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The Attractions

Hillbilly Hell

The Hillbilly Haunting at Talladega Frights

In the early 80s, the drive-in movie cinema was absolutely popping with life and energy all over the country. You couldn’t go 100 miles without seeing at least two drive-ins, always marked by a line of headlights as customers waited to pay for two (while more hid in the trunk) entries into the dirt lot. Drive-ins had been a novelty for years; people enjoyed the idea of sitting in their own car, or in the back of a pickup truck, to see the newest releases.

For some in poorer communities, though, the local drive-in was more than novelty; it was the only entertainment they had, and that could be said of one small town outside of rural Kern County. Streets there, normally lined with unemployed oil field workers and hard luck farmers, would clear out come sundown as folks walked the dirt mile to the only escape they had from their monotonous, miserable lives: the movies—and not even the newest releases here. This town’s drive-in got only second and third run films, mostly B-rated, because there was no money to buy the best features.

Hot, dry desolate desert air, along with the lack of decent jobs, could make people crazy and willing to do just about anything to forget, and the infamous brothers Bart and Lester Heywood were no strangers to calamity or taking matters into their own hands. Having moved away from the Appalachian Mountains and their reputation as cold blooded hillbilly killers, they couldn’t quite kick the habit of wanting to see people suffer...and die.

And that's what some say led to the worst disaster in the country's history.

On a hot October night in 1983, a double feature was showing, promising patrons at least a four-hour escape from their misery. As cars rolled into the gravel drive, took their spots, and secured the metal speakers onto their car windows, no one could have realized that they were about to become a distant memory and nothing other than the rumor of a one-time map dot on the outskirts of Kern County’s history. On a bloody rampage designed for barely anything other than sport, the Heywood brothers unleashed a flurry of hatred on the unsuspecting patrons of the drive-in cinema. Wielding chainsaws and laughing as body parts severed, the cannibal brothers ensured that the blood splatters on the movie screen became the only testament to the lives that were lost that hot October night.

Now, much time has passed—in fact, it’s been 32 years since that fateful night—and the law never caught up to the brothers Heywood. In truth, in a town so small, no one was left alive who would testify to the carnage from the bloodbath, so the entire Heywood family moved from the hills of West Virginia and took the dusty, forgotten town as their own. They breathed life back into an abandoned mine and grew corn on the side to make ends meet. They built themselves a house and barn and worked on their own equipment in a rundown junkyard.

And when a band of traveling misfit carnies and sideshow freaks set up their trailer to camp for the night, the Heywoods decided to let them stay, finding their twisted lifestyle amusing—enjoying their taste for appalling entertainment. Shunned everywhere else, these aspiring circus folk found a home on the Heywood land, where they could practice and perfect their “acts” on luckless individuals who happened into their dilapidated would-be circus tent.

Overlooked by most, once in a while, an old movie plays on a long forgotten road in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and passersby, feeling nostalgic for a glimpse into the long-forgotten days of the drive-in cinema, will turn their headlights toward a blinking marquee and down the welcoming drive to pay for a little piece of cinematic history. And as the movie flickers to life and they adjust their metal speaker over their car window, the quick and sharp sound of a chainsaw can be heard from behind the giant white screen.