An American Haunting
This... enity... do you believe that it can read your mind?
The movie opens in present times with a young girl having a dream about being chased by something unseen through the forest and into her house. Her mother comes to wake her up and finds an old binder of letters from the 1800s, as well as an old porcelain doll. The letters are from a previous occupant of the house, warning the mother that if she is reading the letters, and noticing supernatural happenings, then the unthinkable has come to pass. The movie then switches to the 1800s, to a village that used to stand around the house, and we hear the story of the Bell Witch.
John Bell is taken to Church court, having been accused of stealing a woman's land. The church finds him guilty of charging her too much interest, but lets him go because 'the loss of his good name is punishment enough'. The offended woman, Kati Batts, who is infamous in the village over claims of witchcraft, tells him to enjoy his good health and the health of his family (especially his daughter's) while he can, scaring John Bell.
Soon after that, strange things start happening. John Bell sees a rabid black wolf that keeps disappearing, and his youngest daughter, Betsy, hears noises in her room, as if there was someone in it. She then starts hearing noises more frequently, and has terrible nightmares about a little girl in a red dress and an evil entity that always comes into her bedroom after everyone else is asleep. At first, everyone thinks they're just nightmares. But then the whole family sees Betsy suspended above the floor by unseen hands, and they watch as something seems to slap her across the face. John Bell thinks that Batts has cursed them.
Betsy starts to look very sick in class, and her schoolmaster, Professor Richard Powell, who has an interest in her, notices. He learns of what the Bells have been experiencing, and as an educated man, offers to stay the night at their house to dispel their fears. The haunting gets worse, and chairs, books, and people are pulled around by some entity. As they try to read from the Bible to scare it off, the Bible is thrown to the ground and the pages are ripped out, thrown into the air.
Soon the family finds blood on Betsy's dresses in the morning – it appears to be menstrual fluid. The hauntings become more violent, and Betsy is dragged up the stairs and around the house, and the spirit even rapes her.. John Bell begins to get sick, and he starts seeing ghosts as well. The mother begs Professor Powell to marry her daughter 'to protect her' and to take her away to live with him. He says that although he is smitten with Betsy, he cannot 'in all good conscience' marry her just to protect her.
John Bell begins to go insane, and goes to Kate Batts' house and asks her to kill him. She holds the pistol to his head, cocks it, and hands it back to him, saying "I didn't curse you, you cursed yourself." John stumbles into the forest, falls to his knees, holds the gun to his head, and pulls the trigger. The hammer clicks, but the gun doesn't fire. He re-cocks the gun, and tries again. The gun still won't fire. He realizes that the spirit haunting his house won't allow him to commit suicide.
There is blood on Betsy's dress again, and John Bell has become even more ill. Betsy finally has a revelation: The attacks she suffers from are caused by a being who was born out of her innocence –i.e. herself– and the reason for them was for her to "remember". She needed to remember that the true cause of her pain was that her father has sexually abused her. Lucy, Betsy's mother, is given the same revelation while sitting on the house's porch, as she had witnessed the assault herself. Both had apparently forgotten the incident, in order not to relive the pain it caused.
John Bell is coughing in bed, and we see a girl's hand pour cough medicine into a spoon and bring it to his mouth. He takes the medicine and begins to choke, and then dies. The girl who gave him the medicine is Betsy; her mother is sitting in a rocking chair watching as Betsy poisons her father. The two Brians make tea and toast to lighten the atmosphere. We see Betsy at her father's grave, and hear the narrator say that Betsy was never haunted from that point forward.
The story then returns to present day, where the young girl's mother has been reading the journal. As she finishes reading, her daughter comes to her telling that her father (who was divorced from her mother) had come to take her for a weekend stay with him. She sends her daughter to her ex-husband, who is waiting outside. Returning to her house, Betsy's apparition (wearing a white dress which has a blood stain at her crotch) suddenly appears in front of her and cries "Help her!" then disappears. Shocked for a couple of seconds, the mother suddenly realizes that Betsy was trying to warn her that something was amiss between her daughter and her ex-husband.
Instantly, she runs out of her house, only to catch a glimpse of her daughter's worried face as she and her father drive away in his car. It seems clear that her daughter was fearfully sure that she was in for more sexual abuse from her father. The film ends with the mother running after the father's car.
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