Tennessee

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

New Bell Witch Song Debuts at #7 on Blues & Roots Radio Chart

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.

SONG TRAILER: “The Bell Witch (Let the Game Begin)”

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.

New Single, “The Bell Witch – Let the Game Begin” to Release Sept. 16th

THE BELL WITCH – LET THE GAME BEGIN is a new musical collaboration between Bell Witch researcher and musician, Pat Fitzhugh, and award-winning songwriter and musician, Mike Richards.

Brewed with rootsy Americana rhythms, gripping fiddle passages, and ghostly overtones, The Bell Witch – Let the Game Begin is a mesmerizing concoction of ghostlore and intrigue–where legend meets song.

In addition to Fitzhugh and Richards, the project features award-winning musician and vocalist Jimmy Williams and violinist/fiddle player extraordinaire, Lydia Bain.

The single will be released to radio and SoundCloud platforms on September 16th, and to iHeart, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and other international platforms on October 1st.

A video trailer and behind-the scenes compilation video will be released in the coming weeks.

The Bell Log Cabin in Adams, Tennessee

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.”
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Guitar Donation News Article

The newspaper did a nice little write-up about the recent donation of guitars to a school music class in Brownsville. It was such an honor to be a part of this awesome project, and to help advance the appreciation and instruction of music in today’s public school systems. I am also glad that the newspaper took it seriously, as well, devoting much of an entire page to it.

newspaper modified

Book Excerpt: “From Turkey Creek – A Memoir”

As many already know, From Turkey Creek – A Memoir is a long-term work in progress. It is my childhood memoir of growing up at the most remote, fun, and wacky place in the world: Turkey Creek, in Humphreys County, Tennessee. This is a short, transitional chapter I wrote, which describes the “general stores” that dotted the countryside near Turkey Creek back in the day.

 

ON COUNTRY STORES

Nearly every dirt road out in the country had a general store. Within an eight-mile radius of Turkey Creek, there was Nolan Sulley Grocery, Thomas Freeland Grocery, George Harris Grocery, Leonard Barnes Grocery, Clyde Rose Grocery, Harold Smith Grocery, Dudley Jones Grocery, and William Covington Grocery. Usually named for their retiree owners, these rural mom-and-pop institutions were the places where good country folk met, talked politics, and engaged in long, serious talks about the lack or overabundance of rain. Women bought what they needed and left; the men stayed and gossiped.

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Frights on the Gallatin Ghost Walk

I was recently given the honor of co-hosting a special edition of the Gallatin Ghost Walk in Sumner County, Tennessee, a few miles northeast of Nashville. As Donna and Randy Lucas shared the haunted history of Gallatin’s many old buildings, I demonstrated how to use ghost investigation equipment by conducting a mini-investigation of each location we visited. The results were nothing short of amazing.

Gallatin Ghost Walk in Gallatin, TN / May 2017

Both the flashlight and the EMF meter are flashing on the window ledge of Andrew Jackson’s old law office in downtown Gallatin, TN.

Is there more information about the Gallatin Ghost Walk? What is the historical significance of Gallatin and Sumner County?

The Gallatin Ghost Walk intertwines Gallatin’s rich and diverse history with spine-tingling tales of haunts and eerie happenings. Its hosts, Donna and Randy, stroll around the Square and surrounding blocks, enlightening and enthralling their guests with spellbinding stories of old Sumner County and her illustrious former residents, many of whom still frequent the old buildings today.

Gallatin Ghost Walk in Gallatin, TN / May 2017

I had the honor of co-hosting a special edition of the Gallatin Ghost Walk back in May. As Donna and her husband–both dressed in period clothing–told the haunted history of Gallatin’s old buildings, I brought along ghost investigation equipment, explained how it us used, and conducted fast, “mini investigations” of each building we visited. The old buildings were so active that the batteries in all of my equipment died before the walk was over with. Incredible!

Eighty-six buildings in Gallatin’s Commercial Historic District were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, although some have since been torn down. Construction dates of the buildings range from the late 1790s to 1935, and their diverse architecture includes Art Deco, Classical, Victorian, and some unusual examples of Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Second Empire.

Gallatin Ghost Walk in Gallatin, TN / May 2017

The Gallatin Ghost Walk group sits and listens to Donna and Randy tell the chilling history of the old building in the background. And yes, Randy’s gun is real.

From the man who disappeared before his disbelieving family’s eyes in an open field, never to be seen again, to the 16 Confederate soldier spirits in Andrew Jackson’s old law office on Gallatin’s public square, the paranormal happenings in and around Gallatin are legion–and LEGEND!

Gallatin Ghost Walk in Gallatin, TN / May 2017

Ms. Donna telling about some of the old buildings and activity that has occurred there in recent years. Here, we are standing caddy-corner to a very old building that was once Andrew Jackson’s law office.

 

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