An American Haunting (2005) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Based on the true events of the only case in US History where a spirit caused the death of a man.

  • In 2006, in Red River, Tennessee, a teenager has frequent nightmares. Her mother reads an old letter from 1817 written by her ancestor, Lucy Bell. After a dispute of lands judged by the church, her husband John Bell is cursed by his opponent Kathe Batts, who has a fame of being a witch. From this moment on, an entity threatens John and her daughter Betsy Bell, attacking the girl during the nights. With the support of Betsy's school teacher Richard Powell, who tries to find rational explanations for the manifestation; her brother John Bell Jr.; and their friend James Johnston, who unsuccessfully tries to exorcize the entity from the house, the family does their best to protect Betsy in the haunted house.

  • Based on a local Tennessee folklore legend. With over 20 books written on the subject, and a town that still lives in fear of the return of the unseen spirit, the story of "An American Haunting" is terrifying. Between the years 1818-1820, the Bell Family of Red River, Tennessee was visited by an unknown presence that haunted the family and eventually ended up causing the death of one its members. Starting with small sounds around the farm, and the sighting of a a strange BLACK WOLF with piercing yellow eyes, the sounds escalated into full brutal contact with the certain family members, causing psychological and physical torment. The attacks grew in strength, with the spirit slapping, pulling, dragging, and beating the Bell's youngest daughter. The Bells searched for rational explanations and ways to rid their house of this entity, but to no avail as the spirit began to communicate with them through sounds, and eventually multiple voices that sounded like the wind. The cause of its actions could always be felt, but no being could be seen, and no explanation found- only the promise that one day it would kill one of the family members. Fearing that the haunting was caused by a local woman -branded a witch- who had put a curse upon the family as a result of a land dispute, the Bells tried desperately to find ways to get rid of the woman's curse, yet the attacks and disturbances only escalated. It was not until a manuscript of the local schoolteacher -who lived on the property during the disturbance- was found in 1998 that the horrifying and shocking answer to what caused this haunting would finally be unveiled.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • This synopsis is from the UNRATED VERSION.

    A girl (Jane Powell) (Isabelle Almgren-Doré) is running through snowy woods near her house in Boston, Massachusetts. Something unseen is chasing her. She approaches the house and tries to open a double door. It opens and she rushes in, closing it and an inner door which she latches shut. She looks around, picking up a letter opener and leaves the room. The door is forced open by the unseen force. She runs upstairs into her bedroom, bolting the door. The doorknob is rattled as the unseen tries to get in. The noise stops and there is silence. The girl cautiously approaches the door when suddenly the ghostly image of a girl (Betsy Bell) (Rachel Hurd-Wood) appears beside her. She screams and at that moment awakens from a dream, sitting up in bed in hysterics. She is comforted by her mother (Elizabeth Powell) (Susan Almgren) who tells her she had a bad dream again. She suggests a nice warm bath, which is rejected by Jane, saying maybe later. The mother tells her she must get ready to be picked up by her father (David Powell) (Howard Rosenstein) for the weekend. She acknowledges this. Elizabeth picks up some clothes from the floor, noticing a bundle of old things which she asks Jane about. Telling her mother they are from the attic, Jane is told you know the attic is off-limits. Jane apologizes and is told just dont do it again as the mother exits. Jane goes into a fetal position on her bed.

    Elizabeth goes into the study carrying the old doll and things from the attic. Pouring herself a drink from a vodka bottle, she looks painfully at a family photo that includes her, Jane and her ex-husband David. She picks up the doll (having a cracked face) and says to it I know how you feel. Picking up an envelope marked The truth of our family history, she removes the paper from it and begins reading November 1848. I had hoped no one would ever find cause to open this letter. If you have, I must assume that unexplainable or even supernatural events have begun to occur. The story of the Bell Witch has always been considered to be a tall tale. This is not so. Please read this journal with great care. Its contents may save your life. At this point a flashback shows Betsy being chased by Joshua Gardner (Howard Rosenstein) who tries to kiss her after she falls on the ground. She tells him no. The other girl, Theny Thorn (Zoe Thorne) tells him leave that young lady alone. The two girls run off together giggling. Theny asks did he try to kiss you again?

    The Bell family home is shown in winter stating Red River, Tennessee 1817. Lucy Bell (Sissy Spacek) brings in folded clothing as Betsy sits brushing her hair staring into the mirror. She tells her daughter that she should be nicer to Joshua. A woman should always keep a man on his toes, says Betsy. Isnt that what you taught me? I taught you no such thing, replies her mother. Lucy tells Betsy to lighten up on Joshua and to do her schoolwork.

