Is Freddy Krueger Real? The True Story That Inspired "A Nightmare on Elm Street"
The Southeast Asian Nightmare Deaths That Inspired Freddy Krueger
With razor sharp claws and singed flesh, Freddy Krueger set out to terrorize a new generation of audiences in Samuel Bayer's remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2010.
A serial killer who specifically targeted children, Freddy is eventually caught for his string of murders in the first A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, he is not convicted for them because of a legal technicality. When he gets out, a group of parents seek vengeance for the lives of their children and set fire to a building with him inside. He dies, but in a horrific twist, his spirit lives on and continues to kill children—only now he kills them in their nightmares.
And while audiences may be thrilled by violent images of the child predator invading the nightmares of Elm Street teens, a question might hold them back from fully enjoying the film: Is Freddy Krueger real? And if not, has there ever been someone who was killed by a nightmare?
Believe it or not, a real-life story out of Southeast Asia actually inspired Wes Craven's Freddy Krueger and the now-infamous series that tells his story.
Is Freddy Krueger Real? The True Story of People in Cambodia Suddenly Dying In Their Sleep
In the early 1980s, American newspapers ran a series of short stories chronicling a phenomenon in Southeast Asia that claimed the lives of a number of young adults.
These relatively healthy men, all without a history of mental disorders, began reporting horrific nightmares driving them to forgo sleep in order to avoid these terrors in the REM cycle.
The consumption of coffee and other stimulants helped the men remain awake, initially, but eventually each man went to sleep. Hours later, the men would be found screaming and violently thrashing in their beds before dying from unknown causes.
This phenomenon was covered in the New York Times in an article titled "Nightmares suspected in bed deaths of 18 Laotians":
"We didn't think anything mysterious was afoot until the third and fourth death happened very quickly," Dr. MGee [assistant medical examiner for Ramsey County, Minn.] said, "but then we began to wonder."
He said that his own search of the medical literature had disclosed the startling possibility that the four who died in St. Paul, all apparently healthy young men, might literally have been frightened to death.
When Craven heard about these cases of people dying in their sleep, he was especially intrigued by the fact that, even after autopsies, doctors could not find a reason for death.
The medical journal Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences published an article titled "Is sudden unexplained nocturnal death a breathing disorder?" In it, researchers discuss a condition that eventually became known as sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS) and explain that SUNDS is known by various names in Asia: "Lai Tai" in northeastern Thai dialects, "Bangungut" in Tagalog, and "Pokkuri" in Japanese. It usually occurs during the REM cycle of sleep in healthy young male adults. The abstract of the article explains:
The condition has been recognized by the people in the northeastern part of Thailand for many years. Elderly people in the region have described "Lai Tai" victims as making loud groans and showing signs of difficulty in breathing or labored respiration, who become rigid and die. Data, from relatives or those who had witnessed the episodes of deaths, revealed that the deaths usually occurred in the same manner as described by the elderly. The data also reported that the patients were unresponsive and difficult to arouse. From these reports it is likely that the instability of the physiological systems, especially respiration, in particular during the REM phase, may play some roles in precipitating the sudden death.
Some in Southeast Asia believed that demons invaded the dream realm of these men and eventually claimed them in their nightmares. These stories became the foundation for a story Wes Craven would use throughout his career a horror director and producer.
Other Inspirations for Freddy Krueger
Freddy Krueger was also inspired by two people from Craven's childhood: a school bully named Fred Krueger and a gruff homeless man from Craven's town.
The school bully worked the same job as Craven (a paper route), and harassed him for several years. In his very first movie, The Last House on the Left, Craven also used Fred Krueger as inspiration for the villain, naming him Krug Stillo.
As for the homeless man, Craven described their encounter in his DVD commentary for A Nightmare on Elm Street:
When I looked down there was a man very much like Freddy walking along the sidewalk. He must have sensed that someone was looking at him and stopped and looked right into my face. He scared the living daylights out of me, so I jumped back into the shadows. I waited and waited to hear him walk away. Finally I thought he must have gone, so I stepped back to the window. The guy was not only still looking at me but he thrust his head forward as if to say, 'Yes, I'm still looking at you.' The man walked towards the apartment building's entrance. I ran through the apartment to our front door as he was walking into our building on the lower floor. I heard him starting up the stairs. My brother, who is ten years older than me, got a baseball bat and went out to the corridor but he was gone.
Know of any other inspirations for Freddy Krueger? Are there any updates on the causes of unexplained nocturnal death syndrome? Leave a note in the comments.