Did You Know 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' Is Based on a True Story?

Did You Know 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' Is Based on a True Story?

Oct 26, 2012

In a fun and intriguing piece over at Flavorwire, Alison Nastasi (who also contributes here) writes about the weird and often puzzling true stories behind some unlikely horror movies. On the surface many of these films seem like they were completely made up, but ideas quite often come from somewhere, and in the case of these horror movies, that somewhere is kinda freaky. 

Take, for example, the source of A Nightmare on Elm Street. While there wasn't a real-life Freddy Krueger who terrorized the children of a town who burned him alive while they slept, according to Wes Craven he was inspired by a very real story about seemingly young, healthy people who were mysteriously dying in their sleep. Alison points to a 2008 interview with Craven where he tells the story in full.

“It was a series of articles in the L.A. Times, about men from South East Asia, who were from immigrant families and who had died in the middle of nightmares — and the paper never correlated them, never said, ‘Hey, we’ve had another story like this.’ The third one was the son of a physician. He was about 21; I’ve subsequently found out this is a phenomenon in Laos, Cambodia. Everybody in his family said almost exactly these lines: ‘You must sleep.’ He said, ‘No, you don’t understand; I’ve had nightmares before — this is different.’

He was given sleeping pills and told to take them and supposedly did, but he stayed up. I forget what the total days he stayed up was, but it was a phenomenal amount — something like six, seven days. Finally, he was watching television with the family, fell asleep on the couch, and everybody said, ‘Thank god.’ They literally carried him upstairs to bed; he was completely exhausted. Everybody went to bed, thinking it was all over. In the middle of the night, they heard screams and crashing. They ran into the room, and by the time they got to him he was dead. They had an autopsy performed, and there was no heart attack; he just had died for unexplained reasons. They found in his closet a Mr. Coffee maker, full of hot coffee that he had used to keep awake, and they also found all his sleeping pills that they thought he had taken; he had spit them back out and hidden them. It struck me as such an incredibly dramatic story that I was intrigued by it for a year, at least, before I finally thought I should write something about this kind of situation.”

A little further digging reveals there's a name for this odd condition and it's called Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (or SUNDS). This website claims that more than a hundred Southeast Asian immigrants have died this way, in their sleep, when all were apparently healthy. The site also goes on to offer up one explanation from folklorist Shelley Adler, and this is what may have led Craven straight to the creation of Freddy Krueger.

"The medical folklorist Shelley Adler postulates that a supernormal nocturnal experience that is part of Hmong traditional beliefs can trigger the fatal syndrome. The experience is referred to as a 'night-mare,' not in the modern sense of a bad dream, but rather in its original denotation as the nocturnal visit of an evil being that threatens to press the very life out of its terrified victim."

Yeah, we won't have any trouble sleeping tonight.


Follow along on Twitter @ErikDavis and @Moviesdotcom.


Categories: Geek, Horror
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