One Wild Ride

October 21, 2005

This is true: Hollywood is working on a film about the Bell Witch. If you’ve never heard of it, the Bell Witch was neither a bell nor a witch but (at least according to the story) a very powerful poltergeist that harassed the Bell family in Adams, Tennessee, from 1817 to 1821. The haunting more or less ended with the death of John Bell, the family’s father, although according to the story the spirit returned a few times after that.

Was there really a spirit? That’s a matter of some debate. When I was growing up every kid I knew had some variation on what would happen to you if you went into a dark bathroom at midnight, closed the door, and turned around three times while saying, "I hate the Bell Witch". According to some you’d see her in the mirror, others said she’d appear and scratch your face, and a few believed you’d drop dead, which was a great way to get out of doing homework.

Once during a sleepover a group of us dared one kid to act out the Bell Witch ritual. He went into the bathroom, we heard him chant, and then he screamed for six whole minutes before he came out laughing at us. We all agreed it was a great joke after we’d gone home and changed our underwear.

But I digress. I worry that Hollywood is making a film about the Bell Witch because they’re going to screw it up. They’ll have a big name cast and the spirit will be a computer-generated mist with big green eyes, silver fangs, floppy ears, and a wacky Jamaican accent. It’ll be about as scary as a pair of pants draped over a chair which, admittedly, can be extremely terrifying in your dark bedroom in the middle of the night, but are not frightening at all in a movie theater, unless you happen to be sitting next to a guy who insists on taking off his pants during the previews, and even then you can still change seats.

But I digress. Also John Bell will have a series of "visions", which will just be blurry rapid-fire images of an eyeball, bubbles coming out of mud, and maggots on a piece of baloney. And it’ll be good baloney – not the stuff that’s pre-sliced and sealed in a plastic pack with a yellow back. It will be the kind of baloney that you have to ask the guy at the meat counter to slice for you – the kind that’s spelled "bologna" even though you still pronounce it "baloney".

But I digress. The blurry-image technique is something Hollywood stole from independent films. Independent films can usually be distinguished by their low budgets and the fact that they all have at least one character with bad teeth and bad hair who always wears a polyester suit and is obsessed with periwinkles. People who make independent films claim their "preserving their artistic integrity", which sometimes means they haven’t learned there’s a place for bad lighting, shaky cameras, and really, really, really bad acting, and that place is most often the cutting room floor. I’m not saying all independent films are bad. There are some great independent films. And sometimes Hollywood makes great films in spite of its efforts to strangle anything that might not appeal to everyone from the ages of five to a hundred and five, which usually produces films that everyone but Gene Shalit hates. You’ll find a lot of people both in Hollywood and making independent films who claim they’re "preserving their artistic integrity", which is a lot of baloney. Not bologna.

But I digress. The sad thing is no one makes movies whose sole purpose was to make a quick buck, films that lacked any delusions about artistic integrity but were still good (such as the original "Little Shop of Horrors"), or that were so bad they were good (such as "Re-Animator") – films that became cult classics. Here’s an odd fact about the new Bell Witch movie: it’s being filmed in Romania. A story about a poltergeist who’s called a witch is being filmed in the shadow of the castle of Vlad Dracul, who’s called a vampire even though he wasn’t – but that’s another digression. Hollywood being what it is the final film will of course be "The Bell Witch Meets Dracula". If it only loses three million dollars (which Hollywood calls "a blockbuster") it’ll be followed by a sequel, "The Bell Witch And Dracula Meet The Wolfman". And that will be followed by "The Bell Witch, Dracula, And The Wolfman Team Up To Scare Abbott And Costello." I predict it will have good chances of becoming a cult classic, at least until it’s turned into a theme park ride.

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