…and trust us, that’s saying something. We try to keep things positive on Horror Boom, and only have, say, 1 in 100 posts that tell you how crappy a movie was. There’s enough negativity on the internet already, why add to it? In this case, however, there is nothing positive to say about The Bell Witch Haunting (2013) and we also wanted to warn any horror fans away… FAR away!
This movie was so shitty, sloppy, and mind-numbingly bad that I’m having trouble writing a traditionally-structured review for it, but I’ll do my best (I’m the only one on our tiny staff that will see found-footage movies, after an unfortunate misunderstanding that involved us accidentally seeing Apollo …whatever number it was, not worth looking up) in the theater. Fortunately, we see this for free on Amazon Prime, but we have now learned our lesson with the free Prime horror movies: 9 out of 10 are terrible and free for a reason. Also, if the movie gets less than a 2 1/2 star out of 5 average rating on Amazon, don’t decide, “well what the hell, The Bay didn’t get good reviews either, I’ll give it a chance.” Listen to the (intelligent) reviews. The same goes for movies that baaaarely get an average of 3/10 stars on IMDB.
Here is what I wrote immediately after the movie on the IMDB as a review to warn people away. I haven’t written one specifically for IMDB in a while, either, but I felt it was my duty to my fellow horror fans so they didn’t waste their time.
I don’t know why I started watching this; I know if I’d seen the 3/10 rating here, I wouldn’t have bothered. The fact that EVERY cast member except one was “uncredited” would have tipped me off too, but nooooo, I had to blow off the usual IMDb check. It’s my fault because it come up on Netflix streaming as “recommended” (thanks for assuming I have sh*i taste, Netflix) and even though I vaguely recalled the title as one I was warned against by several reviewers whose opinions I trust, but I had a little time to kill and figured what the hell.
The opening minutes featured some gore (more than usual in a found footage movie with a “haunted house” theme) so maybe that got my attention. A big red flag came up with the voice-over acting by the cop who was supposed to have discovered the bodies was TERRIBLE.
Less than five minutes after that scene, the only thing keeping me watching it was my deep hatred for a certain character, (who naturally, survived the movie as a last “f-you” from the movie to me). I wanted to see her get kicked down a flight of stairs or pushed off a cliff or die brutally. This is not a good sign when it’s the only thing keeping you from turning off the movie. The character was (I think, because I swear they were barely trying) supposed to be likable, too.
Every found-footage horror cliché in the book is used. Transcription of 911 calls (even when someone on-screen is clearly seen making them and you can hear everything fine, in a couple of cases)? Check. Shaky-cam over-use? Check. There are what seemed like several 10-minute segments of someone holding the camera while they run around freaking out and all you can make out is occasionally the ground or trees. Mysterious forces throwing someone across the room? Check. Night-vision footage of people sleeping while some object moves around by itself? Check. Stupid fake jump-scares where one character sneaks up on another and makes a “scary” noise as a prank? Check.
People keep filming after any sane person would have stopped, under the circumstances; in fact, I wasn’t even sure who was filming what, supposedly, by the end. Yes, the movie actually gets worse as it goes along. It includes some of the worst make-up “effects” for a possessed character I have ever seen. Some acting so atrocious that it is (mildly) funny instead of scary… but do NOT see this movie because you think it might be entertaining on that basis. The Bell Witch Haunting is not, I repeat NOT one of those MST-3000 movies that is fun because it is so bad, and I don’t think any amount of alcohol or chemical would keep you from saying, God what a piece of shit this is! Turn it off now and let’s watch some dumb Syfy Original movie with terrible CGI monsters instead.
There is no shred of entertainment anywhere in the movie. At no point did I feel remotely scared or even mildly creeped out, nor did I care what happened to the characters (other than hoping they died horribly for being such idiots). There was no point where I was in any kind of suspense.I could see every jump scare (or what they thought passed as jump scares), or pretty much any action whatsoever coming a mile away.
“Bell Witch” (I don’t respect anyone involved in the making of the movie enough to give the complete title) is the reason people hate found-footage horror movies. It has every aspect that people who don’t like found-footage horror give when you ask them why they hate them so much: it’s such a lazy way to make a film. It’s obviously slapped together by someone who was barely trying and ad-libbed from a 5-page outline; the ‘actors’ are not good at ad-libbing (or acting). Overuse of shaky-cam. Even without shaky-cam, you can’t tell what the fuck is going on because it’s too dark or badly shot. You can defend, say, Cloverfield, or a really outstanding V/H/S franchise segment such as “Safe Haven” or “A Ride in the Park” when faced with these issues in a discussion you’re having, but TBWH is indefensible. It gives all supernatural themed found-footage horror movies a bad name. It gives all found-footage horror movies a bad name.It gives all horror movies a bad name.
DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME! Even if you watch this just to see how bad it is, you will hate yourself when it ends. I hated myself before the first hour of the movie was over. If you want to see a good paranormal found-footage movie, see “Grave Encounters”. Hell, even if you’ve seen it already, just watch it again, you’ll have a much more enjoyable time.
That was the IMDB review ole Mrs. Horror Boom here wrote. If you have any temptation to watch it because of the plot, please allow me to spoil it for you (though the movie is already spoiled and rotting). This is how much I hated it: I went back and watched it a second time (while I was not entirely sober) so I could take notes this time to try to list all the things wrong with it. Consider the following a combination of the latter and a detailed plot spoiler.
Loose plot outline: A family of four (Mom and Dad are Janette (possibly Lynn, let’s stick with Janette) and Michael, kids are Dana and Brandon) buys a house on land once owned by whoever that guy was that reported the Bell Witch Haunting. Strange things start happening and surprise surprise, Brandon and his friend Colby decide to document it.
Now for the long version. We open with footage (no opening credits except a test pattern –ooooh, maybe this is an actual documentary, truly actual found footage! That totally sold it there!– shot by “Officer Bungalon”, (through his chest-cam, labelled January 16th 2011 along with DAY ONE) who is apparently the only policeman in the country. He finds a married couple dead by the side of the road, and starts acting like he is a very delicate 16-year old who won his job in a raffle. The bodies aren’t in that bad of shape and he still retches and practically pisses himself in panic (oh: and he’s the worst actor in the movie). Even though this happens after they leave a housewarming party, no-one seems remotely upset or ever brings it up again.
Dana (the one I wanted dead) does a segment of her “fashion” webcast she calls ‘Dressing with Dana!” I’ll take this chance to point out that the parents do not look old enough to have teenage kids, and the teenage kids (especially Dana) look maybe ten years younger than the parents. We get a fake jump. Later Dana has such a severe nightmare that it probably qualifies as a night terror, what with her screaming and all, but no-one seems to give a shit.
Oh, and as a desperate attempt to at least keep horny guys watching, Dana sleeps in her bra and panties, along with her friends that come over. One of the main problems with the “plot” is that though increasingly disturbing and unexplainable things happen and are documented, it is never mentioned again (or explained). These incidents include:
During a teenage girl’s slumber party, a strange girl walks into the room from out of the closet and into camera range. One girl notices, but it’s never mentioned again.
Later at what I think is the same slumber party, the girls are listening to a CD or some dogshit music while Dana, holding the camera, lingers on a shot of her friend’s tits (“Oooh, those ruffles on your tiny top are cute, I can post this on my fashion blog”) which is kind o creepy since none of them are 18 yet, but anyway. The music stops and we/they hear a loud stage-whisper telling them, “Get oooouuuut!” This does not faze them at all, except for one smart girl who gets creeped out and decides that’s it for her, time to go home. She leaves (barely noticed by the other girls). Shortly after that, Officer Bungalon is shining a flashlight around and sees her purse. Then he sees her corpse hanging from a tree (yep, he loses his shit again).
Brandon and Colby are filming in the woods when they find a rabbit with its face ripped off and very unusually mutilated. Their reaction? “Get my picture with it!”
Brandon notices footsteps in the basement that are still wet and go right into the wall where they vanish impossibly. No cause for alarm here.
DAY SEVEN: We get a scene of a Skype call between Dana and her friend who is upset about their friend’s death (which I think everyone decides was suicide). Dana has only known the chick a week, so all she can come up with to try to comfort her grieving friend is, “Yeah, well, obviously… I don’t know what’s going on.” (Actual line). Brandon sticks his head in the background and makes “Oh, boo-hoo” sarcastic crying gestures, erasing any likeability he had. This is maybe the one death that is acknowledged.
Another night terror. Dana is soaking wet with sweat (more for the guys, there! Convenient for them to sleep in bra and panties when it’s January in Knoxville) and weeping hysterically, repeating “there’s so much blood!” never mentioned again.
Mom Janette is in the basement when she hears scratching on the basement wall and screams at the top of her lungs (same wall the invisible footprints lead to). Also worth noting at this point that at least a good 2/3 of this movie is shot on “shaky-cam” mode.
While unpacking, Janette sees that Dana’s face is scratched out of the photos (this happened while they were still in the frame) and appears distorted in another photo. This is laughed off.
Hey, all teenage girls sleep in their bra and panties in the winter!
Dad Michael is washing dishes when a significant amount of blood suddenly flies out of the drain and splashes over the majority of his shirt. He says it smells like “a dead animal”. His reaction? “I think we might need to call a plumber or somethin.”
I’d like to interject here that maybe if only one, maybe two, of the above events occurred, and if the family were all very easy-going (or on a large dose of Xanax around the clock), it might be feasible that they just blow the incident off and go back to whatever they were doing. However, so far we have a dozen–taking place in a fucking WEEK– and the movie’s maybe half in. Nope, no red flags here.
