I recall reading a lot about The Bell Witch during my childhood. I'd squirrel away in the attic or some other secret hide-away with a couple of new comics and a reference book about ghosts or the supernatural. And I loved the Bell Witch legend. It's a terrific ghost story complete with curses, poltergeist activity and even death caused by the ghost.
That's right, the Bell Witch is the only ghost in America that has a premeditated murder rap attributed to her.
An American Haunting, though, is an average film about an above-average legend. Starring Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek and Rachel Hurd-Wood, Haunting tells the story of how the Bell family--who lived in Tennessee circa 1820--was terrorized by a poltergeist. The poltergeist targets Betsey, primarily, while it systematically disturbs and confuses the family. It appears mostly at night, while Betsey sleeps alone in her bed, and physically assaults and tortures her.
And her parents seem powerless to help.
The terror seems to end, however, when the Bell Witch causes the death of one of the film's stars. It's then the audience realizes that the Bell family haunting is really caused by some deeply rooted, psychological trauma.
An American Haunting is not a great telling of what is, truly, a great ghost story. Skip the movie, and read about the Bell Witch instead.