Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Cursed: The Bell Witch--Travesty...I mean...Episode Two

Okay, folks. Anyone who follows me on Twitter witnessed some of my outrage last night at this latest attempt by A&E to Hollywood their show Cursed: The Bell Witch. So today, let's break down the episode and discuss something that may have actually redeemed this show just a little bit.

A very little. 

First off, let's establish a foundation at the beginning. If you're going to produce a show that purports to investigate actual, documented events, it behooves you to KNOW THE SOURCE MATERIAL. If at any time John Ceallach and the producers of the show could have read any of the published works based on the recollections of the Bell family who were actually victims of the haunting and eliminated all this bogus rumor-mongering that so far has been the basis of the show and could therefore avoid the heinous and borderline stupid mistakes they've made so far. This leads me to question the authenticity of the show from the get go, especially when you compare John's last name, Ceallach, to the Gaelic word cailleach. Why is that important, you ask?

Cailleach is the Gaelic word for WITCH.

Uh huh. Exactly. 

Anyone who had read the source material would be aware that John Bell died BEFORE Cate Batts, thereby nullifying any idea that he'd knocked her up and killed her. Anyone who had read the source material would be aware that John Bell's excommunication from the church was based on a spurious usury charge, but that everyone in the community was well aware that the notoriety of the haunting and the subsequent effects on the area had been responsible for the action--a community-based effort to protect themselves from the demon infesting the Bell farm. Anyone who read the source material would have known that Mrs. Batts' name was Cate, and the witch's Kate was spelled differently to differentiate between the two. Anyone who read the source material would have known that Cate Batts was an eccentric woman, looked upon with suspicion for succeeding in her disabled husband's role, but that she was respected, at the very least, by the people in the area. 

And, of course, anyone who read the source material would have read the statements of John Bell Jr., where the entity specifically says "I will not haunt or curse your descendants."

Poof. There goes the premise of the show. 

So, what did this week offer us? First off, two cops in the woods around Adams were more than a public nuisance--they were a positive danger, whipping out their handguns and panicking every time they heard a rabbit or possum in the woods. They're lucky some poor hunter didn't get blasted out of their absolute ignorance of what lives in the woods. Do they not have woods in Mississippi where there's wildlife? Cause if every little crackle of leaves around them makes them leap to the conclusion that the witch is around, then they're really, really, REALLY stupid. 

In fact, wood seems to offer a particular terror for these guys. First, there's the scary tree that's "as cold as a coca-cola right out of the ice chest". (How many nights did Chad sit up, plotting a way to use that line? He must have loved it since he's used variants of it twice.) Then there's the four by four that falls out of a barn when one of those scary noises in the woods causes our two intrepid officers of the law to whip out their handguns and charge after the witch. And then, the itty bitty little tree that falls gently onto the top of the house. 

If not the witch, the spirits of the forest definitely have it in for you dude. 

Then, of course, was the visit to Tish the Witch. Ah, Tish! After confirming that the (made out of wood) corn dolly is indeed a voodoo doll--because people in rural Tennessee are known to practice voodoo, right?--she proceeds to offer to burn said voodoo doll and that she's going to sage her shop as soon as they leave. 

Note to Tish--Febreze works better.

This brings up the Cate Batts-John Bell affair theory, which they then extrapolate to mean that she was carrying his illegitimate child and that he killed her and the baby to hide his shame. Of course, the fact that she was older, than the sources list her own children as already grown when the haunting commences, added to the fact that she not only fulfilled all her wifely duties, but ran the farm as well as a cottage industry of clothmaking with her slaves--without whom she was rarely if ever seen. Cate Batts was also a fervent member of the local church, and a really funny story about her at a revival is something I'll share in a later post. Any of these documented facts would have headed this bogus theory off at the pass, but our suspiciously named cop and his buddy apparently don't worry about things like that. 

This alarms me for the state of crime solving in the state of Mississippi. 

Then John and Chad head down to talk to the descendants of the Batts family, who would never have let this pair into the house if they knew how they'd been desecrating the memory of their ancestress for the past show and a half. But there, finally, the red herring they've been chasing for an interminable hour and a half comes to an end. Even Katie Bell, God love her, laughs in Chad's face when he tries to correct her knowledge of her own family and insists that Cate died before John Bell. 

