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American Haunting [Import]

Donald Sutherland , Sissy Spacek , Courtney Solomon    Unrated   DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A criminally underrated horror masterpiece July 30 2008
By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
There are many things in this world I will never understand, and one of them is how this movie's ratings can be so low. Simply put, An American Haunting is the best haunted house movie I have ever seen. I have to admit I did not like or approve of the way the story ended, and the modern-day intro and exit scenes were wholly unnecessary, but everything in between is pure haunted gold. I have to believe that some viewers' dissatisfaction comes from knowing what happens before they see the movie, as even the editorial review on this page reveals one of the film's core secrets. As much as I disapprove of its existence, that particular secret (which bears the unmistakable fingerprints of sleazy Hollywood) plays out beautifully in the film's presentation. Cut out the modern-day cinematic bookends, and this film has one of the most impressive scripts I've come across in some time. The much-ballyhooed cast play up to their potential and then some, the direction is flawless, and the special effects (including the POV scenes that some viewers ridicule) are, to my mind, incredibly effective. I absolutely love An American Haunting.

Basing itself on the only documented case in US history of a spirit causing someone's death, An American Haunting basically markets itself. Don't get too wrapped up in the historicity of this movie, though, as director Courtney Solomon plays fast and loose with the true story of the Bell Witch. The "based on true events" moniker is in fact quite disingenuous, as this movie is really based on Brent Monahan's purely fictional novel The Bell Witch: An American Haunting.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a creepy ghost story based(maybe)on true events Nov. 14 2007
By falcon
An American Haunting is a very well made film.it boasts solid
acting,good dialogue and is well paced. it also has some good special
effects.there is also a very haunting musical score which elevates this
movie.beyond that though this is a creepy film.there is one sequence in
particular which made my blood run cold.the movie presents a twist
toward the latter half which carries over into the final scene.An
American Haunting has the tag-line based on true events,and again what
that means is anyone's guess.if you want a film that will give you the
creeps,check this one out. 4/5
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  273 reviews
48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Certainly better than popular opinion would have you believe, but.. July 6 2006
By Review Lover - Published on Amazon.com
John Bell (Donald Sutherland), convicted of Usury, is plagued by a vengeful poltergeist who seems to focus on his beloved only daughter Betsy. All fingers point to the town witch, of whom Bell has made an enemy, but could the real culprit be someone closer to home?

The Bell Witch legend isn't something I am familiar with, so when I sat down to watch this movie, I saw simply a movie, and not an iterpretation of historical fact. In a sense, I think it's better that I knew nothing about the legend (which is, now that I've read a little about it, extremely interesting) beforehand, since I'm able to judge the movie as a movie in its own right.

And you know what? It's actually not that bad.

Performances, despite the titanic talents of Sutherland and Sissy Spacek as his wife Lucy, manage to be a little mundane - not bad, just not particularly memorable. The dialogue is pretty stop-startish, too: some sentences are so pretentious as to be nauseating, but for the most part, it's not too bad.

Direction and cinematography are hugely effective: Courtney Solomon and Adrian Biddle make a formidable team, and in one hugely important area, "An American Haunting" succeeds where 99% of all modern American horror movies fail miserably: visually, it's very engaging, very stylish and very satisfying to look at. THANKFULLY, special effects are kept to a bare minimum and the fear factor is magnified because of this - the suggestiveness of the visuals creates more fear than the actual onscreen events.

The audio is excellent, too, and it's very refreshing to find a movie that uses sound effects in such a complimentary way.

So with pretty average performances, an extremely interesting premise and some beautiful and accomplished direction and audio-visuals, why does "An American Haunting" only receive three stars? The problem here is the pacing: this is a very short movie (under ninety minutes) and, because of this insane brevity, we can't form much of an attachment to any of the characters. The action comes thick and fast, but when we don't really know the characters of John Bell, Betsy or Lucy, we can't help but not feel much for their misfortunes. Comparable movies of recent years would be "The Sixth Sense" and "The Others" - but the slow pace of those movies, as well as stronger scripting, helped us to form a real attachment to the characters therein - which is definitely a problem with "An American Haunting".

Still, it's a great-looking, great-sounding film that is, in places, very engaging. It's definitely a recommendation for rental, but not for purchase: once is enough, you'd be better off researching the actual legend if you want some powerful scares.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stylish Shivvers/Shakey History Oct. 31 2006
By William R. Hancock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
"An American Haunting" is a film that can be evaluated to two levels; one, as a movie...an exercise in visual storytelling...with a beginning, a middle, and an end...and with rationales and explanations for what transpires in the course of its storyline; and , secondly, as a recounting of an historical event, with the evaluation being on how close to the known facts and "truths" of that event the movie story adheres to.

