a creepy mansion in the Appalachians, More Ghostly Cries From Dixie is sure to intrigue, captivate, and fascinate readers of all persuasions. Whether you are a believer or a skeptic, you will be left wondering about–or perhaps admitting to for the first time–experiences of your own that you can’t explain.

More Ghostly Cries From Dixie follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, Ghostly Cries From Dixie, which was published in 2009. The author’s approach remains the same–to dissect the stories, research the characters and events, and compile his unique version of each story. The history behind a haunting is often more frightening than the haunting itself; the living do more harm than the dead do.

Come on a terrifying journey down the road less traveled, where ghosts, spirits, and scepters stand vigilant watch over the dismal swamps, decrepit houses, and forgotten graveyards of Dixie. But whatever you do, don’t look behind you.

More Ghostly Cries From Dixie
By Pat Fitzhugh
ISBN: 978-0-9705156-3-6
Coming in 2015!

Official Facebook page for updates, excerpts, signing and lecture information: http://www.facebook.com/MoreGhostlyCries

Fall Update

I hope everyone had a great Halloween and is enjoying this creepy fall weather.

I’ve been involved with several projects as of late, one of which is more ghost hunting and paranormal investigation. If you write books about ghosts and the paranormal, you need to live the part. Right? I’ve been to several places over the past year, most notably The Thomas House in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Why there? Why so many times? That’s because it’s one of those places where you will always be guaranteed action. I like action, lots of action. With its sordid past, the place stays active around the clock, every day. It’s also a short drive for me, the overnight room rates are cheap, the food is great, and the place makes an excellent getaway for reading, writing, or just relaxing and rebooting the old mind. It should come as no surprise that I am including The Thomas House in the sequel to Ghostly Cries From Dixie, which I am currently working on.

The sequel, still unnamed but using “MORE Ghostly Cries From Dixie” as its working title, will be released in the spring of 2015. As was the case with its predecessor, it will be a compilation of weird and ghostly tales from the South. Sound easy? Given the South’s reputation for haunted places and campfire tales, one would think it easy to find plenty stories for the book. Not so. Finding ghost stories for inclusion in a book is one the hardest projects I’ve ever worked on. The story needs to be rich enough in history to create a backdrop and backstory, yet creepy enough to be consistent with the book’s theme. Well-grounded ghost stories, especially those from the South, contain not only spooky elements, but also a strong sense of place.

During my search for bookworthy ghost stories from the South, I kept finding stories from the Natchez Trace, a footpath through the Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee wilderness back in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Apparently, some of the early travelers along the old path, who never made it home, are still wandering up and down the trail or lurking in the nearby woods after more than 200 years. There were a few Native American attacks, a couple disease scares, and a handful of natural deaths, but most of those who died on the Natchez Trace were murdered by outlaws and bandits. Money was not always the motive. Some “land pirates,” such as the Harp Brothers, killed people just for the sake of killing. They thought it was fun. The Natchez Trace is full of history, outlaw stories, and ghosts. So, guess what? In addition to the “Ghostly Cries From Dixie” sequel, I am also writing a book about the infamous ghosts and bandits of the Natchez Trace. Look for it in the summer of 2015.

Also, at some point, I will hopefully get From Turkey Creek – A Memoir and the Bell Witch update book done as well.

Later……

Radio Appearance on February 3rd

Monday, February 3rd — 8pm – 9pm Central

I’ll be discussing Memphis hauntings such as the Orpheum Theatre, the Sultana Disaster, and others, along with the Mississippi version of the Bell Witch legend, with hosts Stephen Guenther and Tanya Vandesteeg on the Expedition Unknown show at TMV Cafe Radio.

The above hauntings are discussed in Ghostly Cries From Dixie! So, if you have questions after reading the book, just listen to the show and ask them in the provided chatroom. I’ll be glad to answer–or to talk about whatever else is on your mind. You can listen LIVE at the following link:

http://www.tmvcafe.com/#!radio/c1x9v

Radio Interview on March 5th – Ghosts, Writing, All Things Paranormal

I will be a guest on “Crossing the Void” radio show on Wednesday, March 5th, from 9-11P Central / 10-Midnight Eastern. We’ll be talking about ghosts, writing, hauntings, and all things paranormal. You can listen LIVE at Hey-Z Radio (The Energy Drink for Your Soul). Here is the link:

http://www.heyzradio.com

Year-End Thoughts

It was a busy 2013, with lots of promotions, writing, editing, and new research–the usual stuff. Ok, I’ll take some of that back. I didn’t do much writing this year; instead, I chose to concentrate on editing and promotion. Promoting my current titles and platform will build a stronger base from which to release my 2014 and 2015 titles. Likewise, editing moves those titles along to completion. Yes, my eyes are on the future. With 2013 being a paradigm-shifting year for authors, publishers, and most of all, readers, it was important to reevaluate, redesign, and rebuild my author platform. The REAL “three R’s.” I hope other authors have done this, too, as times are changing.

The final edit of From Turkey Creek – A Memoir is now complete, and I’m still looking for a suitable cover. I’ve been searching the past three years and haven’t found anything that comes even close to visually capturing the “Turkey Creek experience.” But then again, that’s why I’m writing the book in the first place–it was the most unique place on earth! I’m not releasing the book until I “get it right,” which includes the front and back covers. Regarding other titles, the new and updated Bell Witch book is coming along nicely; I’ll continue writing until June, and then I’ll do the pre-edit before sending it to a REAL editor. Also, several awesome short story and research opportunities have surfaced lately, and I plan to become heavily involved with all of them.

I have finalized the list of stories that will appear in my next ghost story book, which will be similar to Ghostly Cries From Dixie.

Over the next few days, however, I’ll be in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to research another haunted location–one that’s completely INFESTED with ghosts–and I might do a little writing, as well.

Radio Interview Reminder – The “Bell Witch” Book

Monday, April 22, 8PM Central / 9PM Eastern

Author Pat Fitzhugh joins host Alex Matsuo of Paranormal Insider Radio to discuss the infamous “Bell Witch” legend of Tennessee.

Known as “America’s greatest ghost story,” the legend centers on a pioneer family that endured four years of mayhem and terror at the hands of a sinister, demon-like entity named, “Kate.” She beat the Bell children mercilessly; she argued with the clergy; she told of people’s pasts and predicted their futures; she spoke in multiple human voices, sometimes even in tongues; and she inflicted a horrendous disease upon a man, which led to his slow and grueling demise. And now, almost two hundred years later, “Kate” still remains a mystery. Theories abound, but the truth eludes us. Kate’s lingering presence is still sometimes felt in northwestern Robertson County. Pleasant dreams.

The Bell Witch is the subject of the 2006 motion picture, “An American Haunting,” starring Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland (and in which I appear, also), and the 2003 movie, “The Bell Witch Haunting,” by Willing Hearts Productions. The Bell Witch: The Full Account was released in 2000, and updated in 2003 and 2009. The book’s Thirteenth Anniversary edition, which includes new information and a complete rewrite of the original book, is due October 13, 2013. For more information, including news and progress reports, make sure to “Like” the book’s fan page on Facebook.

Paranormal Insider Radio is an outlet of the Paranormal Research Society (PRS), from A&E’s “Paranormal State” TV show. The interview will last two hours.

Listen live at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/paranormalinsider/2013/04/23/americas-greatest-ghost-story-the-bell-witch   Also, I’ll be taking questions by phone during the show. The listener call-in line will be: (347) 324-5969.