    James Johnston (Matthew Marsh) and his wife arrive at a party at the Bell house. They enter into a room full of people as John Bell (Donald Sutherland) is telling a group of men about James and his experiences while drunk. He approaches them as John says speak of the devil. Theny prepares mistletoe on a stick to hang over the head of the teacher Richard Powell (James D'Arcy) so that Betsy can try to get a kiss from him. Her father John tells her it is inappropriate for a student to force her teacher into a compromising position. She insists that it is a Christmas tradition and that she is trying to learn the customs. Richard suggests a dance instead and they go off. James asks Lucy for a dance.

    Later that night Lucy is awakened by the sound of crying. Getting up, she notices John is not in bed. Lighting a candle, she goes to check on the boys, who are sound asleep. As she turns to go upstairs, John puts a hand on her shoulder, startling her. She tells him she heard noises from the roof. He tells her it comes from the attic and that it is not squirrels. This is not the first time they heard crying at night. He tells his wife you sleep so soundly, you never hear me get out of bed. She says yes I do and asks him what it was. He says its maybe the old witch trying to scare me off from the hearing tomorrow. Meanwhile something unseen opens the door to Betsys room and approaches her. Heavy breathing is heard, but Betsy appears to be asleep.

    The next day at the church a hearing is made between Kathe Batts (Gaye Brown) who some say is a witch and John Bell. The fighting is over some land which adjoins the Bell property. John tells the court he gave her $100 and the use of his slave in compensation. The judge (Vernon Dobtcheff) rules that the land is returned to Batts but the profit made from sale of the timber belongs to John. John is judged to have committed usury which is against church law (He charged her 20% on the loan). The witch turns back as they are leaving and tells John to enjoy his family, land and good health. She says a dark dread will fall upon him and especially his daughter Betsy.

    The following year John is out hunting with his son John Jr. (Thom Fell) and James. When a deer is seen running through the brush, the three men separate. Seeing a black wolf charging at him, John fires. The wolf vanishes. As John kneels he sees the wolf charging at him again, but then suddenly his son is seen standing there where the wolf was. John Jr. tells his father we got him. John asks the wolf? His son replies Wolf? We shot a deer. Come see it , father.

    That night a wolf is heard outside. John and his son go out to look for it. The wolf is seen charging toward them and both men fire at it. Lucy is awakened by the shots and gets out of bed. Betsy also goes to her window and looks out, seeing the wolf below. Closing the window, she gets back in bed and pulls the covers up just below her eyes. The sounds of a wolf are heard in the room. Suddenly the windows burst open and more growling sounds are heard and footsteps. Looking under her bed, she sees two eyes looking back and cries out. Her mother, having been called by the two younger sons, comes into her room and asks about what she heard. Betsy tells her something is in her room. Lucy says the windows are open and goes to close them. Betsy stops her, saying there is something in the room. Lucy tells her there is no one there, suggesting that it was mice. She tells her to go with her to get her brothers. As they go downstairs a shot is fired by James Jr. (who is firing at the wolf), shattering glass in the door. The door opens and the two men enter. Lucy and the children go back upstairs. A conversation between Lucy and John over the shot fired through the door is simplified by John who says it was accidental. He confesses that he is unable to get Kathe Batts out of his mind. His wife tells him there is nothing else that can be done since the church ruled on the matter. Hearing this, Betsy retires to her room and covers up. Strange noises are heard in the room.

    Next day at school Betsy is found to be asleep. Richard dismisses the class for physical activity outside and asks Betsy if she is all right. She tells him she is tired, not being able to sleep at home because of strange noises. The children play games outside and Betsy goes to the swing and begins swinging. Next a small girl appears and swings next to her. Betsy notices and the girl holds out her hand. Betsy touches the hand of the girl, which turns black and disappears. Betsy falls to the ground and is assisted by Joshua and Theny, who insist they saw no girl in the other swing. Crying, Betsy runs off. Richard observes all this from the window.

    That night John is out with his gun and lantern again when he sees the ghostly image of Betsy. It vanishes immediately and John turns back toward the house. Seeing a dark figure on the roof, John prepares to fire at it, but it disappears. Meanwhile Betsy is sleeping but is awakened as the covers are pulled down on her. She pulls the cover up again. Again the covers are pulled slowly down and Betsy pulls them up again. Suddenly the covers are violently pulled off her and she jumps up to try to leave the room. Her door closes and prevents her from going out. Heavy breathing is heard as Betsy gets back in the bed. The indentation of a body appears on the bed beside her and an attack begins. A strand of her hair is pulled out and seen on the bed next to her. Betsys screams and fighting draws her mother, father and brother into her room. Immediately the attack ends and she is comforted by her mother who tells her it was just a bad dream. Outside her room, John tells Lucy he thinks Batts may have sent a slave to terrorize them. When the lock of hair is found on the floor by Lucy, John swears he will get revenge against Batts for harming his daughter. He goes off with the gun but is coaxed out of it by Lucy.

