Horror

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.