REVIEW: Mark of the Bell Witch (2020)
Folklore has provided inspiration for many horror films over the years, but documentary The Mark of the Bell Witch sheds light on a terrifying legend that hasn’t been explored as much as others. The Bell Witch originates from Southern United States, and was said to have haunted John Bell Sr. and his family in 19th century Tennessee.
These unusual and unnerving events are documented in The Mark of the Bell Witch, which was directed by Seth Breedlove. With dramatic reenactments and talking heads, the film takes a deep dive into this legend and how the Bell family were haunted for five years of their lives.
With a runtime of 1 hour 25 minutes, this documentary is incredibly in depth and aims to teach us everything we need to know about this piece of American history. Whether or not you believe it really happened is up to you, but it’s a fascinating tale nonetheless.
After John attempts to shoot the mysterious Bell Witch, it seems to want revenge on the family and at first its presence starts off small, like strange noises and knocking, but it soon advances into something a lot more terrifying. For some reason, the entity targets John’s 11-year-old daughter Elizabeth “Betsy” Bell more than anyone else in the family.
Betsy’s torment is acted brilliantly by Amy Davies, who portrays her in the film’s chilling reenactments. Despite not knowing her, it’s easy for the audience to feel a huge amount of sympathy for what happens to her and she is certainly depicted as an innocent, terrified girl who shouldn’t have faced this spirit’s wrath. It’s never fully explained why the witch chooses to target her, which makes the case even more compelling.
However, the witch, which takes the name ‘Kate’, doesn’t want Betsy to marry Joshua Gardner, and she subsequently calls off their engagement after more torment from the entity. If this isn’t stressful enough, her father John dies in ‘mysterious’ circumstances, which the witch reportedly takes full credit for.
This piece of American folklore is very intense and has a lot of layers to it, which the film attempts to uncover by asking for the opinions of local folklorists, experts, and those who are deeply fascinated with the case. While we can’t be entirely sure what happened, it’s certainly interesting listening to everyone’s opinions.
Some of the black and white reenactments feel a bit over the top, but they do succeed in showing the audience the torment this family faced at the hands of this mysterious witch, who hated John Bell and seemed to take a liking to his wife, Lucy. The film unpicks a lot of the mysteries surrounding the haunting, and encourages viewers to make up their own minds about what really happened.
Whilst The Mark of the Bell Witch isn’t your conventional horror film with jump out of your seat moments, it is eerie in the sense that this might’ve actually happened. I have been encouraged to do my own research on this case as a result of watching the film, and I think that’s a testament to how compelling this documentary is. It’s impossible to cover every little thing that happened, but there’s a lot of ground covered here to get us started at least.
Over all, this is a creepy, fascinating documentary that’s a must-watch for any fans of folklore or the paranormal. Even if you are aware of the Bell Witch case, you might enjoy seeing other people’s takes and insights into what happened over the five year period in which the Bell family were haunted.
If this film interests you, then you can also check out director Seth Breedlove’s company Small Town Monsters which documents unusual events throughout America. These have included UFOs, Bigfoot, and Mothman, among others.
Mark of the Bell Witch is available to rent or own on Amazon Instant Video, Vimeo OnDemand, DVD and VIDI Space starting December 15th 2020.