BASED ON A MOSTLY-TRUE TRUE STORY August 29 2014 | POSTED BY Ted Geoghegan
Since its release to cinemas forty years ago, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE has infamously touted itself as being “based on a true story.” Although Leatherface and the bloodthirsty Sawyer clan never actually existed, the central inspiration for the film is widely-known to be Wisconsin-based murderer Ed Gein. A ghoulish bodysnatcher who eventually graduated to murder and cannibalism, Gein’s penchant for crafting furniture and clothing out of human remains was a huge creative inspiration to CHAIN SAW writers Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel.
Another much lesser-known inspiration, however, bears a frighteningly closer semblance to the murderous family in the 1974 horror classic.
Alexander Bean was born in East Lothian, Scotland near the start of the 15th century. Nicknamed “Sawney” – an antiquated nickname for a Scotsman – Bean was a troubled young man who had no desire to follow in his family’s hard-working footsteps. Instead, he married a disturbed young woman with a penchant for violence – and their combined devilish, illegal behavior soon forced them into hiding.
Much like CHAIN SAW’s Sawyer clan, the Beans decided that the more remote a location, the better their chances of survival would be. Refurbishing a massive coastal cave outside the town of Bennane Head, “Sawney” and his wife had eight sons and six daughters, who then produced eighteen grandsons and fourteen granddaughters through incest – creating a massive, 48-member inbred family incapable of interacting with the outside world.
“Sawney” and his ghoulish kin hid inside their massive cave by day, and ventured out only at night. Taught nothing but crime by their power-mad patriarch, the Bean family would brazenly kidnap, rob, and murder any seaside travelers unfortunate enough to cross their evil path. And shockingly, much like the lethal family in CHAIN SAW, the bodies of their unfortunate victims were dragged home and devoured.
After a monstrous crime spree that lasted twenty-five unimaginable years, the Bean family had murdered so many people that King James VI of Scotland put together a manhunt to track down the culprits. When their remote cave home was finally uncovered, the inside was reportedly littered with the remains of over one thousand people.
“Sawney” and his family were gathered up and promptly executed, but their legend lives on in Scottish folklore, and through films such as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES, which was also based on the evil brood.
The Beans’ horrific exploits may seem unreal, and in many ways, far more brutal and unbelievable than the films based on them. One thousand victims, after all, is a tough tally – even for Leatherface and his ilk.
And while many historians question whether Bean and his family truly existed – or are an amalgam of earlier tales – even more in Scotland stand firm that they were, in fact, quite real. The story of “Sawney”’s life, family, and gruesome acts was recorded in The Newgate Calendar, a detailed monthly bulletin of executions at London’s Newgate Prison, where the prolific sociopath had his hands and feet cut off and subsequently bled to death.
The truth, as they often say, is stranger – and more horrifying – than fiction.