Was Wes Craven inspired by a true story when he created A Nightmare on Elm Street and the terrifying serial killer, Freddy Krueger? A Nightmare on Elm Street released in 1984 and has since produced seven sequels, a remake of the original film, and a TV series. Due to the franchise's popularity, rumors of a reboot have been swirling in recent years.
Since Freddy Krueger's introduction, the serial killer has justified his spot among other horror icons, such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. Freddy, however, was unique in that he was a spirit that killed his victims in their dreams. He was a child murderer who was killed by an angry mob, leaving his appearance burned and disfigured. Freddy was known for his gloved hand equipped with knives, his red and green striped sweater, and of course, his dirty brown fedora. After he was killed, Freddy's spirit lived on as his urge to kill was fueled by the fear left in town. He continued to prey on teenagers by entering their dreams and killing them in their nightmares.
Craven didn't become a horror fan until well into his 20s. He later went on to create Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes franchise, but he then fell into a lull. But Craven then got an interesting inspiration from a newspaper article as well as his own experience from his childhood. This led him to officially develop the script for A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1981.
Through an oral history of A Nightmare on Elm Street (via Vulture), Craven recounted the story that influenced the creation of Freddy Krueger. He recalled a Los Angeles Times article from the 1970s about a family that escaped the Killing Fields on Cambodia. After fleeing to the United States, the young son had disturbing nightmares in which something was chasing him. The terror caused him to be afraid to go to sleep so he would try to stay awake for days. The boy eventually fell asleep but his parents heard him screaming in the middle of the night, but he was dead by the time they got to him. That boy died in the middle of a terrifying nightmare, the main theme of A Nightmare on Elm Street and its villain, Freddy Krueger.
There were other reported cases of men in similar situations who took refuge in the U.S. and later died in their sleep. The phenomena later became known as the Asian Death Syndrome, but that wouldn't be Craven's only inspiration. The writer and director drew on some of his own personal experiences, especially for Freddy's strange demeanor. As a kid, Craven was once inside his home when a creepy old man walked along the path beside his window. The man stopped and glanced at Craven, scaring him, before wandering off. Craven kept that in mind when developing the movie's villain.
Freddy Krueger's name was directly influenced by Craven's childhood bully, Fred Kruger. The villain's overall look came from Craven's preference in being different than any previous horror figure. Rather than use a mask, Craven wanted Freddy to be terrifying through another form so he chose scarred skin. His choices proved to be worth it because Craven developed one of the most memorable killers in horror history. The legacy behind A Nightmare on Elm Street continues to grow even more so now that Craven is no longer with us. It almost seems inevitable that Freddy Krueger will return in the near future.