    Next James is seen meeting with the Bell family as they sit around the table discussing Johns predicament. James tells them that reading a few Scripture passages should ward off the demon. After the reading is concluded, he leads them in a spoken prayer to cast out the demon from the house. They all join hands and repeat the prayer three times, after which James says by midnight if nothing happens they should be safe. Betsy goes to bed but is suddenly attacked again, this time more violently. She is dragged by her hair, lifted up into the air and repeatedly slapped on each cheek. Her cries draw Lucy, John, James and James Jr. who try to enter her door but are unable to. Finally the three people force open the door and witness Betsy being held in mid-air and being struck. James orders the demon to leave and it stops the attack, facing each person in the room with heavy breathing. Lucy holds and comforts her daughter.

    As James has a drink for his nerves, John tells him he saw a man on the property recently but couldnt tell who it was. James suggests maybe Richard, the teacher, who lives nearby. In bed together are seen Lucy and Betsy with the two young boys in between.

    At the school house James and John are discussing the situation with Richard, who doesnt believe in demons. The teacher tries to explain what happened with logical suggestions, which are refused by James, John and John Jr. Richard offers to come stay in the house to prove nothing will happen.

    At school the next day Betsy is seen still sleeping at her desk. When class is dismissed, Joshua tries to wake her, telling her that they have to go to the river to do what they have been planning. She tells him no, saying she doesnt feel like doing it. When he tries to pull her up, she violently pushes him away, saying to leave her alone. Everyone sees this in the room. As the students leave, Richard tells Betsy that this will pass. Sitting by a tree, Betsy is seen crying and recalling her attacks and wondering why.

    Later Betsy looks from her window and sees Joshua kissing Theny. He looks upset and turns to her bed where her journal turns pages to expose the word Remember. Remember what? she asks. She angrily throws the book aside and lies down with her doll.

    That night something is seen approaching the house, going inside past where the men are playing checkers and upstairs, passing where Richard is camped out on the floor just outside Betsys room. The door opens as Lucy reaches the top of the stairs and looks in. Betsy is seen in bed covered up. As her mother continues watching, the covers are pulled down off Betsy. She is attacked again, violently and appears to be being raped. Lucy and Richard watch with Richard holding the mother back, saying no. John asks what is happening and comes upstairs, telling Richard that he should not be witnessing this. He is knocked back and the door slammed. The door opens again and Lucy looks in to see Betsy sleeping under cover as before.

    Next John is seen in bed tended to by Lucy and Chloe (Miquel Brown), who recommends a poultice of roots that should remain until morning. Richard says he believes Betsy is tormented by violent nightmares, which the others deny, saying something evil is at work. Suddenly a cross is taken from the wall and thrown across the room. Candles and the fireplace are all extinguished as everyone panics. John Jr. calls out the demon and tells it to show itself. Richard asks if it is Betsy. James begins reading from the Bible again, trying to cast the demon out. Richard tells James to stop. Finally the Bible is taken from his hands, thrown across the room and then a number of pages torn out and flying through the air. Speaking to the demon, Richard asks if it knows the book from which James is reading. James assures him the demon knows Scripture. Richard asks if it is from the Gospel of Matthew. Scraping noises are heard. Is it from the Gospel of Mark he asks? More scraping noises. Is it a Psalm of David? More scraping, followed by a window bursting open. Lucy cries out to Richard, saying are we all imagining a nightmare now?

    John is seen getting out of bed after feeling something on his tongue. He goes to the dresser to look, getting a hand mirror from the drawer and sitting down. As he looks at his tongue, he sees welts on it and is shocked. The mirror falls to the floor and shatters. John feels of his tongue again, which is shown normal. As he looks in the mirror on the dresser, he sees the ghostly image of Betsy, which is suddenly replaced by Lucy. He tells her that he made the mess and he will clean it. Lucy begins sweeping up the broken glass. The family is then seen cleaning up after the ghostly attacks in the living room. There is a knock at the door. Lucy tells their servant Anky (Shauna Shim) to answer it. At the door is a slave from Batts, who says he is delivering something from her. She brings it inside, telling Lucy it came from Batts. Lucy refuses it, saying its something from Batts but is told it belongs to the Bells. Finally the bag is emptied out on a table and shown to be clothes. One nightgown bearing a blood stain is said to belong to Betsy while another one is said to be Johns shirt which has been missing for a year. Chloe explains that a witch may put animal blood on someones clothing which spells death. Enraged, Lucy takes the clothes and tries to put them in the fireplace. Chloe stops her, saying that will make it worse. The devil will come in.

