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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 7: Wes Craven and The Killing Fields

If you really think about all of the horror monster icons to come out of the 1980’s and 90’s, there may be none more original than Freddy Krueger (sorry Hellraiser fans).  Even those of you who aren’t horror fans know who I’m talking about.  The guy with the scarred face, striped sweater and knife fingers.  He was truly an original who came along at a time when the other “monsters” on the screen were one dimensional slashers like Jason from Friday the 13th.

Wes Craven, the man who wrote and directed the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, recently gave a series of lengthy interviews to Vulture that detailed the making of the film.  In it, he discussed where the idea came from and it’s a truly haunting and horrible story.  To tell it, we first have to visit Cambodia and talk about the Khmer Rouge regime.

In the 1970’s, the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia.  Their leader, Pol Pot, ordered a systematic genocide to wipe out any and all opposition to their goal of creating a socialist country, focused on agriculture and keeping to the ideals of Lenin, Marx and Mao.  They forced people out of the cities and into the country, making them work in labor camps.  They arrested intellectuals, ethnic Thai, Vietnamese and Thai people as well as Christians and Buddhist monks and murdered them, creating mass graves that became known as Cambodian Killing Fields.  

All told, it’s estimated that 1.7 to 2.5 million people were executed.  That’s almost 25 percent of Cambodia’s entire population at the time.

It was absolutely horrible but some people managed to escape it.  One family who made it to the United States unwittingly became the inspiration behind Wes Craven’s story.  After settling in the U.S., most of the family was able to begin moving on from the nightmare they’d just left behind.  However one of the younger boys couldn’t.  He began having nightmares where he described a monster who hunted him in his dreams. 

Instead of me telling you what comes next, how about we let Wes Craven tell it himself.

“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. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare on Elm Street."

The story of the boy dying in his sleep actually made the L.A. Times which is where Craven came across it.  It stuck in his head and Freddy Krueger was soon born.

If you haven’t seen A Nightmare on Elm Street or just haven’t seen it in a while, you should check it out.  It’s aged very well and the paranoia and fear of falling asleep are palpable.  In it, Krueger is a frightening madman, not the wisecracking villain of the sequels. 

See you next time!

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