Seth Breedlove’s new documentary, The Mark of the Bell Witch covers one of the more interesting chapters in American folklore. From 1817 to 1821 the Bell family of Adams Tennessee were terrorized by a strange and malevolent entity. At first it manifested itself in strange noises and poltergeist activity. Eventually it developed a voice and told those who would listen that its name was Kate. And that it intended to kill the head of the family John Bell. After he died from a strange illness or possibly was poisoned in December of 1820 the Bell Witch slowly faded away as mysteriously as it appeared.
The Mark of the Bell Witch is the first time Breedlove has taken on a purely supernatural topic. Some of his more recent projects such as The Mothman Legacy and On the Trail of UFOs have covered possible supernatural explanations for the phenomena they covered. But the topics are still generally considered to fall into the realm of physical rather than metaphysical activity. Whether this reflects a change in his interests or just a need to find fresh topics remains to be seen.
The film opens with a bit of history about the area around Adams and what it was like when the Bell family moved there. We also get some background about the family itself. Much of that centering around whether the family was actually wealthy or just average landowners with only a few slaves. Which becomes important as one of the occurrences that preceded the entity’s arrival was a phantom black dog that menaced one of the slaves.
That was just one of the strange animals reportedly seen on the Bell homestead in the days leading up to Kate’s arrival. The Mark of the Bell Witch covers this with black and white recreations and artwork accompanied by voiceovers from experts in local history, folklore and the pastor of the local church. There is also narration and readings from contemporary accounts of the events read by Lauren Ashley Carter (Artik, Black Site). It’s interesting to hear the different, sometimes conflicting, versions of the events they tell.
Apart from the more familiar elements of the story such as the entity’s fixation on John Bell and his daughter Elizabeth, The Mark of the Bell Witch covers the experiences of other residents of the town. And the bizarre stretch of several weeks when it seemed like a family of spirits had taken up residence in the Bell house.
There’s also a fair amount about the so-called Bell Witch Cave located on what was the Bell Farm. And a mention of the gruesome fate of one of the teens who stole John and Lucy Bell’s headstones.
As far as I know, The Mark of the Bell Witch is the first documentary on the subject. There’s only been a couple of fictional films, The Curse of the Bell Witch and An American Haunting, based on the legend. Which is odd considering how well known the case is and its potential as an Amityville type franchise.
Running a fast 85 minutes, The Mark of the Bell Witch is another interesting documentary from Seth Breedlove and the Small Town Monsters team. Those into the paranormal and/or Appalachian folklore should find it fascinating. Those with an interest in general weirdness should also find it entertaining.
The Mark of the Bell Witch will be available to rent or own on Digital and DVD/Blu Ray starting December 15th, just in time for the 200th anniversary of John Bell’s death . Blu-ray and DVD copies will be available exclusively from the Small Town Monsters Shop. You can find more information on the Small Town Monsters Facebook page.