In 1977 Wes Craven first introduced us to Papa Jupiter’s family. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is a classic horror tale of a family trapped in the Nevada desert and terrorized by a family of inbred mutants living in mountains. The film was then remade in 2006 with the inbreed mutants having been exposed to radiation via government testing. Craven’s original nightmarish family outing and the remake both still terrify audiences today, and the story was actually inspired by the legendary story of Alexander “Sawney” Bean.
As this 15th century legend goes, Sawney, the son of a landscaper, had no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead he took his wife and headed for a coastal cave in Bennane Head, Scotland. There he would live and raise his family of eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grandsons, and fourteen granddaughters, most of which were the product of incest.
Sleeping the days away in their cave, the Bean clan would come out at night to apply their trade. Under the cover of darkness, the Bean’s would ambush travelers robbing and then murdering them. The bodies were then taken back to the cave where they were dismembered and prepared for dinner. For twenty-five years, the family operated in secret. Although nearby villagers were aware of the disappearances, as well as the occasional body-parts which washed up on their shores, they were unaware of who was responsible for the crimes.
The Beans were eventually taken down when they attempted to ambush a young man who was more skilled at swordplay then they were expecting. The young man managed to hold his attackers at bay until help arrived. Overwhelmed, the Beans headed for the safety of their cave. Now aware of their presence, the people of Bennane Head sent word to King James VI of Scotland, who dispatched his soldiers to track down the fiends.
The soldiers were lead by bloodhounds to a cave along the shore. Inside they not only found the entire Bean clan, but also the scattered remains of their half eaten victims. The Beans were taken to Edinburg where they were immediately condemned to death, without trial. The men were castrated before having their hands and feet severed; they eventually died slowly of blood loss. After being forced to watch the men of the family die, the women and children were then burned alive. Their twenty-five years of terror was now over. In the end, it is believed the Sawney Bean family claimed over a thousand lives.
There are those historians who dispute Sawney Bean’s existence and others that say the mythos, if true, has been greatly exaggerated. The first printed version of the tale didn’t come about until the 18th century. Additionally, there are no reports of over one thousand people going missing in the Bennane Head region during the 15th century, and there’s also no written evidence of such a grisly family style execution. However, there are several records from the 15th century that do document periods of famine, forcing some to resort to cannibalism. Several people, after visiting the alleged Sawney Cave, believe the family’s victims still haunt the surrounding area. It is also believed that the Sawney Bean family may have existed centuries earlier, during Scotland’s dark age, and their exploits were passed down by word of mouth for centuries, eventually being recorded in the 18th century, but incorrectly attributed to the 15th century. Fact or fiction, it made for great source material for Wes Craven’s landmark tale of terror.