The Bell Witch Haunting DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Willing Hearts Productions
Written and directed by Ric White
2004, Region 1 (NTSC), 124 minutes, Not rated
DVD released April, 2005
Doug Moore as John Bell
Stephanie Love as Lucy Bell
Amber Bland as Betsy Bell
Hope Wade as Mary Bell
Daniel Cooperas Drew Bell
Craig Sawyer as John Bell, Jr.
Jason Jones as Jesse Bell
Haley Lovell as Ester Bell
Asa Wiggins as Richard Bell
Ric White as James Johnston
Frank Fox as Frank Miles
In 1817 Tennessee, John Bell had a small problem — a witch had taken to terrorizing his family. It was not a witch in the traditional sense — pointy hat, broomstick, sharp nose, corporeal — but a witch nonetheless.
Now, most families would seriously consider moving — in real life, anyway. And since The Bell Witch Haunting is based on factual events, one has to wonder why, exactly, the Bells suffered through four years of horror. The answer is surprisingly easy. Because they had to.
The witch was not haunting the house where the Bells lived, it was haunting the Bells. And, to make matters worse, it told them they could move if they wanted, but it would just follow them.
Haunting is the story of the four years of terror the Bell family suffered through, leading up to, and climaxing with, a murder.
There is always a part of you that disbelieves ghost stories. The skeptic in me wants to say John Bell, or a member of his family, had something to do with it; but what would be the gain? It’s not like they could sell their story to TV, or even post it on the Internet. At best, they wouldn’t get run out of town for witchcraft themselves, considering the year this took place. But so many people of the town had an experience of some sort with the witch that you have to wonder if, in fact, it really happened. After watching Haunting, I believe something happened. I imagine, as time went on, the stories got bigger, but, at the core, something strange happened in that house.
At first watch, Haunting — which clocks in at just over two hours — seemed like an excruciatingly long movie, especially for a low-budget production. So long, in fact, I turned it off. I was bored, I was falling asleep, I wasn’t scared and I was just fed up. This movie just wasn’t doing it.
Then I gave it another shot.
But instead of watching it expecting a horror movie, I watched it as a docudrama. More so, an extended version of an “Unsolved Mysteries” segment; the scares wouldn’t necessarily be there, but the story would.
The second time around, the movie was much, much better.
The Bell Witch story is a fascinating one. While Haunting fails to scare you (aside from a couple of exceptionally creepy scenes), it tells one hell of a story; and rather than coming away from the movie thinking about how parts of it scared you, you come away thinking about the whole movie and how much this family went through. How much they had to put up with, for seemingly no reason. The house wasn’t built on an Indian burial ground, nobody moved the headstones, but not the bodies, nobody died a violent death in the house — not that the viewer is made aware of, anyway. And that’s where the movie delivers the goods. There is no explainable reason on why the witch chose the Bells. That is the unknown. It’s easy to solve your haunting problem if you know the cause — most of the time, you can just move (although, apparently, nobody in Movieville knows how to call a moving company). But when you have an entity that promises to follow you around, what are you going to do then? You have two choices: shut up and like it. How much does that suck?
Also, the witch didn’t just concentrate on just the Bells, it bullied the family’s friends, as well. On numerous occasions, visitors would leave the house in fear or embarrassment, all because of the witch. While the entity made clear it would always haunt the Bells, no one was safe from its reach. And writer/director Ric White did a great job emphasizing the power and reach of the witch. There is one scene in which a person is visiting from England and the witch takes a liking to him. By liking, I mean the type of liking your older sister has for you when you scratch her favorite album. What the witch does, to show its power, is inform the visitor of what the family members are saying about him back home in England. In their voices. Understandably, the visitor doesn’t stay too long. Unfortunately, that particular moment is in the deleted scenes. Why it was cut is not known, but it really showed the reach the witch had. The fact that Haunting is based on actual events makes it all the more interesting.
The acting is solid all around. Doug Moore, as the Bell patriarch, does exceptionally well portraying a man who, while continuously beaten — both mentally and physically — manages to not become bitter. He makes his character extremely likeable and you really do feel for him because of what he is going through.
In addition to writing and directing the movie, Ric White stars as family friend James Johnson. White’s character complements John Bell nicely. As Bell’s closest friend, Johnson goes above and beyond the call of friendship as he constantly defends Bell from the naysayers and does everything he can to help find a way to drive the witch away. White’s performance is hit or miss — sometimes going a little too over the top — but the synergy between him and Moore makes up for the occasional melodrama.
Stephanie Love, as Lucy Bell, John’s wife, does a fine job as well. Like Moore, Love does a fantastic job creating a likeable character you can’t help but care about. She has a natural motherly look about her that makes you root for her to pull through this awfulness so she and her family can have a better life.
The rest of the cast is more than adequate at creating believable characters. Certainly, there are more than a few cases of overacting, but that is to be expected in lower-budgeted movies.
As a whole, Haunting is a decent movie. Unfortunately, two hours is about a half-hour too long for this movie. Some scenes just seem to drag on and on and, with some cuts and tighter editing, Haunting could have elevated itself to be a better movie — something more memorable. The problem is, because of the length (and scenes that sometimes just fell like “filler”), the impact is not what it could be.
That said, the movie is still more than watchable. There aren’t any horrific scares, but there are some creepy scenes that will get to you — one in particular if you don’t like spiders.
Video and Audio:
The DVD’s biggest weakness is the video. Presented in 16:9 anamorphic, the picture is soft, the colors are muted and there is a lot of digital compression. The night scenes are almost unwatchable on my big screen due to the murkiness of the picture. On my smaller TV, however, it’s not quite as bad, but still bad enough to be a distraction.
Haunting offers 2.0 stereo. It uses the side speakers appropriately enough (mainly during the witch’s appearances), but the lack of bass and the highs, both in loudness and in pitch, came often enough for me to keep my remote within reach.
While Haunting has only two types of special features, they are chock full of info and entertainment.
The first is 15 deleted scenes running just over 43 minutes. While it is easy to see why most scenes were cut, it is unfortunate they left out two of them.
The first is a scene that has the witch proving it was at two church sermons — which took place at the same time.
The other, as mentioned above, is the scene with the visiting Englishman and his experiences with the witch. This scene runs about 10 minutes, but cut it down to, say, a lean three minutes and, combined with the church scene, it could have shown just how much power the witch had. It is a pity these scenes were lost in the editing, as they could have easily replaced some of the longer scenes that made the cut.
The second offering on Haunting is eight documentaries that, when played all at once, are just over 45 minutes. All of the documentaries offered are informative to one degree or another, and each is worth at least one viewing. The topics range from the history of the Bell Witch (and how well the story is still known today in Tennessee and its surrounding states), to how the filmmakers used the fluctuating weather conditions to their advantage. Most of the key actors and filmmakers are interviewed, providing their input on various topics regarding the film.
It’s too bad a commentary was not offered, as Ric White is obviously very passionate about the movie and its topic; and one can only wonder what he could have offered with a scene specific commentary.
I can’t recommend a purchase because of a price that is a shade under 25 bucks, but it’s a pretty good weeknight rental. If the price were to drop under 15 bucks, snatch it up. If you are looking for scares, you should look elsewhere; but if you are looking for a decent movie on a fascinating subject, check it out. Keep in mind, Haunting is not a ghost story, but a story about a ghost.