‘Nightmare on Elm Street’: Freddy Krueger Was Inspired by a Creepy Man From Wes Craven’s Childhood

Many fans of A Nightmare on Elm Street are aware that Wes Craven’s idea for the film stemmed from articles he read in the Los Angeles Times. One story focused on a young boy who died after having traumatic nightmares that affected his ability to function. But Craven had another interesting tale about Freddy Krueger’s origins that drew from a scary childhood experience.

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in ‘The Goldbergs’
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in ‘The Goldbergs’ | Walt Disney Television/John Fleenor via Getty Images

Freddy Krueger inspired by man from Wes Craven’s window

An interesting look back at the classic horror film reveals details on how Craven developed the story for Freddy Krueger and all the kids he terrorized. He gleaned much of it from real life, including Freddy’s intimidating characteristics. However, there was one incident from Craven’s childhood that he described as the origin of Freddy’s “essence.” He discussed it in a “Making of” featurette.

“When I was about seven years old, I was just about to fall asleep and I heard this shuffling down the sidewalk and mumbling,” he said. Craven explained that his family lived in an apartment building, and he looked out the second-story window. “There was this man that looked pretty much like Freddy ended up looking. I assume now that he was probably a drunk, but at that time, he was just this dark man. He stopped, and he happened to look directly up into the window and right into my eyes.”

When telling the story, Craven remarked that he didn’t know how the guy knew to stop, or that a kid was watching from the window. But it was unnerving.

“It just stopped the breath in my throat. I backed away from the window with him just staring at me until he couldn’t see me and stood back there in the shadows and counted. I counted to 100 or 200 or whatever, but I didn’t hear him,” he said. He figured the man left because he couldn’t hear anything after time passed. Not so.

Craven said the man knew how to scare a kid

Craven approached the window again. “I went back and he was there and he just went… with this big leer,” he gestured. The man then continued to walk, looking back over his shoulder. To a young and fearful Craven, it appeared the man was heading toward his building, so he ran to his front door to listen.

He heard the lobby door open so he woke up his entire family. By the time his brother ran to the door with a bat, no one was there. But Craven said the man — who was wearing the same style hat as Freddy Krueger — became the essence for the iconic character.

“That guy — whoever he was — enjoyed scaring the sh–t out of a kid,” said Craven.

Wes Craven wanted to cast an older Freddy Krueger

When Craven first shopped his script for A Nightmare on Elm Street, most people didn’t think it was scary or clever enough. Once he landed a producer for the film, he cast Nancy’s role first, and then Freddy Krueger. As we know, Robert Englund embodied the killer character for more than 30 years. But Craven shared that he had someone older in mind when he wrote the script.

“Freddy was originally written to be an older man,” he said. “I was originally looking at men in their 60s and 70s, frankly, and could not find anybody that had the wherewithal to come up with that kind of energy.”

He said upon meeting Englund, his first impression was that he was too young, and he didn’t look like the Freddy he envisioned in his mind. But he loved Englund’s enthusiasm and his willingness to go to dark places. And the rest is Nightmare history.