As a movie, "An American Haunting" (based on a NOVEL; Brent Monahan's "The Bell Witch-An American Haunting") works rather well. Exquisitely photographed in Romania (doubling for early 18th century Tennessee) by Adrian Biddle, the film is replete with stunning tracking(some of this in the frenetic style of "The Evil Dead")and pan work, and some steadicam revolving shots that are nothing short of marvelous. The lighting is sumptuously atmospheric and all the other technical contributions, from editing, sound, sound effects,special effects, etc., are first rate. It has been said by some that this film has a lot of the look and feel of "Sleepy Hollow", and I must concur there
and state that this says a lot for "Haunting", since "Sleepy Hollow's" cinematic structure was superb.

The acting performances in this film are superb as well. Donald Sutherland is terrific as the breaking-down-by-the-day John Bell, Sissy Spacek grounds it all stoically as mother Lucy, and Rachel Hurd-Wood is excellent as the put-upon by "something" Betsy Bell, the primary focus of the action. All other cast members deliver solidly in their own roles as well.

The movie story is told in flashback as a modern mother, a Bell descendant, reads over a old manuscript that retells the story of the 1817-1820 poltergeist manifestation. The tale takes us back to when prosperous Tennessee farmer John Bell is taken to a church-council court over usury and swindling by a local woman, Kate Batts, who has a reputation for...maybe...being a witch of sorts. Bell is acquited of the land swindle charges, but judged guilty and reprimanded over the usury.
Kate Batts is not satisfied with this outcome and lays a curse upon he and his household. Or so she says.

Subsequently things start going weird and wild for the Bell family, with attacks by an invisible entity on daughter Betsy, the predations of a mysterious black wolf, and a string of telekinetic terrors on the family in general. The story line depicts the breakdown and death of John Bell (they have a "reason" for it...and a depiction of it...both taken from Monahan's novel rather than real-life) and the subsequent "lifting" (seemingly) of the curse. It then jumps back into the present and ends with the suspicion of a new "Kate" flare-up beginning...for the same reason the screenplay alledges/insinuates for the original incidents.
The storyline goes full circle and ends on as threatening a note as it began with. Overall, a well-told tale. A nice, shivvery fright-fest, full of chills and free of over-the-top gratuitous blood and guts. And quite recommended by this reviewer.

But how close to the truth of the real-life incident is the movie story?
The answer? SOMEWHAT. The time period is right, the setting is right,the costuming and weaponry, and the OVERALL accounting of events as well...although considerably "time-compressed" to keep the flow of the story going. The stuff that is not true is the "Church-Court" hearing at the beginning wherein Bell was "cursed" by Batts(no such thing happened, Bell and Batts just had a long-standing fued over a business transaction...Kate Batts's name got dragged into the issue when the poltergeist started calling itself "Kate").

The black wolf is a fiction, as is the chase through the woods in the coach, the coachwreck, and the flight through the woods on horseback with the wolf in pursuit. (In fact, the "wolf" element is a spin on the first recorded incident OF the Bell Witch Infestation...wherein John Bell was walking through his cornfield one day and saw something "with the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit" that he shot at to no avail). In the novel and movie script, something with the body of a dog and head of a rabbit would look ludicrous, so this mystery varmint got "transformed" into a black wolf instead. The little-girl phantom is a "cook-up" as well. And nowhere in this film are the little boys slapped and harassed, which WAS the case in real life. Betsy Bell was the PRIMARY focus of the harassment for a long time, but in real life "Kate's" animosities got quite spread around. The fact that the boys are NOT shown as being victimized in the film is because to do so would mitigate AGAINST the "reason" the filmmakers introduce later on to "explain" the manifestation.

Also a fiction (based on pure, unsupported supposition by the book's author), is the film's "true reason" for the poltergeist attack. This
rationale is extrapolated from the "American" notion of the origin of the phenomenon, which theorizes that there is a telekinetic projection from the unconscious mind of a stressed or disturbed individual...usually a pubescent female...that causes all such events. The British/European interpretation is more that stress and emotional strife (from any number of sources, including the rigors of puberty) can create energies that "low spirit entities" can utilize to manifest poltergeist activity. They base this on the fact that several notable poltergeist manifestations have involved no pubescent females whatsoever. Or anything else observably sexual in nature. Author Monahan obviously used this one theorized interpretation to "juice" his novel (somewhat with our present-day agenda concerns regarding child molestation), and the filmmakers followed suit because what works in literature with the public generally works in cinema as well...and sex ALWAYS sells.

