The Hills Have Eyes: Is the Horror Movie Based on a True Story?

‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is a horror film that revolves around the Carter family and their bid for survival in a desert. When their car breaks down while traveling back home from a vacation, the members of the Carter family are stalked and hunted by another, more vicious “family.” This “family” has seemingly survived in the desert by killing and eating unsuspecting passersby for years now. Disoriented and terrified, will the Carter family be able to fend off their attackers and survive?

Two separate iterations of the film exist — the original 1977 Wes Craven directorial and the 2006 remake directed by Alexandre Aja. While the premise for both versions of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is the same, there are quite distinct changes in the remake. With such an interesting and terrifying storyline, it is no wonder that film lovers everywhere have been captivated by it for so long now. But what are the true origins behind the story? Let’s dive in together and find out!

The Legend of Cannibal Clan: Foundation of The Hills Have Eyes

No, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is not a true story. However, the legend that inspired Wes Craven to write the original is no less morbid than the film itself. While researching for ideas, the famous horror film director came across the Scottish folk legend of Sawney Bean. The first account of Sawney Bean comes from a tabloid called ‘The Newgate Calendar,’ which dates back to the 18th century. This in itself is a strange fact because Bean and his family are said to have been around in the late 15th century.

Clarifying why it is so in an interview with BBC, Scottish historian Dr Louise Yeoman said, “It sounds like the plot for a box-office topping horror film and that’s because it was invented to serve a very similar purpose – to sell books. It also has a more sinister subtext – the books it sold were published not in Scotland but in England, at a time when there was widespread prejudice against Scots.” Later accounts suggest that the Sawney Bean and his wife settled in Bennane Cave, by Ballantrae in Ayrshire, Scotland.

The vast and complex network of tunnels extending from the cave was a perfect place to raise and expand entire generations of Beans. Being cut off from society, the family grew through incest, which most likely caused some genetic irregularities over the years. These irregularities are shown in ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ through the grotesqueness of the mutants. With no means of income or access to markets, the Bean clan seemingly survived by robbing and then eating their victims.

The Bean clan came to an end when the Magistrate of Glasgow informed King James VI that there was a family of vicious cannibals hunting people after coming upon a man who had survived an encounter with them. The King, for his part, assembled 400 men to search for the Bean clan and bring them to justice. Speaking about the fate of the Bean clan, Craven said in an interview that “they weren’t doing anything that much worse than civilization did when they caught them. And I just thought what a great kind of A/B of culture. How the most civilized can be the most savage and how the most savage can be civilized.”

There are certain marked changes in the 2006 remake, however. The most prominent of these changes is the origin of the family of cannibals itself. Instead of being abandoned as a child and then surviving in the wild, Papa Jupiter and the others in his family are victims of a secret government nuclear experiment that mutated them into the incoherent monstrosities they are in the film.

Another aspect that has been changed is the setting of the film — which is now in the New Mexico desert — as well as a few of the character names and the inclusion of new characters (such as the mutant, Big Brain) altogether. Though not a true story, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ and its subsequent remake will forever remain etched in the history of cinema as one of the most gruesome horror films out there.

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