Brandon and his friend Cody, who want to get into movies or sort of have a vague idea they could make some money (Cody seems like he’s just bored and this is something to break up the monotony of living in the middle of nowhere), finally look up “Bell Witch” online. “My sister’s freaking out and been a megabitch, man,” Brandon compassionately points out. Body lights up. “This could be our movie, man! Let’s set up some camera, like, all over the house!” They do so, and no-one else in the family seems to notice or care.
One of the cameras in the living room shows a light on the lamp dimming all by itself!
While Dana and her friend are sleeping, the flat sheet is slowly lifted off the bed (not a smoothly executed effect). Dana and her girlfriend in you got it, bra and panties) then get trapped under it after it sinks back down and both start screaming and flipping out. Next day, nothing mentioned.
“Danny the Electrician” comes to check out the fuse-box outside, because clearly at this point, their biggest problem was the lamp dimming quietly. He gets electrocuted off camera when he touches it and shrieks comically. After a minute, Michael comes wandering out and tells Brandon to call 911. We never find out if he died, because the incident is NEVER BROUGHT UP AGAIN.
DAY 12! Brandon and Cody review the camera footage from inside the home and see “Something passing through the house”. Their reaction: “Let’s go get some footage in the woods again, man.” “Yeah, let’s do the viral movie!” (actual dialogue) Brandon stays home because his mom wants him to help unpack, Cody tells him, “I’m gonna get some stuff Let’s rendezvous back here tonight.” They also decide the title of their film should be “Forest Man Prophecy’!” Cody ventures out and says, “I heard a noise”. Then there’s a blur as he drops his camera; out of frame we hear snarling and ripping sounds–but no screaming.
Later, at night, the dad and Brandon go looking for him (goddamned night-vision shaky-cam). The dad and Brandon find Cody, Colby, whatever, with loops of his guys hanging out, dead.
Cut to a guy we’ve never seen before doing a ‘video tribute’ during the day on the spot he was killed (Colby’s best friend). He’s getting all tearful when something zips by and sweeps him off camera, then we see him fall down dead. This is never mentioned again*.
DAY OH FUCK IT WHO CARES:
The dad wanders around, seemingly sleepwalking. The camera captures him having a weird seizure by the outdoor pool. In a rare, unintentionally funny moment, the family dog moseys into frame and then out, looking totally bored and never even glancing at the guy. Mom can’t find him and when she looks in the bathroom, there’s blood on the mirror and in the sink. Finally, she is the first character to freak out when something upsetting and hard to explain happens. She makes the first of many, many 911 calls (even though she hasn’t searched a few areas of the house yet, or the patio). The 911 call is transcribed with FUCKING SPELLING AND GRAMMAR ERRORS. Hey you hacks, if you need to hire a professional copy editor, I’ve got over 20 years of experience over here! The cop, our good pal Officer Bungalon, is the one who finds him wandering around with some blood on his shirt. The cop re-acts to this as he would if the dad was carrying a severed head and a bloody machete–Michael (the dad) just squints at him, still acting like he’s in a trance. After the officer takes him home, Michael just sits there still spaced out. Then some sludge (which more than one person on the IMDB board for this movie was convinced was feces) starts sliding out of his mouth. The mom comes in, freaks out and makes another 911 call.
Then we get ANOTHER 911 call and transcript; it’s Jenette calling to report her daughter missing. Officer, you guessed it, Bungalon goes looking around in the woods, etc. for her. Date on his “Chest Cam” is 1-29-11 (important later in this piece, certainly wasn’t important to the director, writer (if there was one) DP, or anyone else) He is competent enough to find Dana in a drain pipe, eating a dead raccoon, blood smeared on her face, etc. Officer Bungalow is upset to see this but just takes her home. I’m surprised he bothered to take the dead raccoon away and even if she walked back in the house still eating the animal, no-one (except possible Jenette, the only character showing anything close to common sense) really re-acts.
Notice that the fact that The Bell Witch and the alleged haunting is never brought up again. When Colby and Brandon Google it half an hour into the movie, they do actually have a few facts right; I Googled it too and came up with a couple of the same things the characters did. To praise the fact that the writers looked at the Wikipedia entry is a pretty big stretch, though.
Here is where Jenette has a reaction that is realistic, yelling at hubby Michael, “We need to get the fuck out of here!” The dad calmly tells her they can’t move because he “sunk all [their] money into this house”. The mom shouts at him that it’s been 90 days! Oh really? No, it fucking hasn’t! When it’s still January and the last title card says “Day 15?” Maybe someone misread or miswrote it as 90 days when it should have been 9, since the opening scene of the house-warming party or whatever the hell it was specifically dated January 16th and the date is on 1-29… no, that still doesn’t add up. I turned on the closed-captioning, sure I missed something (such as ten weeks having gone by) but nope! 90 days. Anyway, Michael has a sudden mood swing and shouts, “WE ARE NOT! LEAVING! THIS HOUSE!” more than once. He practically chases the rest of the family around, yelling this at them.
DAY 14! Mom is quietly freaking out. Honestly, I didn’t take any notes for this section and whatever did happen was clearly not important enough to remember, or my brain tried to protect me (from losing my mind with boredom) and blacked the memory of the scene out.
DAY 15!!! Out of the blue, Janette finds the phone number of an exorcist that she was referred to. He believes her and immediately heads out to the house.
NIGHT 15!!!! The priest/exorcist/guy she called shows up fairly fast to talk to the family about whether Dana may be possessed. When he decides she is (doesn’t take long) he performs a ritual, first telling the family “At all times, keep your faith!” Addressing Dana, he starts in with, “I cast you out, unclean spirit!” Dana pukes all over the table. A strong wind starts to blow inside the house, even some leaves get blown around! Dana’s acting is terrible and so is her ‘possession make-up’. Dana rises into the air and starts roaring (of course, Brandon decides to capture all this on his camera). MORE leaves swirl and blow everywhere). She starts growling and breaks the priest’s neck. But… Dana is now missing! Guess what we get: another 911 call! This is where the movie goes downhill, even if you thought it was already atrocious.
They go into the woods to find Dana, and they find someone they refer to as “Chris” with his guts outside of his body, dead (obviously). They take this fairly calmly for some reason.
Then we get what seems like three weeks of them running around with a flashlight, accompanied with shaky footage that looks like whoever was holding the camera was having a seizure at the time. Dana shows up and beats Brandon to death with his own camera, cracking the lens, but down worry, the crack is all gone in the next scene. Dad accidentally shoots his wife Janette and weeps. At this point, you’ll start to wonder who is holding the camera documenting this (and why they’d want to film it, I don’t have a clue). Oh, and whoever IS holding the camera isn’t saying anything or cursing under their breath, their breathing doesn’t even change.
Dad tries to shoot Dana, but whatever bullshit powers the writers decided to give her at this point enable Dana to make Dad put his gun in his mouth and blow his brains out.
Here is what is supposed to be the climax of the film, which is when the movie get even worse (even though you’d think it was impossible to dig any deeper). Dana climbs into a cave with lots of flies. She flashes the light and camera around the same parts of the cave over and over for what seems like another two weeks. Eventually she sees a woman, and the lighting and make-up and just everything happening is so bad I couldn’t identify if this is supposed to be Dana or maybe a witch. Dana (or whoever it is) lunges at the camera snarling.
We get a card informing us that Dana is in an asylum now, they never did find her mom’s body, and she still has night terrors! The end. There. Now you have no reason to sit through this crap… trust me.
No end credits (you’re not fooling anyone, guys). To be fair, it’s possible everyone involved in this POS wanted to disassociate themselves from this horrible crap: Don’t blame me, I had nothing to do with this! In fact, if you check out the cast on IMDB, everyone but one character (not a major one) is uncredited. Again, could have been the cast distancing themselves, could have been the IDIOTIC decision of the film-makers to really attempt to make it look like, I don’t know, a documentary. Now, I don’t dig it when, as in The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity (at least the first one) they had the actors use their real names (again: you guys aren’t fooling anyone… or, much more disturbing, is the thought that some kids that saw those movies actually thought they were real. I’ve seen a few ‘mockumentaries’ (The Poughskeepie Tapes, The Gerber Syndrome, Megan is Missing) that were so carefully made, I could maybe see a kid watching who thinks what they are watching actually happened… if they were really drunk or high
and/or mentally impaired or naïve. I made one tweener’s day when I could tell her definitively that Megan is Missing wasn’t a documentary and in fact, fiction. However, “Movies That Should Come With Warning Labels” is another project for another day.
Oh, at some point in the last half of the movie, the family dog may or may not have been found slaughtered. Like I said, my brain decided to power down out of self-defense by watching this. I’d go back and check, but I’ve seen it twice and that’s two times too many.
Here’s the trailer for this ungodly mess of a movie. Notice the ultra-high production values and the painstakingly-crafted quality of the writing. You’d think the trailer would be enough to warn people far, far away:
Oh, and I’m aware that, in this piece, some of the names of the characters are spelled differently. I normally take more pride in my work and polish it up, but I guess the “oh, who gives a fuck” attitude of the entire movie and everyone involved in it rubbed off on me.
*I also recall at this point that though the movie is only 91 minutes long and half done, it seemed like the length of watching Casino twice in a row (to be fair, Casino goes by pretty fast for both of us, since we love it, sorry for involving the name of such a good movie in a piece about TBWH.