A Nightmare On Elm Street Was Inspired By This Horrific True Story

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street will celebrate its 30th anniversary on November 9… the day the original opened up in theaters and introduced sleepy teens to the terror that is, was and forever shall be Freddy Krueger. In preparation for the milestone, Craven has been sharing a ton of information about the creation – and impact – of his incredibly influential horror franchise, including how he came up with the idea in the first place.

When he wasn’t busy sharing vital Nightmare on Elm Street information on Twitter, Wes Craven was taking part in a comprehensive oral history of Elm Street for Vulture. The primary players behind the film open up in great detail about what went in to the hiring of the cast, the creation of Freddy, and the landscape of horror in the early 1980s. With Craven coming off of Swamp Thing and The Hills Have Eyes Part II at the time, he needed to find something that was truly terrifying. And he found it in real life, so to speak.

The way Wes Craven describes it, he came up with the idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street after reading an L.A. Times article about a family that had survived the Killing Fields in Cambodia. They made it to the United States, but a young boy in the family still found himself haunted by terrible nightmares while he slept. Craven says:

He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare on Elm Street."

The origin of Freddy Krueger? That’s awesome. And far more psychologically chilling than the parental vendetta that led to the birth of the on-screen Krueger – which also is explained in greater detail in the Vulture oral history. Burning the neighborhood child murderer in the boiler room of the local school? Vicious. The 1980s were a different time, man.

People forget how terrifying the original Nightmare on Elm Street actually was. Because over the years, Freddy became more of a huckster, or a punchline, and the Elm Street sequels went for laughs as much as they went for scares. Now’s a good time to go back and revisit Wes Craven’s film, to remember why it became a classic in the first place.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.