Wes Craven‘s 1977 horror movie The Hills Have Eyes struck fear in the hearts of viewers. It would later go on to become one of the most well-known cult horror films in cinematic history.
The Hills Have Eyes centers around an incestuous cannibalistic clan that terrorized unsuspecting travelers in the Nevada desert. Although no such thing has happened in the United States, this does not make the story anything far from reality. In fact, Craven did confirm that he got the idea for the film from a terrifying Scottish tale.
This is the gruesome story of Sawney Bean, the sadistic leader of a cannibalistic clan that allegedly haunted Scotland during the 1500s.
Sawney Bean: Scotland’s Most Famous Cannibal
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According to records, the would-be mass murderer was born Alexander Bean in East Lothian, Scotland. Little is known about his early life other than the fact that his father was a ditch digger. Sawney refused to follow in his father’s footsteps and ditched honest labor to run off with an equally unhinged woman.
The newlywed couple fled to the waters of Bennane Head in the county of Galloway. Together, they built a home inside a deep cave that was over 600 feet below the ground.
Without a job, Sawney decided to support his wife by robbing innocent travelers. His actions would later turn deadly, and he started to develop an insatiable appetite for human flesh. It all started when Sawney realized that he had to murder his victims to avoid leaving any evidence of his crimes. Instead of disposing the dead bodies, he and his equally twisted wife began to utilize them as a food source.
The couple’s killing spree remained a secret for years thanks to the location of the cave they resided in. Many assumed that no human could ever thrive inside as water would fill in the first several hundred feet of the cave’s entrance. The couple would only exit the area when the lunar cycle called for a low tide. That said, both Sawney Bean and his wife set out for innocent victims entirely at night. They would stalk their prey, drag them to their den of evil, and mercilessly butcher them to death for their own consumption.
As the body count rose, the laments of distraught family members and loved ones continued to fall on deaf ears. Before long, severed body parts began to wash up ashore, causing a wave of paranoia to nearby towns. Authorities tried to calm worried townsfolk by attributing these occurrences to predators and other natural causes.
Soon, Sawney Bean’s cannibalistic clan began to grow. They produced fourteen babies in total, and each had an uncanny knack for consuming human flesh. The babies grew, and through incest, they produced more killing machines of their own. Because they feasted on flesh, the family became stronger and even more twisted than before. It is said that the Bean clan comprised of 48 flesh-eating lunatics in total, with 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters.
The Bean family honed their cannibal skills over the years by salting and pickling the flesh they gathered. At times, preserved body parts of their poor victims were thrown out and would fall into the hands of authorities. Despite this obvious sign that something horrible was going on, their heinous crimes went under the radar for twenty-five years. Scotland’s ruler at that time, King James VI, treated the events as nothing but a product of mass hysteria.
Many individuals decided to take matters into their own hands. A witch hunt was launched at one point, and people began to turn against each other. Local innkeepers were often lynched by ruthless groups, leading to many innocent people being hung or burned at the stake. While all this chaos was happening around them, Sawney Bean and his group of feral monsters were feasting happily on the blood of their victims in the horrific cave they called home.
As the chaos among townspeople continued, the Bean family’s lust for blood became more vicious. They continued to hunt for victims as a pack in order to feed the whole clan. They developed a skilled battle plan to capture travelers and merchants as well. The small children would pose as beggars on the road while the older ones waited in the darkness for the perfect time to catch their targets. The Sawney Bean army could take on as many as twelve victims at a time, making them believe that they were unstoppable beyond any means.
While there is no record of the total number of victims that died in the hands of this savage family, it was presumed that throughout their twenty-five years of terror, they killed at least a thousand men, women, and children.
But decades worth of karma was about to fall upon the Sawney Bean clan. A man and his wife were returning home from a town fair on horseback when they were viciously attacked. The man was skilled in combat and fended off his attackers using a gun. Unfortunately, his wife was unarmed, and she was eventually brought down by the cannibals. They slit her throat and feasted on her bowels like the deprived monsters they are—all while her husband watched in pure terror.
The horrific scene pushed the man to fight for his life. Unwilling to suffer the same gruesome fate, he rode his horse and drove it directly to the relentless army. Luckily, a large number of fairgoers heard all the commotion and aided the man in a battle he would likely have lost. For the first time since their killings began, Sawney Bean and his army were outnumbered. They opted to retreat back to the cave, leaving their victim’s mutilated body as evidence.
The distraught widower took his wife’s remains and several other witnesses before the Chief Magistrate of Glasgow. It did not take too long for him to put two and two together, and he realized that the perpetrators behind the unthinkable crimes that plagued Scotland were the Sawney Bean family all along—a group so out of the radar, so hidden, yet so deadly that they were to pay for their actions in the most sadistic way possible.
The news prompted King James I to visit Ayrshire with his battalion of four hundred men. They brought with them a pack of skilled tracker dogs that led them to the cave of horrors. There, they discovered a horrible sight: the Bean family living among decaying body parts that reeked of death and doom.
According to sources, the Bean clan were chained, captured, and executed without trial. They had their hands, feet, and genitals hacked off so they could bleed to death. The women and children suffered a similar fate. They watched as the men die in the most agonizing way while being sentenced to be burned at the stake.
An eye for an eye, indeed.
The terrifying history of Sawney Bean would remain unchanged, and their story terrorized all of Scotland for years. Researchers have noted that skeletal remains have been found in the Bennane Cave, adding speculation that Sawney Bean was a piece of real-life history.
So was this story nothing but exaggerated folklore to scare the little ones from wandering alone at night? Or was there really a cannibalistic clan that feasted on the blood of victims? You decide.