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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 10 - The Hills Have Eyes (The REAL Story)!

Okay, here’s a great one for you.  We’ve talked about Wes Craven before in this column but that was about the inspiration behind A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Years before that seminal movie premiered, Craven had already hit horror-gold with a movie called The Hills Have Eyes (1977).  

Spoiler Alert:  Don’t read further unless you don’t care about major plot points being spoiled for you.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is the story of a family on a trip to California who venture into an off-limits, wooded area.  When their car breaks down (as always seems to happen to people in these types of movies), they are hunted and killed by a vicious family of cannibals who live there.   It’s a very fun film if you like horror.

This is a case though of the inspiration being even more horrible than the film it inspired.  Believe it or not, The Hills Have Eyes is based on a real family who lived in Scotland in the 1500’s.  Wait till you read this!

Alexander “Sawney” Bean was born in East Lothian and was raised by parents who were both honest, hard-working people.  Once he was old enough to start seeking his own path in life, Sawney did not feel the same way.  He hated honest work and soon found a woman who shared his dislike of it.  They sought out a place to live and soon found a cave by the ocean near Bennane Head.  The cave ran very deep (200 yards) and at high tide, the ocean prevented people from going inside.  It was located between two towns (Ballantrae and Girvan) which meant there were often travelers passing nearby.

Alexander and his (presumably) lovely bride began attacking people who traveled the road at night.  They would rob them of supplies, murder them and eat them.  They actually pickled the leftovers. 
Wait, it gets better.  

What do you do with yourself when you're living in a cave and making other humans a staple in your diet?  Well you start a family of course!  The two produced eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grandsons and fourteen granddaughters.  Obviously there was a fair amount of incest involved here so you can imagine what the offspring were beginning to look like.  I told you, this story is even more frightening than the film it inspired.

As you may have surmised, for them to create a family that large, they had to have gone undetected for some time.  You’re right!  In fact, they successfully lived, undiscovered for over 25 years.  They only attacked at night and while local townsfolk arranged searches and hunting parties to try to find who or what was killing travelers, they were never found.  

While the hunting parties had seen the cave, they'd determined that because of the location and the water level, it must be uninhabitable.

The Bean clan’s luck finally ran out when they attacked the wrong guy.  He and his wife were riding back from a local fair and when the Beans attacked, they found that their prey was actually combat trained.  The husband fought them off with his sword long enough for another group of travelers to come along.  The Beans scrambled into hiding but while they’d managed to kill the man’s wife, he was still alive.  He told the authorities what had happened and soon, King James VI of Scotland organized a 400 man team along with bloodhounds to bring them to justice. 
What did justice look like in the 1500's?  Basically, it involved rounding all of the Beans up and killing them.  They were first brought to prison in Edinburgh and then the men were bled to death. I won’t tell you what was cut off but I will tell you it was painful and you can just use your imagination from there.    The women and children (again, all cannibals) were burned alive.

Someone should make a movie about something this wild, right?  That’s exactly what Wes Craven said to himself when he heard the legend and once again, a horror classic sprung from his head.  I know I say this every week, but I highly recommend this film.  It doesn’t have the greatest production values, but it is effective and if you just can’t bring yourself to watch a low-budget horror film from the ‘70’s, then check out the remake from 2006.  I like the original better but this one is no slouch.
See you next week and until then, stay on the major roads. 


Anonymous said...