    Next day the children are playing ball in the schoolyard as Betsy sits and watches. When Joshua kicks the ball into the forest, Betsy goes to retrieve it. As she bends to pick up the ball, the hand of the little girl appears and gets the ball. She disappears, then reappears and leaves with the ball. Betsy chases her, trying to get her to stop. All at once Betsy is back where she was before, seeing the ball and picking it up. There is a cave there and Betsy goes inside. There the little girl is kneeling beside a small pool of water. Betsy approaches on the other side of the pool. The little girl splashes water toward Betsy, who splashes back. For a moment the two girls enjoy splashing water at each other and Betsy smiles. The little girl stops, stands and comes close. When Betsy sees the girls face, it suddenly turns dark. Betsy wakes from a dream again, struggling in the bed with Theny there trying to comfort her. In the other room, John examines the nightdress with the blood on it. Angry, he throws it into the fire and swears hell kill Batts. He is stopped by Lucy, who tells him that they will find another way. She takes the gun out of his hand. Theny and Betsy hear a voice calling Betsys name. Then the spirit spins the girls around and races around the room. Theny is terrified and tries to get out the window. Candles light up and burn down completely in a seconds time. Fire roars in the fireplace.

    Richard examines Betsy, who is said to have been unconscious for thirty minutes. He asks Theny what happened. She says Betsy had a nightmare where she was fighting someone, and then she woke her up. Then she said they heard a voice. At this point Betsy sits up and screams. Richard tells her she is all right. She settles back down as if to sleep but begins convulsing. Falling out of bed, Richard holds her and tries to calm her. Her eyes roll up in her head for a moment, then she appears normal. Suddenly the window opens and closes repeatedly. The spirit goes around the room, speaking everyones name to them. Richard calls out who are you? The voice answers someone who used to be happy. John stands and cries go to hell, Kathe Batts. At this point Betsy is grabbed by her arms and dragged upstairs. All the men are knocked down and James holds Lucy, preventing her from interfering.

    Richard is seen writing his journal and his voice is heard telling the story that they didnt understand who was tormenting Betsy or why. John is seen at the church praying and asking God to take his life to end the sufferings of his family. He begins to cough up blood. Later he is seen talking to Richard, saying the Lord has forsaken him. Richard says whatever it is is also attacking John. John says he believes it is Kate Batts. He tells Richard that Chloe tried to return the profit money to Batts before but it was refused. Richard says the entity seems to only attack on the property but John says it can hear their conversation.

    The coach is loaded with Betsy sleeping inside. John Jr. and Richard drive away, hoping Betsy will be safe if she is far away. Meanwhile the spirit notices that Betsy is gone and searches the house room by room. When it realizes they have taken the girl away it follows and causes a tree to fall in the path of the coach. The horses jump over the tree but the coach flips up and over, crashing down by a tree. The men are thrown clear. Betsy is found safe by Richard, who removes her from the coach and carries her to a clearing. John Jr. is seen bringing one of the horses for them to escape on. Suddenly the black wolf attacks John Jr., who calls for them to go. Richard mounts the horse and Betsy gets on behind him and they race off, the black wolf following. After a few minutes of chase, the wolf vanishes. They continue on. The wolf is seen jumping up and knocking them off the horse. Suddenly Betsy awakes in bed with a cut seen on her cheek. She calls to her mother who wakes up and speaks. She tells her she had a horrible dream that they were sending her away. Lucy denies this, telling her daughter that she will live and not die.

    Richard and John admit that the entity can attack her anywhere and John says there is nothing they can do. Lucy talks to Richard about Betsy, suggesting he marry her. He tells her that he is twenty years her senior. Lucy admits that she and John are that way also. She encourages Richard to marry her, but he refuses, saying he cannot in good conscience marry her just to be her protector.

    Richard tells that after that things changed. The entity attacked John and left Betsy almost catatonic. Whenever John would try to help his daughter he would be attacked. Lucy is seen sitting on the front porch when the spirit approaches and sits by her, telling her she knows the truth. Lucy questions and is shown in her mind what was happening to Betsy all that time.

    John goes to the Batts farm to confront Kate. She comes out and he gives her a gun, asking her to remove the curse. She tells him she put no curse on him or his familythat he did that himself. She refuses to shoot him. He leaves, trying to shoot himself. The gun only clicks and he is unable to kill himself. He weeps.

    Betsy is reminded by the spirit of what happened that night. John raped Betsy and hid it from his wife, taking the bloody clothes and hiding them. The spirit who represents Betsy tell her to avenge herself. Lucy poisons some cough syrup which then is given to John by Betsy. He dies and later Betsy is seen viewing his grave. The young girl who represents the innocent young Betsy finally is able to leave.

    Back to the present, Elizabeth (who is a descendant of Betsy, who married Richard some years later) is told by her daughter Jane that she is leaving with her dad. As they begin leaving, Elizabeth goes inside and is confronted by the spirit of Betsy again, who tells her to help her own daughter. Realizing Jane is being molested by her father, Elizabeth runs outside and after the car as it drives away.

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