Halloween is coming up soon and we plan to celebrate it in style here at the m0vie blog. We’ll be looking at all manner of scary archetypes and horror conventions as that day approaches. Evidently, I’m already in the right frame of mind. I just found out that the original A Nightmare on Elm Street is based (very loosely, I must admit) on a true story. I’m not kidding, it’s actually quite freaky.
And before you ask, no, it isn’t the sane and rational part of the movie. There was no vigilante justice taken against a particular pedophile which inspired the creation of Krueger himself. Indeed, what inspired the movie (along with personal experiences from director Wes Craven) was a string of reports in the LA Times about the death of young, healthy immigrants from Cambodia – they died in their sleep, after being terrified of going back to rest.
In the middle of the night they heard these horrendous screams and crashings and they ran in and he’s thrashing on the bed. They ran to him and by the time they got to him he was dead. They did an autopsy on him and there was nothing physically wrong with him. And I just thought: “My God.”
Apparently there’s a medical name for the condition: sudden unexplained death syndrome. Which, in fairness, sounds pretty creepy and mysterious. It’s mainly an east Asian thing, first noticed in Hmong immigrants in the late 1970s. There’s little real knowledge of what causes the condition , though scientists suggest that irregular heart rhythm might have something to do with it. There seems to be no way to predict it. It’s apparently relatively common in Singapore, with 43 deaths per 100,000. Creepy, eh? In the Philippines apparently it goes by the name bangungot – though, in certain parts of the Far East, a peaceful death in sleep is apparently something to be sought.
As you would imagine, there is a significant amount of folklore and mythology built up around the fatal disease. Apparently it is brought about by a malignant spirit. Before you go getting even more hyped up, it isn’t a burnt janitor with terrible fashion sense and an obvious interest in metal work, it’s a vindictive and jealous woman who smothers young men in their sleep.
Back to the case at hand. Craven recalls reading about the reports in the LA Times about these children. Apparently they were terrified and afraid to go to sleep – afraid of something in their dreams. Eventually the parents of the children (convinced by doctors that the lack of REM sleep was a bad thing) told the children to go to sleep. They never woke up.
The story is given an all-too-tragic dimension by the fact that these were families fleeing the genocide of the Khumer Rouge regime, all too famous for its atrocities. Perhaps the children never completely escaped the hell which they had fled – it is possible that the stress could have triggered that irregular heart beat. Still, it is freaky to read about so many children among the immigrants dying in the same manner. We’ll never know why.
I just happened to stumble across this little story and I thought it might be interesting for any film buffs to keep in mind if they are going back to rewatch the original movie before the remake is released next year.