3 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Hills Have Eyes

Posted by Bryan White | Monday October 3, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Hills Have EyesWes Craven’s original picture, the follow up to Last House On The Left, The Hills Have Eyes is a favorite of mine. Of the big four American horror dynamos of the 70’s that changed the face of the genre, Craven was probably my least favorite and continues to be just that. I never fell for A Nightmare On Elm Street and even as Scream breathed new life into an otherwise dead genre, I still never went for that one. As a matter of fact, Scream drove me fucking nuts. I liked the movie enough but I wasn’t a big fan of it. I was mostly just annoyed by the legion of young horror fans who emerged from that movie that caught up with Halloween and Prom Night and hit the same horror movie internet haunts as me declaring themselves experts on the topic. Yeah, I was a snob and continue to be in some fashion but back then I just couldn’t abide. But I’ll tell you what. The Hills Have Eyes really resonated with me. It is a nasty, nasty flick and even by modern horror standards, it remains an underdog in the story of the American horror movie. I’ve never been able to figure out why, either. Maybe it’s because it bears a lot in common with Craven’s previous picture and living in the shadow of Last House On The Left is a shitty piece of real estate. I honestly can’t say but I can say that I seriously prefer it head and shoulders over Last House.

Since it’s here in the Based On A True Story spot it must be based on a true story, right? Well, Craven’s original never made such claims. Back in the day, these indie guys didn’t have to tag their flick with marketing like that. They had lurid trailers and seedy word of mouth to drive ticket sales. It wasn’t until about five or six years ago when Hollywood decided that in order to sell your horror movie to idiots at the megaplex, you had to get them to believe that somewhere out there in the world, your average family unit was sidelined in the desert wastes of America by a tribe of inbred mutant cannibals living off the grid. It got people talking. It got people googling your movie’s title and it kept the marketing machine rolling all the way up to the film’s release whereupon every screening in America was sold out until everyone started texting their friends mid-movie with the same message: OMG THIS MOVIE IS SOOOO GAY

But I digress.

Like the other two stories in this series, The Hills Have Eyes, a movie bearing one of the sweetest titles ever, is based on an obscure bit of fact. In the film, a family on vacation cuts through a patch of the desert where their car breaks down and one by one, they’re picked off and eaten by members of an inbred tribe of cannibal desert mutants. It’s fucking riveting and I love the god damn ending!

Sawney BeaneAlexander Bean (aka Sawney Beane) was a scumbag in 16th century Scotland who ran away from home when home finally called on him to do an honest day’s labor and he took up with an equally scummy chick in a cave that was only accessible at low tide. Together, the two of them produced 14 kids in this squalid home and from there they produced 32 grandchildren out of incest all in the span of 25 years. To support this massive brood of inbred lunatics, Sawney Beane and the family would come out at night and lay out a careful ambush along the road where they would rob the first people to come through. They’d take their belongings and the dead bodies back to the cave where they would be dismembered and eaten. The final body count supposedly lands in excess of 1,000 dead.

The Beane’s crimes didn’t go unnoticed, either. Locals were aware that people were disappearing in that area but investigations and angry manhunts by classic mobs bearing torches and pitchforks yielded no return. They had an idea of where the Beane’s may live but the problem was that no one ever considered the cave. It seemed inaccessible and didn’t look like the kind of place that people would live. I mean, would you? I suppose if you were butchering the innocent to feed your cursed mutant brood you might.

The Beane’s were eventually discovered when they sprung their trap on a couple riding the highway and it turned out that male half of the couple was a badass fighter who was able to hold them at bay with his sword and pistol until help arrived. The Beane’s fled but King James VI had enough of this bullshit and set a 400 man mob out to find these fiends and that’s when the cave was discovered and the Beane clan was taken to jail. So horrible was this crew that after being held for a while, the king decided ‘fuck it’ and sentenced all 48 of them to death without trial. The men were relieved of their hands, feet and penises and bled out while the women and children watched and when that spectacle was over the rest of them were burned alive.

After all this spectacle it turns out that there’s some speculation by historians that none of this actually happened and that the entire thing may have been a smear campaign by the British against the Scots, who they hated like black licorice. I like to believe that criticism is bullshit because I gotta tell ya, this entire story is nasty stuff. Fifty mutant Scottish hillbillies terrorizing the highways plays like something out of Mad Max or, you know, The Hills Have Eyes.

2 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday October 2, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Texas Chainsaw MassacreOne of the legends of second wave horror and one of the genre’s most well-known titles is one of enduring reputation. Back when I was a kid, everyone I knew – parents and children, alike – talked about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre like it was a top to bottom celebration of depravity and an anatomically correct examination of the insides of our bodies, turned outside by the teeth of chattering chainsaw.

