Even those who hate the horror genre can likely recognize the iconic character known as Freddy Krueger. The evil antagonist in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has been terrorizing people’s dreams for decades. With his disfigured face, gloved hands with glistening knives, signature striped sweater and dirty fedora, the serial killer is arguably the most demented creation to ever come out of Wes Craven’s terrifying imagination. Yet, the story behind Krueger may be even scarier than the character himself.
When discussing how he came up with the premise for the 1984 slasher movie, the filmmaker discussed a Los Angeles Times article from the previous decade. The story that stuck with him revolved around an immigrant family who escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Upon arriving in America, the young son had disturbing nightmares during which he described something frightening chasing after him.
His unmitigated fear was so strong that he became scared to even sleep. The poor boy attempted to stay awake for days at a time, though he eventually succumbed to slumber. One fateful night, his parents heard him screaming in the early hours of the morning. They rushed into his room, but the child was dead before they could get there. The heartbreaking story of this kid dying in the middle of an atrocious nightmare ultimately became the main theme of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Freddy himself was inspired by various other experiences Craven had throughout his childhood as well. Once, he was at home when a creepy old man walked along the path beside his window. The stranger stopped to stare at Craven before wandering off. The incident was so terrifying that Craven never forgot it and the movie’s villain ultimately took inspiration from this eerie ordeal.
The serial killer’s name, meanwhile, was directly influenced by the director’s childhood bully, Fred Kruger. And the villain’s unmistakable look derived from Craven’s desire to make the murderer different than any monster before him. Instead of opting for a mask, he chose scarred skin. To this day, he remains one of the only instantly recognizable cinematic killers who doesn’t cover his face.
Since Craven’s death in 2015, no new installments in the franchise have been produced. The 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is largely considered to be a dud and the second remake has been on ice for a long time now. Given how legendary Freddy Krueger is, though, it shouldn’t be long before audiences see him haunting the big screen again. Let’s just hope he stays out of our dreams.