In truth, however, in no records ANYWHERE is there anything that indicates ANY kind of "funny business" between farmer Bell and his daughter. No suggestion of such appears anywhere, not even through insinuation. This supposed "trigger" for the Bell Witch seige comes purely from the imagination of Brent Monahan and nowhere else. As a story device it works, and it works WELL...but in legalese it "assumes 'facts' not in evidence". ( It might be of interest to know, though, that while there was, as stated above, NO mention of "monkey business" between father and daughter to be found in any contemporary commentaries on this matter, the same can NOT be said about schoolmaster Richard Powell
...played in the movie by James D'Arcy. The movie plays Powell as the dashing "secret admirer" of Betsy Bell, a hero-figure who works to aid the family...and the covert object of his affections...in ridding themselves of the "Bell Curse". But some researchers of this case say that depiction may not be accurate at all; that there was plenty of talk that Master Powell, much older than Betsy Bell, rumoured a divorced man from another state, had a "yen" for the "young stuff" and Betts was the best looker around. These researchers say, talk was, that Master Powell himself might have dabbled in the "Black Arts" far more than Kate Batts ever did, and that he possibly set this "entity" loose on the Bells to give himself a "foot in the door" with them, to make him seem more of someone they could depend on in a crisis...as John Bell was suspicious of Powell's ongoing interest in Betsy. This interpretation would suggest that Kate Batts was "framed" and Powell was the true sorcerous culprit.
In the end, in this scenario, John Bell got eliminated, Powell got Betsy, the family and community got largely hoodwinked, and Kate Batts "took the fall" for it all as a "patsy". Is this scenario anymore provable than the made-up book/movie one that makes John an incestuous child molester? No , but it at least demonstrates that there WAS another alternative possibility out there.)

Still and all, we have a good movie here and that is what ultimately matters. Enjoy it for the great acting jobs it contains, the moody sounds and scenics, the great period costuming and make-up work, and the goose bumps it provides along the way.

Recommended.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Rachel Hurd-Wood was sensational in this film! Oct. 2 2006
By Wingless Wizard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
This is the best haunted house movie that I have seen in many years, possibly even the best that I have ever seen! Most of the credit goes to lovely young British actress Rachel Hurd-Wood who was by far the star of the film. She played the part of the tormented teenage heroine perfectly. Never did a girl scream or look scared like Rachel did in An American Haunting! I will watch this DVD over and over again. This is the best horror film that I have seen in many years! Adorable Rachel has a very bright future ahead of her! She was great in Peter Pan, but she put in an even better performance here!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Truth is Stranger (and Less Satisfying) than Fiction May 5 2006
By Chris Pandolfi - Published on Amazon.com
I must have missed something in "An American Haunting"; because the story is only an interpretation of a genuine documented case, the facts are speculative at best. This means that there are many possible explanations as to the nature of this haunting. Yes, the filmmakers offered an explanation by the end of the film, but I'll be damned if I understood it. It was the kind of plot twist that left more questions than answers, and not in a way that added a delightfully playful air of mystery. It was a rushed, half-hearted attempt, as if the intention was to provide a convenient solution in order to end the movie more quickly. Obviously I don't know if this was the case, but whatever the circumstances, it was enough to turn the story into something it was most likely never meant to be: elusive and confusing.

I can't say whether or not it matters that this is based on a true story (as retold in the book by Brent Monahan). I say this because, in reality, no one has any idea how many of the facts were altered, omitted, or substituted. I have no doubt that the people behind this movie took major creative licenses, enhancing the story to make it more appealing to a mass audience. Oddly enough, this doesn't bother me too much; what does bother me is when the details are construed so badly that the end result is difficult to comprehend. I remember seeing "The Amityville Horror" (both the original and the remake) and feeling the same way I felt about "An American Haunting": it was a reinterpretation of a documented event whose details were garbled and ultimately unsatisfying.

The movie opens in present day Red River, Tennessee. A young girl wakes up screaming after having a nightmare; she was being chased through the snow and her house by an evil (yet unseen) being. Her mother is immediately at her side to comfort her, and interestingly enough, her methods work surprisingly fast. After the initial shock wears off, the mother discovers a bundle of old papers and a dirty doll with a cracked face lying by a pile of her daughter's clothes. The daughter says that she found them in the attic, and the mother sternly announces that the attic is off limits. You'd think she'd have a good reason for telling her daughter this. Actually, I'm sure she did. It would have been nice if the audience had known the reason, however.