I’d let a video tape run one night on Cinemax when they ran Friday the 13th late into the night. I fell asleep before the movie was over and upon reviewing the evening’s recording, I was delighted to find that Friday 1 was followed immediately by Friday 2 and then The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’d never seen it up to this point so imagine my disappointment when I settled in for a gorefest and found nothing of the sort. For a long time I lacked the equipment to properly appreciate the movie but at the time I couldn’t believe it. All this time. All this hype. None of it true. What a let down. The bizarro soft porn with the underwear-on dry humping that Cinemax followed Texas Chainsaw up with wasn’t nearly enough to alleviate what was one of the greatest disappointments of my 13 year-old life. Trust me. This was common for me when I finally caught up to certain movies that had this reputation. Ask me about the first time I ever saw A Clockwork Orange sometime.

Sure. I’d come to appreciate both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Clockwork Orange when I was older but it took time and perspective to fully grasp what made Texas Chainsaw so potent. Along the way, I kept hearing that the movie was based on a true story, although no amount of research could ever turn up an account of a van full of teens massacred by a family of lunatics in the barren wastes of forgotten Texas. What I did find was the following:

Edward GeinEdward Gein is probably no stranger to you if you’re reading this. Those of us with an appreciation for horror have a tendency to travel in morbid circles and take our fascination to culturally apocalyptic territory but let’s say you don’t know who Ed Gein is. Often labeled a serial killer, Gein doesn’t quite fit the profile. In 1957 Gein was accused of and confessed to the murders of two women in Plainfield, Wisconsin. That’s not all, though. Gein was a prolific grave robber whose dozens of late night excursions into local cemeteries resulted in the theft of a lot of body parts that he used to make furnishings around the house like bowls (skulls) and lampshades (skin). Prior to everything falling apart for Gein, local kids would come by and hang with him and if you can believe it, he was known as a pretty dependable babysitter. See, Ed was largely regarded as a local weirdo but harmless. He was a nice guy as far as anyone could tell, even though he had no handle on social interaction. Several kids reported seeing shrunken heads in his house which Gein explained away as actual shrunken heads recovered from the South Seas when his brother was deployed there with the Navy. Speaking of Gein’s brother; Henry Gein was the older brother of the two and the only one to see something wrong with the way they were treated at the hands of their wretched mother. He frequently brought this to Ed’s attention. Ed would angrily rebuff his claims. During a brush fire at their farm, Gein reported Henry missing. When his body was recovered, it showed signs of being beaten. The death was ruled an accidental asphyxiation in spite of this, yet some people suspected that Ed had murdered his brother.Eventually, Gein would murder the owner of a local tavern and then owner of a local hardware store and bring their bodies back to his place. He, being the last person to shop at the hardware store was one of the first suspects to be an investigated and the police immediate discovered the horror at his farm. Gein eventually confessed to skinning the corpses he dug up and building a woman suit from the skin. A suit which he wore in an awful ritual where he would pretend to become a woman.

Gein’s life before everything went truly awful was pretty sad. His mother was an abusive, awful woman who berated Gein’s father endlessly for being what she considered a failure. Gein, raised without any kind of social conditioning, grew up to be abused just as bad as his father. After his father’s death, Gein submitted to being his mother’s caretaker feeling like he had no other option and that’s what a good son does. When she died, however, his entire life went off the rails. Things sucked before she died but now without any kind of guidance in his life, he didn’t know what to do and his own self-loathing coupled with the loss of his mother drove him to some pretty nast extremes in his already extremely weird behavior.

LeatherfaceEven by today’s standards, this is a pretty shocking case. Gein, having only been accused of murdering two women and tried for only one of the murders, had desecrated the corpses of dozens of freshly buried women and lived among the remains. His murder victims, both killed for reasons Gein could never explain had been mutilated post-mortem and dressed out like deer shot during hunting season. The woman suit  made from human skin elevates this case to even higher morbid heights and was the inspiration for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s iconic maniac, Leatherface. Leatherface, whose background is never fully explained, wear a face made from the skin of other victims. For what reason, who can say? The horrible story of Ed Gein is so powerful, in fact, that he was also the inspiration for Norman Bates from Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho (and the Hitchcock flick, too!), as well as Buffalo ‘put the fucking lotion in the basket’ Bill.

1 Oct

Based On A True Story: Dracula

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday October 1, 2011 | Based On A True Story

DraculaIt’s October! You know what that means? It means that I take on the challenge of posting something every day but better than that, I have to stick to a theme. I did this last year with the ‘more popular than I thought it would be’ 31 Ghost Stories and the year before with the ‘slightly less popular than last year’ 31 Halloweens. Even though the latest trend at Cinema S seems to be all about letting this place quietly slip away, posting a new article one every ten days or so, I’m going to do this and hopefully get this place back on track. This year’s theme is Based On A True Story. Remember a couple of years back when it seemed like absolutely every horror movie to come down the pike was marketed with the tag line “Based On A True Story” whether or not the story was actually true? Well, in true Snopes fashion, I’m going to pick 31 horror movies reporting to be based on true stories and give you the truth of it all. First up: Dracula.