And considering that--you know--the entire Bell family at the time of the haunting categorically denied the idea that Cate Batts was the source of or behind the witch, it seems like perhaps their woefully ignorant descendant has finally learned how off-base he was. So, strike her off the list. 

At this point, the audience--and the Wonder Twins--begin to be confronted with actual facts, so to cap that off, they then begin to--

Look at something else entirely unrelated. 

Are you kidding me? Seriously? So now, you're going to opine that John Bell cursed himself and his family and his own descendants? Well, if you're going to head down that road, let's bring on Pat Fitzhugh on and see what he has to say. 

But hold on a second here. The story goes that in North Carolina, before the Bells moved to Tennessee, John Bell shot his overseer John Black because of comments he made about how much he liked the oldest Bell daughter, Mary--according to Fitzhugh. And yet, on Fitzhugh's own website, on the genealogy page, the oldest Bell daughter is named Esther, not Mary, and was born in 1800. The Bells came to Robertson County, Tennessee in 1804-05. So there is no Mary Bell and if she had existed--say, for example, a child who died before the move to Tennessee, she wouldn't have been old enough for any overseer to talk smack about getting in her knickers.(And if he was talking about a child of that age, I don't blame John Bell for shooting the SOB in the gut, quite frankly, and I doubt anyone else would either) The oldest Bell child, son Jesse, was born in 1792. The oldest any mythical daughter named Mary could have been was 10-11 when the Bells left North Caroline for the frontier of Tennessee. 

By the way--Jesse is the oldest Bell son, and he lived a seemingly pleasant and prosperous life, happily married with nine children. He ultimately moved to Mississippi and passed away in 1843 in unremarkable circumstances.

Some curse. 

So yeah, after the first dose of reality in the whole damn show, they go to a Bell Witch expert who spins a completely bogus yarn about an imaginary daughter and incident that didn't even exist as far as I know--and as far as the expert's own website relates. That's just...wow. As for the Bells fleeing North Carolina because of the murder of their overseer, here again you only have to look at the source material--and Fitzhugh's website--to discover that two failed crops (1801 and 1804) were the impetus for the decision to go west. 

But here, the episode takes a turn that actually, for the first time, gives me the tiniest sliver of hope about the direction of the show. Getting a hold of the Bell family bible from Bob Bell, a bible that is contemporary with the haunting, from another Bell descendant is the first actual bit of evidence portrayed so far that I have never seen. This is so much more compelling than hanging fake voodoo dolls on a tree in the woods! Why in the HELL would anyone think that would somehow make this story more frightening or compelling? Ridiculous. But when the Bell family bible--which the actual family believes to be haunted, passes into John's hands, then finally the show starts to deliver the tiniest bit on its promise.

(But, oh Mr. Bell! You're really going to let these two keystone cops handle your two century old family heirloom bible, haunted or not? Oh geez...the antiquarian book collector in me is cringing.)

So then another Skype call home to John's son, and then--a nugget of activity that begins to give me hope. Of course, the idiots run out with their guns--because guns work soooooooooo well against the Bell Witch as we've already discussed in a previous post--and more noise in the woods has our guys acting like total idiots again. A teensy little tree is leaning against the house--conveniently against the bedroom where John sleeps. 

Maybe it's the famed Adams Bigfoot? Surely A&E can cook up a dude in a ghillie suit, right?

But then a little irregularly shaped mist floats into view on the cctv feed, and for the first time we are confronted with an anomaly that might actually be paranormal in nature. It makes sense, actually, since the history of the Bell bible is attached to bizarre supernatural events in the past and the bible is even now sitting in the cabin (in probably horrific conditions for the preservation of two century old paper and leather--someone send Mr. Bob Bell some acid-free tissue and a storage box pronto!). So now, for the first time, someone on the production staff has a GOOD idea. They call in John Zaffis, world-renowned demonologist, paranormal investigator, and haunted collector.  

Now, at last, someone with experience, relevant knowledge, and real insight is talking about the paranormal aspects of the case. No voodoo crap, no scary trees, and the deliberate mention not only of the Native American connotations of the case but also poltergeist AND demonic haunting potentials. And while the poster falling off the wall's timing if VERY convenient, I find it difficult to believe that John Zaffis would knowingly participate in any sort of hoax. I will point out, however, that the poster in question is secured with an alligator clip dangling off a nail--and it wouldn't be all that amazing for it to fall EXCEPT for the timing of that fall. So if it had happened without Zaffis there, I'd totally dismiss it. His presence, however, saves A&E from that particular scathing blog post--one that I'm sure I'll be able to use at some future conveniently timed occurrence though. 

