Though the franchise has devolved with subsequent sequels and remakes, the original Nightmare on Elm Street is still one of the freakiest horror flicks of the modern day. So, what inspired Freddy?
Creator Wes Craven, along with a ton of the original cast and crew, participated in a stellar oral history at Vulture looking back on the 1984 original and the development work for what would become one of the most iconic horror characters in history with Freddy Krueger a full 30 years ago.
When asked where they actually got the idea for Freddy’s WTF-tastic dream powers, Craven recounted an old new story he’d read about a family trying to get their lives in order after escaping Cambodia. But the family’s son was haunted with post-traumatic stress that eventually killed him. From there, the genesis of Freddy Krueger was born:
“I’d read an article in the L.A. Times about a family who had escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia and managed to get to the U.S. Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares. 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.”
Along with that reveal, Craven also opened up about the movie’s positively insane twist ending and how much he hates it. According to Craven, he was completely against having Freddy “win” by taking over the convertible as those creepy kids sing the Freddy song — signaling Nancy was still trapped in the dream world as the credits rolled.
Instead, Craven wanted to end a bit earlier, with Nancy having seemingly defeated Freddy by overcoming her fear:
“Bob wanted a hook for a sequel. I felt that the film should end when Nancy turns her back on Freddy and his violence — that’s the one thing that kills him. Bob wanted to have Freddy pick up the kids in a car and drive off, which reversed everything I was trying to say — it suddenly presented Freddy as triumphant. I came up with a compromise, which was to have the kids get in the convertible, and when the roof comes down, we’d have Freddy’s red and green stripes on it. Do I regret changing the ending? I do, because it’s the one part of the film that isn’t me.”
The full oral history is a fascinating read, and is a nice primer for a good old-fashioned Nightmare rewatch just in time for Halloween.