The Hills Have Eyes remains a staple horror film that can be rewatched multiple times, especially during the spooky season. Having developed into a franchise and having set off multiple reboots, The Hills Have Eyes have become successful in the slasher/mystery genre. The film amassed attention from the young and old alike, and the movie was so epic that it was actually banned in some countries.
The movie is set in the 1970s when a family and their dog embark on a vacation in New Mexico’s outback. Though the family is warned about unnatural disappearances and incidents in the way they are embarking, they pay no heed and move on until they skid off the road. Their trailer ends in a crash, and as they begin to explore the barren land, curious and adventurous. Or at least, until their dog is discovered dead in the bushes. Now, the family must fight to survive, as each of them is picked off by a mysterious clan residing in the mountains.
Though the movie proved to be a runaway hit, the audience soon got the shock of their lives when they discovered that the film was based on a true cannibalistic tribe. The news broke out as a rumor—that the inbred family portrayed in the movie is based on a true ‘family’—and the news sent chills up the audience’s spines. While many couldn’t comprehend that such humans existed, everyone was interested in learning more about them, nonetheless.
Story Behind Sawney Bean Clan: The Hills Have Eyes Indeed
Director Wes Craven soon confessed that he had taken inspiration from an incident he had read. It was an old Scottish legend that spoke about a clan that lived in caves and would murder and cannibalize travelers. A tribe of humans that had chosen to depart with their humanity and sunk into deplorable depths. A tribe that looked forward to sustaining themselves on human flesh, while other resources were available.
Though there are many iterations of the tale, all of them begin with the tale of Alexander Sawney Bean, the son of a ditch digger. Unlike his father, however, Alexander didn’t have any interest in digging ditches or earning a respectful living. He was described as vile, loathsome, and cruel. Soon enough, he met another person who was as deplorable as he was. A woman named Black Agnes Douglas, who is believed to have been a witch. Not having any interest in working for a living, the couple resorted to living in a cave in Bennane Head, where the incoming sea tide hid the entrance twice a day. Soon, Mr. and Mrs. Bean recruited a small gang of people who were interested in living a similar lifestyle, and the happy family began their reign of terror.
Soon enough, people started disappearing. First, by dozens, then, by hundreds. However, the incident was brought to mainstream attention after a husband and woman who were returning from a fair was attacked by what he described as a troupe humanoid demon. The frightened horse reared, and the couple tumbled over. The woman fell onto the road, while the man rolled into a thicket. From there, he could only watch with helpless terror, as his wife was instantly disemboweled. The husband, overcome with grief and shock, sat still, praying that the clan wouldn’t find him. Luckily, another group of travelers was coming in their direction, and they had more men than the cannibal clan. The Sawney Bean Clan, realizing that they would be outnumbered, fled the scene. As the travelers stopped in front of the grizzly sight, the man emerged from the bushes, weeping and recounting a terrible tale.
The lamenting man took his plea to the Chief Magistrate of Glasgow. Oddly enough, the man had been making a list of the travelers who had disappeared in the region in the past years. With the account provided by the widower, and with the travelers backing up the claims, the Magistrate felt bold enough to notify the king. The ruling Monarch, King James I, stunned by the situation and at the disappearance of such a large number of people, promptly arrived with 400 infantrymen and packs of tracker dogs to Ayrshire.
Together with the countrymen, he began a manhunt. The entire land was surveyed meticulously. At first, the king and the soldiers were perplexed. There simply wasn’t any place for humans to live. On one side, there was a plain field, and on the other, there were sharp ridges, surrounding the shore. Thankfully, they soon got a lead. The dogs got a sniff of rotting flesh in a waterlogged cave, that appeared as the tide lowered. The battalion trailed inside. The dogs led the men down a labyrinth of tunnels that were at times too narrow for an armored man to pass through. Yet, the men forced their way into the cave, with some sources mentioning the use of gunpowder in widening the narrow tunnel. As they reached further into the cave, a horrible smell started emanating from within. The smell of the dead. They soon broke out into a spacious cavern and were greeted with a terrible sight.
