An American Haunting – how to ruin a good story

In my research for the Bell WItch article I posted earlier today, I watched An American Haunting, a 2005 movie based on the Bell Witch story. Consider this a mini-review, and another 0 star review like A Serbian Film.  The movie has some good acting and a set-up that might have worked, but then it completely missed the point of the original story and fell back on what’s become a far too comfortable hobby horse for lazy writers.

The movie basically follows the outline of the story – John Bell cheats Kate Batts and a nasty spirit shows up to make his life miserable.  However, the movie invents a lot of facts, such as making Kate Batts out to be a known witch (she was not involved in the occult in any way) and completely removing Joshua from Betsy’s part of the tale.  It also makes Powell, who was secretly already married and basically hitting on a school girl, into a respectable man.

However, the reason the movie really bothers me is that, in the end, it makes John Bell into the monster, and it does it by falling back on the old saw of child abuse.  First and foremost, I do understand that child abuse is a horrible thing and inexcusable, but there is no evidence whatsoever that John Bell abused his daughter.  Further, the whole point of the Bell Witch story is that the witch is EVIL.  It’s a nasty, evil spirit harassing a family.

I have no idea why the writer of this movie felt the need to introduce the molestation angle.  It doesn’t fit with the story and worse, it completely ruins the idea of the witch being an evil spirit.  The writer committed the biggest cardinal sin of horror writing – he tried to make up an explanation for something that needed no explaining.  In doing so, he is forced to trash the entire part of the story dealing with the witch harassing Betsy for taking up with Joshua, and the writer even turns Powell, a loathsome man at best, into a somewhat heroic figure.

It’s just plain sloppy writing, trying to turn a supernatural thriller into a base human taboo.  It’s jarring and ridiculous since the story can stand perfectly well on its own without introducing unnecessary twists like this.  We don’t need to suddenly turn the father into the monster.  We have a perfectly good monster as is, and making the story about child abuse just completely derails the whole story.

I’m glad the movie flopped and I sincerely hope the author of this horrible movie never finds work again.


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