When you think of real horror stories, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is probably the last movie you would think was inspired by real-life events, but the inspiration behind the movie was based on fact. The Freddy Krueger character is indeed a work of fiction, but the people who died in their sleep was based on a number of reports in the LA Times discovered by “A Nightmare on Elm Street’s” director, Wes Craven. Craven described how the reports detailed young, healthy immigrants crashing around on their beds before dying in their sleep. An autopsy showed no details of any causes behind the deaths.
The medical condition, which in itself is very mysterious with no scientific backup other than an irregular heart rhythm being cited as a possible cause, is known as sudden unexplained death syndrome. The syndrome was thought to be rife in East Asia, especially in Singapore with 43 deaths per 100,000 people. The mysterious syndrome is known in the Philippines as bangungot.
The news story that influenced Craven reports that children were in fear of going to sleep for fear of dreaming. Worried parents insisted their children go to sleep on advice from their doctors, only for them to never wake up. It is worth noting that the families involved in the case had been escaping the genocide of the Khumer Rouge regime, so it’s evident that the children had already experienced some upset that may have caused nightmares. Of course it could also be that the children did indeed have an irregular heart rhythm, but whatever the cause, it makes the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie that little more sinister. It is said that it was not so much that the children died that inspired the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movie, but the fear experienced by the children when they were asked to go to sleep.