The bizarre true story that inspired Freddy Krueger

A Nightmare on Elm Street's terrifying killer Freddy Krueger actually has a curious backstory which inspired Wes Craven to make the horror movie

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street

What is the true story of Freddy Krueger? The terrifying stalker of dreams in Wes Craven’s classic horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most iconic horror antagonists of all time, but where did the idea come from for this devilish character? We take a look at the inspiration and the backstory behind Craven’s nefarious creation.

You might think Craven spawned the hellish Freddy Krueger from one of his own nightmares as a child, or perhaps a chilling ghost story he heard in his youth. Well, the true story of Freddy Krueger is actually a rather curious case of wild rumours and distorted memories, which led the horror master to strike gold with his manifestation of a sleep-hunting serial killer.

So, join us as we dive into the real-world inspiration behind Freddy Krueger and the classic ‘80s movie A Nightmare on Elm Street. While we can promise this explanation certainly won’t put you to sleep, unfortunately, we can’t promise Freddy won’t get you

In the movie, Freddy Krueger is the spirit of a child murderer who died in a fire, and who now haunts the dreams of teenagers. Many fans believe that this story is based on a real-life serial killer who had a similar modus operandi, and who met a similar fate.

Facebook post by Lamaur Foster back in October 2017, claimed to have found the grave of one Frederik Kruger. In the post, Foster detailed the story of a serial killer in the 1800s who killed at least 20 children in the area with a gardening claw.

Despite the level of grisly detail Foster puts into his post, by the end, he admits to making the whole thing up after finding the image of the grave. “Actually, I just found this picture and made all that shit up,” Foster explained.

As with most things on the internet, rumours travel fast, and it’s very hard to fact check things you read online. It is this urban legend that has fuelled the fire of horror fans believing the origin stories of the slasher icon, after being shared numerous times, with slight variations on the details each time.

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The only person who can truly tell us the inspiration for the character of Freddy Krueger then, is Wes Craven himself. Speaking to Vulture, Craven gives an oral history of how A Nightmare on Elm Street and its gruesome antagonist came to be.

Apparently, writer Wes Craven came up with the idea for Krueger’s character after reading an LA Times article about a family who moved to the US from the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

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“Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares,” Craven recalled. “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,” Craven explained. “Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of A Nightmare on Elm Street,” the director added.

The newspaper report was one of many at the time to reference people dying during their sleep, who had reportedly been plagued by terrifying nightmares of deadly stalkers. The phenomenon would later be labelled the Asian Death Syndrome.

Craven also drew upon his own personal experiences to bring the character of Krueger to life; from a local bully, to strange men lurking outside Craven’s childhood home, to the rise in child molestation cases in the ’80s.

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In the audio commentary from the DVD for A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven recounts a time when, as a child, a creepy, old man walked along the path outside his window. The strange man stopped, and scared Craven before eventually moving on, and the memory stuck with the filmmaker, who was curious about the psychology of this man’s desire to scare a child like this.

“He scared the living daylights out of me, so I jumped back into the shadows. I waited and waited to hear him walk away,” Craven recalled. “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.'”

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Craven’s childhood bully has also been fundamental in the origins of Freddy Krueger, with the horror villain sharing a name with Craven’s real-life tormentor. Whoever Fred Kruger was, he also inspired the name of The Last House on the Left villain Krug, too.

As if coming up with an original and exciting story wasn’t hard enough, getting the movie made was a challenge, too. “Every studio rejected it. I have the rejection letter from Universal framed on my office wall,” Craven revealed.

So, there you have it, the true story behind Freddy Krueger is an amalgamation of various rumours, incredible news reports, and childhood memories. If you want to discover more inspirations for horror monsters, check out the true story of the killer who inspired Texas Chainsaw Massacre.