Mountains of dried, rotting, and fresh human remains piled up on one end of the cave, while the other was stacked with the belongings of the dead, ranging from dresses to jewelry to ammunition. The Bean clan, 48 of them, was captured and brought to Edinburgh by the King to answer for their crimes. Interestingly, they gave up without as much as a blow. The clan confessed to hundreds of murders over the decades, with some sources claiming that the true number was somewhere between one to three thousand. They also confessed to heinous acts like cannibalism, and rampant incest. Their crimes went against what the townsfolk thought was possible, and they were ordered to be stripped of their rights as human beings because the clan most certainly was not human. The king gave them the most stringent punishment he could. The men were mutilated and executed, while the women were flogged and burnt at stakes. The incident was documented and songs were sung, and stories were recounted, commemorating the event, until it reached the age of the internet.
How True Are The Legends?
Though there are verified accounts of the incident, there are many others who believe that the incident was a hoax. Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman stated that the roots of the story go back no further than the 18th century, though the incident is believed to have occurred during the 16th century. During the Jacobite risings in 1745, the rebellion of the Scots against the British led to the British painting the Scots as uncivilized beasts and monsters. They were written and portrayed as evil and barbaric, for daring to rise against the British Crown. The incident was popularized by the English press, too, leading many to speculate that the incident was fabricated at worst and misleading at best. The idea behind the story was purely propaganda based, painting the Scots as demonic, uncivilized men who are unable to rule and needs to be controlled by the civilized Brits.
Though there are believed to be some instances that could be right, for the most part, some historians believe that the story is fake and misleading. However, there are also accounts that support the story. Indeed, Edinburg tourism has benefitted greatly from the tales, and they are determined on keeping the story alive and well.
A Similar Story from The Witch Hunts
Interestingly, there are other such cases of rabid cannibalism streaked across human history. One of the best examples is the case of Peter Stumpp. Known as the “the Werewolf of Bedburg,” Peter was brought to trial in 1589, for crimes against humanity. Peter readily confessed to all his crimes, and he confessed with much pride. He claimed that he had made a pact with the devil and that he could turn into a wolf when he wanted. He confessed to more than a dozen murders, including a case that involved two pregnant women whose unborn babies he had torn out from the womb and ate panting hot and raw.
Right when the court thought the case couldn’t get worse, the man elaborated further. Peter had even eaten his own son’s brain while having an incestuous relationship with his partner-cum-daughter, Sybil. He added that he was in a relationship with a succubus (a demonic entity that takes a female form to seduce men), gifted by the devil. In an alternative account of the story, as a young man, Peter, just like Sawney, was too lazy to work and feed his young wife. Hence, he decided to hunt and feast on humans, mostly travelers. Once, while he was in the midst of a cannibalistic act, a witch arrived on the scene. As the story goes, the woman was simply delighted at the chaos Peter was capable of, and granted him the ability to turn into a wolf at will. His stint was going quite well, until one day, he was spotted lurking over the body of a child who was found dead in the woods. The man who found Peter raised a mob, and they hunted for the man-eating werewolf. Peter was finally caught and brought to court.
The End of Peter Stumpp, the ‘Werewolf of Bedburg’
Though the two accounts differ at many places, they seem to agree on the conclusion. The tale ends with Peter having his limbs stretched out until they tore in several places, his joints broken to prevent resurrection, and he was finally beheaded and burnt. Though Peter was not the first man to be suspected of being a werewolf, he was certainly one of the very few who confessed to the allegations readily. With such tales in history, one can’t help but wonder, what if these things actually exist?
If you liked reading the take of Sawney, I bet you’ll find the story of the devil walking at Devon, England interesting! Or would you like to read about the Lightkeepers of Eilean Mor, who disappeared without a trace?
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