The mother takes the bundle of papers and begins reading them. It's an old letter, written by a mother as a document to her daughter, Betsy. That's when the story shifts from present day Red River to the Red River of the year 1817, where the bulk of the movie takes place (it's enough of a bulk to render the opening and closing present day segments completely unnecessary). We meet Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood), a normal, happy young girl of eleven or twelve. She lives with her father, John (Donald Sutherland), her mother, Lucy (Sissy Spacek), and her brother, John, Jr. (Thom Fell) in a spacious plantation-type house (which, you may have guessed, is the same house the present day mother and daughter live in).

Things seem to be going smoothly for everyone ... that is, until John gets into a property dispute with Kate Batts (Gaye Brown). Apparently, he had charged her twenty percent interest for a piece of land she let him use. Twenty percent is a little too high according to church law, and as punishment, the local church officials decree that Batts will get her land back and that Bell's good name will be tarnished. But Batts isn't satisfied with this ruling; she claims that the church's punishment is nothing compared to the punishment she'll give him. She then threatens the Bell family--most notably John and Betsy--with a curse (an act that doesn't really surprise anyone due to persistent rumors that she practices witchcraft).

That's when things start to go wrong, especially for Betsy, who, over the next year or so, receives nightly assaults from an invisible but powerful entity. The sequence of events is fairly straightforward: first the bed covers magically fly off, then the door to her room closes, then she's physically manhandled (with acts ranging in severity from face slapping to being dragged to hair pulling). It becomes so severe that her nights are sleepless, resulting in her falling asleep during school lessons. Her teacher, Professor Richard Powell (James D'Arcy), shows genuine concern for her and tries to help the family. However, the fact that he's skeptical about the claim that the house is haunted doesn't help matters; he's convinced that there's a rational explanation for what Betsy is experiencing. But whatever is going on, it has to be dealt with quickly; Betsy's frightening experiences are getting the best of her, and John is getting unexplainably ill.

Things continue to get worse as the film advances. This applies not only to the characters; it applies to the story, as well. The moments of ghostly encounters are initially tense and unnerving (especially in a scene suggestive of a paranormal rape), but they eventually become repetitive and stale. None of this is helped by the fact that cliches are abundant, pretty much to the point of drowning the story. We have the musical score that goes from quiet, ghostly lullabies to screeching violin solos. We have the frightened young girl awakening from a nightmare only to be told that it was just a dream. We have the creepy, moonlight forest setting. We have the dutiful Christian reading Bible passages in an attempt to rid the house of evil. And yes, we have the malevolent ghost whose purpose is frightening (if unclear). Haven't we seen all this before? I think it's gotten to where cliches are only acceptable if the story they're used in is meant to be campy. At least then, the audience has some idea of what to expect. But it doesn't seem to be working anymore for serious films, especially when they're both serious and scary.

I suppose some credit has to be given to "An American Haunting" for creating the right atmosphere for a horror film; fog and moonlight may be overused elements, but they're still effective. However, atmosphere is not enough to warrant a serious recommendation. Something is seriously lacking from this movie, something that could have made it a cohesive and flowing narrative. Solid, less enigmatic explanations would have been very useful (this goes double for the apparition of a young girl, as seen only by Betsy as she wanders around the school playground). Maybe we need another haunting to take place; that way, novelists will have another opportunity to document the case and filmmakers will have another opportunity to adapt it. Hopefully the efforts will yield a much more satisfying story than "An American Haunting" was.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An American Mess Aug. 10 2007
By TRFB - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Terribly put together, this movie doesn't deliver in any area. The only jumps I experienced was the synchronized music with the hand-out-of-no-where-on-the-shoulder routine. I won't spoil the movie in case you do decide to rent it, just don't buy it. However, I'll tell you why I didn't like it. The direction of the movie was extremely disjointed. Most of the time you are thrown around in flashbacks, and flashforwards, that you get lost. You wonder, "Now, did that just happen? Or is it going to happen? Or is it happening?" When you wonder through the film like that, it's pretty frustrating.

The acting was great. The actors portrayed their characters very well. It's just the story AND the directing and editing.

The end of the story and the real reason why this is all happening to them is such a let down. The bad part is they don't reveal what's happening until the very, very end and by that time you have already wasted 75 minutes of an 80 minute movie!!! What a rip off.

If you like movies about hauntings and how it's linked to a story, I HIGHLY recommend "The Changeling" with George C. Scott. It's an old movie. I think in the 70's or 80's, but, it's a MUCH better film than this one. I recommend you DON'T buy this movie, but if you must see it. See it for free on cable. Don't waste your money.
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