And then we come to the stupidest question on the face of the earth. "Do you think this bible caused this curse on my family?"

What? WHAT? You REALLY think that a BIBLE can engineer a generational curse? Are you that stupid? Let's stop and think for a minute. If you believe in the concept of a curse, then you are automatically bound to assume will and intent--two specific energies that can only be propelled by a sentient being, whether human, animal, or paranormal. A BIBLE can't generate that kind of energy. It's a BOOK. It can have energy attached to it, but I'd be inclined to consider that kind of a paranormal residue, a miasma of energy siphoned off from the true paranormal event that lingers in and around the object. 

So now, the dynamic duo have added a real paranormal investigator to the hunt, and they're headed out--finally--to a site where paranormal activity is known to have occurred: the old Bell -cemetery, where John Bell, Senior is interred. And for the first time, an event that is frequent in paranormal investigations occurred and one that I have witnessed myself. The camera inexplicably stops working. There's a long history of this happening on the old Bell homestead, especially around the cave which is just a quarter of a mile away. In one particularly famous incident locally, the TV show Unsolved Mysteries came to the cave in the 1980's. They set up their camera equipment on top of the cliff and began to film as they descended the trail to the mouth of the cave. But once they got into the cave, none of the equipment worked. They went back up to the top of the trail and everything worked fine. They went down again--no film equipment. The UM crew tried unsuccessfully to film the cave for the better part of a couple of days, but finally gave up. They packed up and left and until the Ghost Adventures episode in the cave last year, no one had ever been able to record activity in the cave except for the occasional tourist or local. 

So I was so outraged last night that I didn't even bother to try to write this post. I waited until today, watched the episode again, and have written this post as the episode was running. I have to tell you--I'm in a quandry. Do I find the show entertaining? No, because all the BS and the apparent disregard of the legend and historical fact completely distracts me from viewing this show like any other paranormal based entertainment. I find myself completely incapable of buying into this man and his proclaimed concern about this curse--a curse I know for a fact was never placed in the first place, according to the Bells that lived at the time as well as the entity itself. The suspicious correlation of this man's last name and the Gaelic word for witch makes me feel STRONGLY that this is a clue that this man's entire story is BS, planned by the network so they could exploit the legend of the Bell Witch. But, in the second half of the show, there were some small moments of activity that could be paranormal, including an incident that I know for a fact many have also experienced in the same place with the camera difficulties in the old, private Bell cemetery. John Zaffis's addition to the episode counterbalances the absolutely bogus red herring of the North Carolina murder that Pat Fitzhugh related, and finally brings some authenticity to a show that, up to this point, has been, quite frankly, crap. And with the addition of a real paranormal investigator, perhaps John and Chad won't be so prone to whip out their guns. 

How they managed to shoot a whole season without one of those guys killing an innocent hunter in the woods is beyond me. I would not be surprised, however, if there were a couple of near misses--or that the guns were empty and are really props to help establish the identities of the two primary cast members. Anyone who knows even the slightest bit about the paranormal would know better than to think a gun would have any effect upon an entity or spirit. What are they going to shoot at? Mist? The wind? 

Just ridiculous. 

But I've made a decision. Halfway through the episode, I was about to chuck the whole mess and not watch anymore. But I'm going to keep watching--not because I think anything valuable will come from this fiasco, but because I'm having a hell of a good time fact-checking such a blatant fount of bullshit and letting you guys know what a veritable insult this whole production really is. And, of course, keep reading my blog series, The REAL Bell Witch Legend, for the FACTS regarding the Bells and the haunting that took place on their farm from 1817-1821 and still haunts Adams today. 

And most importantly, the cursed that was never placed on the Bells and their descendants--except for poor John Ceallach (remember--Gaelic for witch is cailleach),who's apparently colluded with A&E and invented this whole ridiculous mess for some kind of self-aggrandizement that becomes more evident with every single minute his face is on the television set. 

Stay tuned for episode three! Thank God there's football to pass the time before next Monday!