How the Bell Witch Influenced Modern Horror

illustration of bell witch

Let’s face it, there are many famous witches around the world, but one is quite the media influencer. The Bell Witch is located around Adams, Tennessee, a town that isn’t quite as known as its massive neighbors. Like most witches, it was a legend told to explain strange happenings around the area. While being young in recordings, around 1817, the Bell Witch has allowed witches in media to become scary.

The witch herself is associated with the Bell family and their neighbor, Kate Batts. John Bell, the father, did not like Kate and she shared the same sentiment towards his family. With this, on her deathbed, Kate essentially cursed the family and stated that she would haunt them in the afterlife.

Did she really do it, though?

It is said that she did. Kate Batts may have tortured John Bell’s daughter, Betsy, for years. Betsy may have also been disturbed by the witch for many years, way longer than when the Bell family stayed at the farm. The farm gained popularity when Andrew Jackson, a former U.S. President, stayed there with troops. Honestly, most farms give that lonely and creepy vibe at night, so I can understand his hesitance to stay there again.

Bell Witch marker
Bell Witch marker, image by Brian StansberryCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Once the area gained popularity, there was no stopping it from being a one-stop tourist attraction. Anyone and everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of the Bell Witch. You can even tour it today and, yes, it has a gift shop. It has been studied by the likes of Dr. Meagan Mann, Ghost Adventures, and the Tennessee Wraith Chasers.

The movies made based on the Bell Witch

There are two main movies made from the legend, one being Bell Witch: The Movie in 2007 and the other being The Bell Witch Haunting from 2004 and again in 2013. Others include An American Haunting in 2007 and The Mark of the Bell Witch in 2021. This witch legend really does get around.

The influence of the witch also created other movie universes, one being the famous [The] Blair Witch Project, which was loosely based on the Bell Witch. From this universe of horror, there are 5 movies that have come out since 1999, the most recent in 2016.

This was closely followed by the en masse of a horror genre rediscovered: the found footage horror movie. I cannot tell you how many movies sprouted from this as even B movies had a surplus. The most popular franchise to come from it, though, is one we all know and love.

Found footage is cheap and ready to scare

When you think about the Paranormal Activity franchise, you wonder how much money it required. That answer is smaller than you think. The production alone was only $15,000 and post was a whopping $215,000. To compare, Constantine from 2005 with Keanu Reeves had a production budget of $75 million. Grease from 1978 had a production budget of $6 million.

So, found footage was easy to make, cheap to produce, and it wasn’t a highly competitive genre. The first Paranormal Activity made $193 million from the box office alone. This found footage score went on to make 7 movies total. Each time, they got a little bit better of a budget and a whole new way to scare.

The Bell Witch could never do this, from Paranormal Activity

Additionally, they made the “villain” of the movie a coven of witches. It could have been more so about demons, or they could have switched to vampires. They could have even moved to the shapeshifter trope, but they didn’t. The found footage franchise is all about witches.

The Bell Witch should really be getting some royalty checks

Because of how much found footage influenced movies, and some shows, it should be said that reality and horror have not exactly been friends in the past. If you look at older horror, it was not based on the character holding a camera. The victims of evil were typically shot in different viewing types to create tension. These weren’t influenced by the Bell Witch, obviously, but they should be notated.

Some witches will hurt you
Some witches will hurt you, image by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash

The horror genre of found footage is a new one to obsess over. The tension is brought directly by the one holding the camera or directly in front of it. It creates a style of anxiety much of the world wasn’t ready for, which is why it gained so much money. Of course, The Blair Witch Project had the extra connotation that the actors may have died, which was excellent marketing. But this wasn’t going to fool anyone a second time.

It was all influenced by the angry Kate Batts from the early 1800’s. We can thank her anger and troubles for giving us a rediscovered part of horror back.

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