The Bell Keeper opens on a reasonably strong note for what appears to be an indie slasher. An axe-wielding figure, we’ll later find out his name is Hank (Randy Couture, Expend4bles, Antidote), dispatches a pair of victims and adds their driver’s licenses to the collection on his cabin wall. The only as to why, “You shouldn’t have rung the bell”.
This happens at Lake Bell which, as the newspaper headlines under the credits tell us, has a long and evil reputation that includes lots of brutal deaths and mysterious disappearances. So of course filmmakers Gabriel (Capri-Antoine Vaillancourt, Killer Stepmom, Never and Again), and Matthew (Mike Manning, Slapface, Days of Our Lives) want to make a documentary about it.
So they, along with their girlfriends Megan (Alexis B. Santiago, Toxin: 700 Days Left on Earth, The Convergence), Holly (Cathy Marks, Killer Date, Aquarion EVOL, Killer Date), and Liam (Reid Miller, Joe Bell, Santa Jaws) Matt’s little brother who happens to own a camper, head off to do what they should have known not to do.
If you’re wondering about the “From the Creators of Final Destination” line in The Bell Keeper’s publicity that would be Jeffrey Reddick who wrote the first film and, as on films like The Night Sitter and Til Death Do Us Part, has a producer’s credit. The Bell Keeper was actually directed by Colton Tran (Snow Falls, 8 Bodies) from a script by Joe Davison (100 Tears, As Night Falls) that was revised by Luke Genton (Sorry Charlie, The Bone Box).
The filmmakers hit all the notes you would expect for a slasher including a stop at a gas station that yields a warning from Sheriff Carlson (Chaz Bono, American Horror Story, Bury the Bride) and a run-in with Brittany (Kathleen Kenny, Beneath the Black Veil, The Secret of Sinchanee) who’s looking for one of the characters we saw die in the prologue. There’s also a cameo from Bonnie Aarons whose career started with a Counting Crows video and is currently known for playing The Nun in various Conjuring spinoffs.
But when they tempt fate by ringing an allegedly cursed bell at midnight the plot takes a major swerve. It isn’t just the equivalent of ringing Hank’s dinner bell, it also opens a portal to Hell. The Bell Keeper becomes Friday the 13th crossed with an Evil Dead hommage with some Cabin in the Woods style meta dialogue tossed in for good measure.
This is all a lot more fun than it may sound as Liam and Brittany, the only two who didn’t hear the bell, are forced to deal with their possessed friends as well as Hank, his axe, and Jackson (Daniel Dasent, Dark Cycle, Echo Base) who has an unholy connection to him. Don’t worry about how silly much of it sounds, the film moves at a fast enough pace that it doesn’t really matter.
The effects, while not overly bloody, the kills tend to be just off camera and then we see the aftermath, are primarily practical effects. CGI is used for some shots involving a spell and a couple of actual hellspawned looking demons. It’s not great but I’ve seen a lot worse. Similarly, the makeup for the possessed is pretty basic, just grease paint and contact lenses to start with and some latex added as the possession deepens. There is, however, no way not to notice Hank’s axe is a dollar store toy in several shots.
While it’s no classic, The Bell Keeper is an enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes and it’s certainly better than I was expecting after seeing Snow Falls. Grab some beer and pizza and enjoy.
Screen Media Films will release The Bell Keeper in theaters and to VOD and Digital Platforms on October 13th. It will be available on DVD on December 5th.