Published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, never actually claiming to be based on any kind of true story, was heavily influenced by numerous morbid chapters in history. By this point, everyone knows about the connection to Vlad Tepes. It’s usually around this time of year when The History Channel manages to wedge some spooky documentaries between it’s usual Hitler-centric programming and among them is something about the so-called ‘real’ Dracula. Dracula is mostly based on the historical voivode of Walachia, Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad The Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula. Between 1456 and 1462 , Vlad Tepes ran the show in Transylvania, not so much a nation as it is a district of Romania. Many years prior to his ascension to the throne, Vlad spent time in Turkish prisons after his father had been ousted from his position of voivode. See, Transylvania (most of the region, actually) had been at war with the Turkish for years and it was at this time that they managed to gain the upper hand in the war against everyone not Muslim. Vlad and his brother Radu were given over to the Turks as a sort of retainer fee for not killing everyone in the Transylvanian royal court. While in Turkish custody, Radu converted to Islam and hung tight with his captors because this is how you were actually expected to do things back then. It was a real pain in the ass and Vlad was having none of it. He was a belligerent, persistent asshole toward his captors who beat the crap out of him regularly for his insolence. Vlad and Radu were eventually returned to their father in Transylvania after Vlad II had become an ally of the Turkish but it was way too late for Vlad Dracula who had grown to resent everyone, particularly his father who had turned his back on The Order of the Dragon’s oath to fight the Turkish. Vlad knew that his time would come and when it did he fucked everyone’s shit up. The Ottoman’s were pretty much in control of Transylvania at the time, Vlad’s father had been betrayed and assassinated by his own people and his brother, Mircea was blinded and buried alive by the same people. Next in line to rule was Dracula and he stormed in, destroyed the Ottoman presence, who had been coming apart at the seams thanks to the crappy condition of Wallachia after decades of war. His first order of business was to get even. Vlad rounded up his Ottoman enemies, his Transylvanian political enemies and pretty much anyone who had anything to do with his father’s death and the selling out of Transylvania and had them impaled on huge spikes. Dracula was said to stand on the battlements of his castle and watch as this happened. The man was a maniac.

Vlad TepesThis wasn’t the end, though. Wallachia was in a constant state of upheaval with voivodes coming and going every couple of years. Dracula was in an and out of the throne three times while his brother Radu took over for a while. Meanwhile, Dracula was leading armies in combat against the Ottoman Empire. He had a winning strategy that always seemed to involve falling back to safe territory while leaving nothing but waste and misery in his wake. His army would fall back from their position against the Turks, they would raid Transylvanian settlements, taking up all their resources and destroying everything else. By the time the Ottoman’s got there there was nothing left for them. So by the time they got all the way back to Transylvania, they found Dracula’s army waiting for them, well-fed and rested while they, themselves, were exhausted and tired, many of their original numbers dead from disease and starvation. Dracula’s army would fight them to the last man, one hundred percent casualties.

It doesn’t end there, either. Dracula was heavy, man. One of the men responsible for the murder of his brother was condemned to die and forced to kneel befo0re his own open grave while reading his own euology. Yes! Awesome! Want more? Before he had them all executed, he rounded up his political enemies and forcibly marched them into the Carpathian Mountains where they were forced to build him a massive citadel. Vlad Tepes was a cruel, cruel dude. Eventually his fortunes turned sour and the Turks got the best of him in battle. It’s not known exactly when or where he died but it was somewhere in early 1477.

At no point in the actual history of Vlad Tepes is the vampire myth ever mentioned.

Elizabeth BathoryAbout 150 years later in Hungary, still at war with the freakin’ Ottoman Empire, a similar story appears when the Hungarian Countess, Báthory Erzsébet (aka Elizabeth Bathory), is accused of tprturing and murdering as many as 650 young women for reasons left up to speculation at this point. The popular belief being that in order to retain her youth, Bathory would bathe in their blood. Allegations of cannibalism also rose out of this investigation. Bathory’s reign of terror was a long one. It had to be to kill that many women, but the case lacks detail. Where there’s plenty known about the horror of Vlad Tepes, the details of the cruelty of Elizabeth Bathory is mostly unknown.

So there you have it. The historical basis for one of the greatest horror novels of all time, the blueprint for the modern vampire myth and a legacy of absolutely essential horror movies. Dracula. Based on a true story.

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