Tracing the Real-Life Inspirations Behind Classic Horror Movies

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The legacy of Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is one marked by unsettling dream sequences, elaborately staged death scenes, Freddy Krueger's homicidal ghoul-cum-stand-up-comedian shtick, and numerous sequels. Krueger is a charred-skinned, razor-clawed pedophile who, in death, stalks people in their dreams—pure fantasy, of course. The backstory behind Craven's initial inspirations, however, is grounded in a startling reality.

The idea first hit Craven after the young filmmaker read an LA Times article about some Khmer refugees from Cambodia who'd migrated to America, in response to bombings that ravaged their homeland. The men began experiencing horrific nightmares, some even dying in their sleep. The ones who remained alive wouldn't voluntarily go back to sleep. The sudden deaths baffled doctors. Craven, meanwhile, was intrigued. One case, in particular, fascinated the writer-director. It involved a 21-year-old who, after being awake for days, fell asleep alongside his family while watching TV; in the middle of the night, his family heard crashing sounds coming from his bedroom, and when they went into see what'd happened, he was dead. Autopsy reports showed no signs of a heart attack.

But he didn't know how to make it work in a fictionalized story. That is, until he heard singer Gary Wright's popular 1975 single "Dream Weaver," which turned on the proverbial light bulb above Craven's head.

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