John Bell, who's family was haunted by the Bell Witch is depicted as the hidden true antagonist of the film An American Haunting, which is a fictional account on the ordeal.

In the film he is portrayed by Donald Sutherland, who also played President Snow

An American Haunting

Prior to the haunting John Bell made a deal with Kate Batts, who had a reputation of being a witch, in which he gave her the use of a slave and a loan of $100 in return for the right to use a plot of her land. When Batts did not repay the loan within two years, Bell seized the land. Bell charged her 20% interest. According to church canon, 20% interest was considered usury (lending money and charging the borrower interest at an exorbitant or illegally high rate). Consequently, the church court decided that ownership of the land was to be returned to Batts but that the profit drawn from the land by Bell remained with him. As for the charge of usury, the court ruled that the loss of Bell's good name was remuneration enough. Batts was not happy with the decision and, as Bell left the church, Batts confronted Bell and told him to treasure what he has for a darkness will fall upon him and his daughter Betsy.

It isn't long before strange happenings begin to occur; Betsy's becomes irritable, her behavior towards people changes, she starts looking sick and seeing the ghost of a young girl (the Bell Witch spirit). The there's the hauntings, in which the family (namely Betsy) are attacked by a poltergeist. Her young teacher, Richard Powell becomes concerned the Bell family tells him of the events going on and that they are being caused by a spirit, but he doesn't believe them. Richard stays in the Bell's home, observing Betsy's behavior to try to prove to them that it is not supernatural. He is proved wrong, when he witnesses Betsy dangling off of the floor, as if someone is holding her up by her hair.

Through it all, Betsy and Richard apparently fall in love. Eventually the spirit rapes Betsy, and John becomes sick, insane and begins seeing ghosts. John approaches Batts and asks her to kill him, but she refuses saying he cursed himself. John attempts suicide but fails.

Finally Betsy has a revelation that before these events, John raped her. Her mother remembers this as well, as she witnessed the assault, but both repressed the memory. The Bell Witch was in fact an extention of Betsy; a manifestation of Betsy's lost innocence, created from the rape to protect her. On John's sickbed, Betsy tends to him and poisons his medicine. Following John's death, Betsy was never haunted again and eventually was married to Richard.


  • The depiction of John Bell molesting his daughter is not based on historical fact, but one of many false rumors that went around during the ordeal. That particular rumor is what the movie focused on.
  • An American Haunting is based on a novel by Brent Monahan, The Bell Witch: An American Haunting , which is a fictionalized account of an actual legend from Southern U.S. folklore