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In an old house in Tennessee a single mother (whose daughter has recently begun to suffer from terrible nightmares) finds a letter written by a man who lived in the very same house more than a century ago. The letter, written as a warning to any who might read it, tells of the Bell family, who began to experience inexplicable paranormal events... events that centered around an adolescent girl named Betsy Bell, who seemed to have drawn the attention of some invisible malevolent entity. Events which, much like the young girl in the present, began when the girl started to experience terrifying nightmares. As the story of the Bell family unfolds, the actions of this entity grew ever more threatening until the lives of the girl and everyone who tried to help her where threatened.
An American Haunting is a horror film directed by Courtney Solomon. The film was released in 2006 by distributor Freestyle Releasing to generally negative reviews. It stars Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D'arcy, and Rachel Hurd-Wood. The story is based on a novel by Brent Monahan titled The Bell Witch: An American Haunting, which was in turn based on the Tennessee legend of The Bell Witch.
An American Haunting contains examples of:
- Actor Allusion: Betsy's mother, Lucy Bell, is played by Sissy Spacek... who has some experience with films involving teenage girls being plagued by supernatural occurences.
- Alliterative Name: Betsy Bell and James Johnston (who is appropriately played by actor Matthew Marsh).
- Framing Device: The story of the Bell family is told through the letter left behind by Richard Powell, Betsy's future husband.
- Hell Hound: At times the Bell Witch appears as a demonic looking wolf who stalks the Bell family, and generally seeks to prevent Betsy from leaving their property.
- Parental Incest: It is revealed that John Bell repeatedly raped Betsy, events which brought about the appearance of the Bell Witch.
- Poltergeist: The initial manifestations of the Bell Witch strongly resemble that of a poltergeist, throwing objects around rooms and breaking glass. It becomes progressively more violent, and is constantly fixated on Betsy... generally only harming others when they try to get in its way.
- Stringy Haired Ghost Girl: The Bell Witch, who haunts the dreams of both Betsy and the young girl that lives in her house in the present.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is an adaptation of an adaptation of a piece of 18th century folklore, and consequently departs from the original legend in several instances.