The Deadly Dreams That Inspired Freddy Krueger From ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the more fantastical slasher movies of the 1980s, so it may surprise some fans that a real-life tragedy inspired Freddy Krueger. Writer-director Wes Craven was moved to tears by the highly unusual circumstances of a young man’s untimely death. In addition, Craven drew inspiration for Freddy from a frightening incident from his childhood.

Freddy Krueger by a microphone
Freddy Krueger | Denise Truscello/WireImage

The tragedy that inspired ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

Craven’s early career was bumpy. He told Vulture he drew inspiration from his Christian fundamentalist upbringing to write his directorial debut, The Last House on the Left. His second film, The Hills Have Eyes, was a critical success. After his third film, the television movie Swamp Thing, failed to generate much revenue, Craven had a difficult three years. He didn’t have any income during that period.

Then, he read an article about a young man who moved to the United States with his family to find refuge from the Killing Fields of Cambodia. In the United States, this young man began having horrible nightmares about something chasing him. He tried to stay awake for days, worried the figure from his dreams would kill him.

The trailer of A Nightmare on Elm Street

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“When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over,” Craven said. “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.”

Interestingly, the book Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy reports an autopsy found the young man was perfectly healthy. The story of this man’s tragic death moved Craven to tears. He was struck by the idea of someone “who has a vision that’s accurate, but it’s so unusual that it seems like it’s part of some sort of madness.”

Wes Craven by a Scream poster
Wes Craven | Virginia Sherwood /Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Where the name ‘Fredddy Krueger’ came from

Craven then had an idea: What if the young man was slaughtered by someone in his dream? Craven came up with the name “Freddy Krueger” based on two of his earlier experiences. Firstly, he took the name “Freddy” from a bully who beat him up when he was in elementary school. Secondly, The Last House on the Left featured a villain named “Krug.” The name “Krueger” was simply designed as an extension of the name “Krug.”

A terrifying childhood incident that inspired Freddy Krueger’s fedora

In addition, the New York Post reports Craven drew inspiration from an incident in his own life. When he was a child, he noticed a man wearing a fedora outside his window. The man looked up at him and refused to look away. Craven looked out the window again sometime later only to see the man was still looking at him.

The incident gave Craven a terrible fright. It helped inspire Freddy, a character who famously wears a fedora. Although Freddy is a fantastical wise-cracking ghost, he has his origins in real life.