At that latitude nutritional needs would be very challenging to maintain - especially over a long, cold, dark winter. Local terrain is not very friendly to hunting, fishing or raising crops. Plant and animal fibers for clothing would be hard to come by, fresh water and firewood or peat would be tough to get also.
Population of Ballantrae in the 1500’s would have been about 300 people at most, with Girvan maybe 1000. This route passing by would not have been a heavily traveled route, then, today, or ever. Clannish, rural existence meant people were very connected and interdependent on each other. Travel would have meant walking for the most part, and would be done mostly out of necessity. If an individual went missing, it would have been a huge deal, if multiple people went missing over a short period of time without cause it would have been the primary news of the day. Also, people would travel primarily during daylight hours.
Living during that time period was extremely physically demanding just to meet basic needs, this is in direct opposition to the dislike of honest work by a couple. Surviving undetected for a long period of time and depleting the local population would have required additional energy than normal.
Now time for math! Having 14 kids, even in the most optimistic scenario the wife would have been perpetually pregnant for 10-15 years. Infant mortality rates were high back then so a good portion of offspring would not have survived past the first year. If in fact there was a head count of 48 people living in stealth and their primary food source was human flesh, they would have had to harvest an individual about once every 4 to 7 days. This equates to between 52 and 91 adult sized humans per year. Over a ten year period that would be 520 to 910 people – highly unlikely. The local population would have been entirely eliminated between 14 and 25 years.
Then there is the issue of evidence of existence. Did 48 people exist in a cave almost exclusively, only going outside to capture a passing human? There would have been extensive footpaths around the cave. Foraging would have had to supplement their diet of human flesh, so there would be evidence of activity from a small army of cleaning out regional food stocks.
I call BS on this one.

Cary said...

You're assuming they started their family only after they were in the cave. I couldn't find any record of when the first children were born, only the report of how many they had. You're also assuming they all lived. They may not have.

Then again, it may have happened and the numbers were exaggerated. Or yeah, maybe it's all just BS. Either way, it's a fascinating legend that spawned a fun horror film!

Anonymous said...

The way this is written he left home young, soon found a wife, looked for a place to live and found a cave. It was quite some distance (in those days) since he was from East Lothian.

I am less concerned with if they all had lived, and more with if the breeding numbers are feasible - If they lived in a cave for 25 years and all the offspring came into being within those years. All six girls would have had to been born first, and the father would have to begin breeding with each one starting at the age of 14 years. If each daughter produced a child once a year every year past the age of 14 the maximum number of grandchildren possible would be 57. This assumes no sets of twins. For years 1-13 Mrs. Bean would have produced a child once per year. In year 14, Mrs. Bean yields another child and the oldest daughter has her first. Years 15 through 19 one additional sister joins the production effort each year, and in year 19, six grandkids are born. Years 20-25 each have six additional grandkids added. There would be 22 children under the age of 10 in year 18. By year 25 there would be 54 children under the age of 10. This assumes they all lived, lived in a cave, only came out at night, and their diet was exclusively human bodies for the majority of their caloric intake.

The cave would be fairly cold, so I assigned a 5k calorie intake per adult per day – prorating the children accordingly. With a human corpse value of 81.5k calories available for consumption the following is discovered: If all offspring lived, a total of 3587 bodies would have to be consumed over 25 years. Since this family is attributed to eating over 1000 bodies I will assign a value of 1350, which would lasted only through year 15. It is necessary to assume that the sons systematically died off after being born, as well as the grandchildren, in order to keep the scenario more realistic.

If the sons did in fact not die and were able to begin fathering children at age 13 with their sisters this would have begun in the year 20. Each year an additional son would come of age, and by year 25 the father as well as six of the eight sons would have been diversifying the gene pool? The mother could have died at year 15, but the father would have had to live until at least year 20. The numbers only work out if all the daughters had lived and began producing offspring nonstop from age 14 and on.

The thing that really throws everything off is the amount of bodies needed. They are over 1000 bodies consumed before the 8th son is born, in the middle of year 13, and none of the daughters have begun reproducing yet. By year 13 they need to get a fresh body every 2.7 days, but then it gets pretty weird. Even if the mother and sons all die off as soon as possible, the bodies needed per year begins to skyrocket. Even if everyone dies except the 6 daughters and one male, a total of 2933 bodies would be required. Even if everyone is recycled and the grandkids are eaten immediately on the day they were born, 2876 bodies would still be required. I am being generous with the numbers, subtracting one whole body for each day old grandchild consumed at birth even though they only weigh 6-8 pounds!

The deeper I dig, the less plausible the story becomes - unless they found a supplemental food source, such as seaweed and limpets. I can also see how they would have raised suspicion. By year 25 they would have needed to take a fresh body every 1.3 days, and someone would have noticed that. Without Excel, I would have never been able to discover what I did.