An American Haunting
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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for An American Haunting can be found here.

No. An American Haunting is based on a novel by Brent Monahan, The Bell Witch: An American Haunting (2000), which is a fictionalized account of an actual legend from Southern U.S. folklore. The novel was adapted for the movie by Canadian film producer Courtney Solomon, who also directed the movie. A note at the end of the movie says that over 20 books about the Bell Witch have been published. The first account of the Bell story ever to be published can be found in An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch, written by M. V. Ingram in 1894. There have also been several movies about the Bell Witch, including Bell Witch Haunting (2004) and Bell Witch: The Movie (2007). A documentary, The Bell Witch Legend, was released in 2008, and Bell Witch is currently "in development" with no release date set.

The legend concerns the haunting of the Bell family in and about their home and farm near the Red River in Robertson County, Tennessee. The Bells—John Bell Sr (played by Donald Sutherland), his wife Lucy (Sissy Spacek), son John Jr (Thom Fell), and youngest daughter Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood)—were plagued by a violent poltergeist or spirit that began haunting them in 1817 and continued to haunt them for years afterward. It all started the day that John Bell Sr was out hunting and shot at a creature described as having the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit. That night, they started hearing noises outside the house, which then moved inside. The children began to complain about having their bed covers pulled from them. Voices began to accompany the spirit, who eventually became so violent that it was "seen" slapping Betsy and pulling her hair. These manifestations were witnessed by numerous, non-family individuals, including (or so it is reported) Andrew Jackson, the future president of the United States. The entity seemed to dislike one of Betsy's suitors, Joshua Gardner. When Betsy broke off their engagement, the entity turned on John Bell, who had begun experiencing episodes of facial twitching and difficulty swallowing. Bell died in December 1820. A vial of what is presumed to be poison (it killed the family cat, too) was found at his bedside and which the entity claimed to have fed him. After putting on a particularly spirited display at Bell's funeral, the entity's haunting activities subsided, although it did return to Lucy Bell to tell her that it would be back in seven years. Seven years later, it appeared to John Jr, disappearing three weeks later with the promise of returning in 107 years (1935). To this date, the manifestations of the Bell Witch have yet to be explained, but the Bell Witch is still credited as being the only case in U.S. history where a spirit caused the death of a man.

What we know about the haunting today was taken from secondhand accounts. Nobody has seen or located the supposed letters and diaries that recorded the manifestations. Searches of other official records from the era have turned up nothing. The lack of firsthand accounts and confirmed records mean that it is impossible to confirm whether this actually took place, is a hoax, or simply an urban legend.

At the beginning of the movie, it is explained that Bell made a deal with Kate Batts (Gaye Brown) in which he gave her the use of a slave and a loan of $100 in return for the right to use a plot of her land. When Batts did not repay the loan within two years, Bell seized the land. The problem was that, based on Batts' reputation as a witch, Bell charged her 20% interest. According to church canon, 20% interest was considered usury (lending money and charging the borrower interest at an exorbitant or illegally high rate). Consequently, the church court decided that ownership of the land was to be returned to Batts but that the profit drawn from the land by Bell remained with him. As for the charge of usury, the court ruled that the loss of Bell's good name was remuneration enough. Batts was not happy with the decision and, as Bell left the church, Batts confronted Bell and told him to "treasure your land, health, and happy family while you can, for I swear that dreadful darkness will fall upon you...and your precious daughter, too."

Those who have both seen the movie and read the book say that the movie closely follows the fictional story in Monahan's novel. The question then becomes: How closely does the movie/book follow the details of the original legend? Again, those who have both seen the movie and have knowledge about the legend say that the legend has been drastically altered. The movie added the explanation that the spirit entity was a poltergeist created by Betsy herself. It explains Betsy's poltergeist as due to repressed memories of her father molesting her, and it makes the final scenes look like Betsy and Lucy were in collusion with the poisoning of John Sr. In short, this movie is one of many theories about what really happened to the Bell family back in 1817.

Bell Sr has become ill. As he lay in his bed coughing, Lucy feeds him what looks like cough medicine. Within minutes, Bell is dead, and the entity created by Betsy departs. Lucy as the narrator says that the entity never bothered Betsy again and explains her belief that it was created by Betsy as a means of protecting herself. The entity then flashes forward in time to Jane (Isabelle Almgren-Doré) and Elizabeth (Susan Almgren) (the daughter and mother presented in the opening scenes). Elizabeth finishes reading Lucy's letter just as her father David (Howard Rosenstein) arrives to pick her up. Elizabeth says goodbye to her daughter, sends her off with her father, and returns inside the house. Suddenly, she has a vision of Betsy Bell and realizes that what was happening to Betsy is happening to Jane, too. Elizabeth goes running after her daughter, calling David's name.

Yes. Betsy married her schoolteacher, Professor Richard Powell (James D'Arcy), both in the movie as well as real life. The marriage took place in March of 1824, when Betsy was 18 years old and Powell was 29. They had eight children together. In some theories about what actually took place during the Bell Witch hauntings, Powell is named as the "brains" behind the entity.

Yes. First published in 1894, An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch, sometimes referred to as The Red Book because of the color of the cover in a 1971 reprint, is in the public domain. Copies of the book have been placed online on various websites, such as here and here.

The two versions differ a lot from each other. Not only were new scenes added to the unrated version, many of the plot scenes have been reintegrated elsewhere into the film or edited. While the poltergeist's first attack has been divided in the normal version, the scene is put together in the unrated version. The normal version still tries to seem to be a real story, e.g. by text overlays at the beginning and the end to make the movie seem much more authentic, the unrated version almost completely abandons this. The story's denouement at the end of the film was also edited strongly. A detailed comparison between both versions with pictures can be found here.

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