And now, we take a moment from our ‘normal’ programming schedule to bring you something a little different, yet still related to horror movies. Several movies have been based upon the tale of Sawney Bean and his cannibalistic family, The Hills Have Eyes being one such movie.
Our tale begins in the 16th century, in East Lothian (near Edinburgh), Scotland. Alexander “Sawney” Bean (sometimes called Beane) grew up working hard labour with his father and quickly realised that honest labour wasn’t for him and fled with a woman, a reputed witch, by the name of Agnes.
The couple ended up living in a coastal cave in Bannane Head near Galloway (now South Aryshire) where they lived undetected for over 25 years rearing several children. The cave was several hundred yards deep and when the tide rose the entrance was blocked by water and inaccessible.
After many years grandchildren appeared. The product of an incestuous, lawless, family. The family included eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grandsons and fourteen granddaughters. Since Bean had tried and disliked honest labour, the family would lay careful ambushes at night to rob and murder passers-by. The dead were taken back to the cave, dismembered, and cannibalised. It is said they even took to robbing fresh graves for ‘food’.
As more and more people began to vanish in the area several searches were done of the area, one search passed by their cave since the men refused to believe anyone could live in such conditions.
One night, the Bean family attacked a couple riding from a fair on horse back, but the man fought them off with sword and pistol but not before the clan had mauled his wife to death. A large group of fairgoers appeared and the Bean family fled in fear.
It’s said that King James VI of Scotland personally led a manhunt with a team of over 400 men and several bloodhounds. It was the bloodhounds who lured the men to the coastal cave where the family were finally captured. Taken, in chains, to the Tollbooth in Edinburgh, where they were executed without trial. The men had their hands and feet cut off and left to bleed to death. The women were to watch the men bleed to death then be burned at the stake.
Fact of Fiction?
No one knows for sure whether the tale of Sawney Bean is a myth, several investigators have found no evidence of disappearances in the area at the reputed time of the Bean family, but one theory is that the story was political propaganda from the English to make the Scots seem more barbaric and animalistic.
But the tale of Sawney Bean also closely resembles the story of Christie Cleek which was in the 1400’s, earlier than Sawney Bean.
Andrew Christie was a butcher, by trade, in Perth.During a great famine in the mid-1400’s Christie joined a group of scavengers in the Grampian mountains. When one of the party died of starvation, Christie put his butcher skills to work on the corpse and fed himself and the group. They now began to ambush travellers as food. Christie used a hook on a pole to haul his victims from their horse, this device was a ‘cleke’, a hook or crook, hence his nickname, Cleek. Eventually an armed force from Perth defeated the group but not before Christie fled. He was never heard from again.
But the name, and story, of Christie Cleek was used in a bogeyman-like fashion to silence even the most unruly of kids, so maybe Christie Cleek is a myth too.
Of course, no one knows for sure whether Sawney Bean, or Christie Cleek are fact or fiction, but they’ve given rise to some more well known stories such as Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977), which has a family of cannibals in a more modern setting. Several bands have written songs about Sawney Bean but, sadly, no one has yet made a decent movie on the tale of the incestuous Bean family. Maybe one day, when some rich benefactor gives me the budget…
YouTube has a video which gives a tour of the reputed Sawney Bean cave in South West Scotland: