The true story behind A Nightmare on Elm Street is more terrifying than the movie counterpart. Partly because it’s real and partly because it’s technically still unsolved. Wes Craven’s 1984 picture, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” told the tale of the demonic Freddy Krueger, who kills victims in their dreams.
He got the idea from a story in the LA Times about a refugee from the genocide in Cambodia who was terrified to go to sleep for fear that he would die in his nightmares. Numerous South East Asians, notably men of the Hmong ethnic group, passed away in their sleep throughout the 1980s.
The Hmong thought the deaths and nightmares were retribution from the ghosts of their ancestors who had left Laos. More than 30,000 Hmong soldiers were enlisted to fight alongside the United States when the Vietnam War reached Laos in the 1960s.
After the war, Laos became a communist nation, and the Hmong soldiers were punished and considered traitors. Many soldiers fled and sought shelter in the US and Thailand.
Later, Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome was used to describe the strange deaths Hmong people suffered (SUNDS).
What is the True Story Behind A Nightmare on Elm Street?
A Nightmare on Elm Street, one of the most recognizable horror movies ever, was first released in 1984, thanks to Wes Craven. His portrayal of Freddy Krueger as a demonic killer of teenagers in their nightmares was revolting, scary, and practically taken straight from the news.
For Craven’s seminal horror flick, an L.A. Times article was the true story behind A Nightmare on Elm Street. He told the tale of a young refugee from the genocide in Cambodia who was scared to go to sleep for fear that he would be assaulted in his nightmares and never wake up.
“His parents believed that the crisis had ended when he finally fell asleep. Then, they heard cries in the middle of the night,” Craven told Vulture. “He was already dead when they arrived. He passed away while having a nightmare.”
Craven’s incidence wasn’t unique; in the 1980s, scores of Southeast Asian refugees in America passed away in their sleep for inexplicable reasons. The mystery fatalities typically afflicted young Hmong males in their 20s and 30s, and a sizable enough portion of this community was impacted for public health specialists to be concerned.
The Horror that preceded the True Story Behind A Nightmare on Elm Street
Most affected by this perplexing illness were Laotian refugees, a small, landlocked nation in Southeast Asia.
Following their recruitment by the CIA to engage in combat against North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, the Hmong minority community experienced persecution in Laos.
Although they perished at a rate ten times greater than their American counterparts, more than 30,000 Hmong warriors assisted the U.S. in its struggle against communism in the northern highlands where they lived.
The Vietnam War ended in 1975, and Laos adopted communism. The new government saw the Hmong as traitors because they cooperated with the US. After the war, many war survivors fled their homes and took sanctuary in Thailand or the United States.
According to Dr. Khatharya Um, Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and author of Southeast Asian Migration: People on the Move in Search of Work, Refuge, and Belonging, it was “forced migration under the most trying conditions. It was a very dangerous and lengthy trek.”
The group’s problems persisted even after they were resettled because they frequently continued to be traumatized by their past experiences. Um explains that these people have gone through a lot and been exposed to a lot. High levels of poverty plagued Hmong refugees in the U.S., and soon a mysterious illness started to strike them.
The Horror Begins
The true story behind A Nightmare on Elm Street started when men who were thousands of miles from home passed away in their sleep. 33 was their median age. 116 of the 117 were healthy guys, leaving just one out.
Most Southeast Asian immigrants had only been in the country for a few months. The death rate among the Hmong ethnic group from this mystery problem peaked in the early 1980s when it was comparable to the top five natural causes of death for other American men in their age group.
Nobody knew what was murdering Hmong men in their sleep, but it was killing them. No evident cause of death was found. Physically, none of them had been ill. Geographically, the males weren’t grouped all that close together. They shared culture and were bound together by their exile from Laos but little else.
House himself would have been perplexed.
Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome is the moniker that doctors gave the issue—a name that reeks of failure and is at the very frontier of the field of medicine as we know it. SUNDS. It didn’t really help with diagnosis or treatment, but it made it simpler to follow the regular conferences held to comprehend the issue.
Shelley Adler’s latest work, which is based on interviews with members of the Hmong people and an examination of the body of scientific research currently in existence, reconstructs what happened 25 years later.
Nighttime nightmares, placebos, and the Mind-Body Connection is a perplexing investigation of the relationship between your beliefs and how your body functions.
Adler, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, reaches the startling conclusion that the Hmong were, in a sense, killed by their faith in the hereafter, even if the cause of their demise was probably a rare genetic cardiac arrhythmia that is common in southeast Asia.
Most affected were teenagers and young men, just like Freddy Krueger’s victims in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Throughout the late 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, the L.A. Times ran headlines like “Mysterious Fatal Malady Striking Hmong Men” and “Night Deaths of Asian Men Unexplained,” any one of which might have captured the attention of Wes Craven.
The Hmong deaths had slowed by 1986, but they were still a startling epidemiological fact. At the time, Adler was a Ph.D. student at UCLA researching conventional belief narratives. She had been studying what the scientific community referred to as sleep paralysis or what she called “nocturnal pressing spirit attacks.”
Cultural Belief on Nightmares
Fascinatingly, practically every culture is aware of sleep paralysis and is almost invariably connected to nighttime evil. It goes by digestion in Indonesia (“pressed on”). The Chinese term is bei gui ya (“held by a ghost”).
The Hungarians call it “witches’ pressure” or boszorkany-nyomas. The spirit that appears in Newfoundland is known as the Old Hag, and being overcome by sleep paralysis is known as being “hag-ridden.” The Dutch name is the one that English speakers are most familiar with. The presence is known as the “nightmare” or Nachtmerrie.
The name “mare” is derived from the Germanic mahr or Old Norse mara, which described a typically female supernatural figure that “laid on people’s chests, suffocating them,” in Adler’s words. Mare’s origins are unclear, although it is an Indo-European language fruit that most likely derives from moros (death), mer (drive out), or mar (to pound, bruise, crush).
According to Hmong tradition, the nocturnal pressing spirit dab tsog is to blame for sleep paralysis. Dab tsog assaults “sleepers” by crouching down on their chests and occasionally attempting to choke them. Dab tsog is thought by some to be the cause of sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS).
A 1981 article describes the situation of a Laotian refugee who moved to the United States with his family from a refugee camp in Thailand. But only a short time after moving to his new nation, Yong Leng Thao, then 47, passed away in his sleep, sobbing next to his wife.
According to the newspaper, he was the 13th nocturnal Hmong death to be noted since 1978 and the fourth Hmong male to do so in the previous nine months.
Investigators could not determine a medical cause for the fatalities. Still, many of the community blamed chemical nerve agents that the Vietnam War refugees would have been exposed to. Doctors, however, did not concur with that view.
“Nerve gas doesn’t behave like this,” county medical examiner Dr. Larry V. Lewman stated in the L.A. Times story that there is no evidence. “Secondly, why does it only affect men and only at night if it was nerve gas?”
According to some Hmong, the spirits of their ancestors were punishing them for fleeing their homeland. According to Dr. Um, their fear was related to “not being able to properly honor your ancestor’s spirits because you’re not there or because you don’t have the correct things to do the proper rites.
“I believe that the traditional explanation remained as relevant as, if not more relevant than, explanations relating to cardio-vascular disorders for many of the Hmong of that generation.”
The Centers for Disease Control has thoroughly investigated the lethal condition, which was ultimately labeled Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS). It is still unknown what caused the abrupt SUNDS deaths among Southeast Asians, notably the Hmong population.
According to Dr. Um, the Hmong’s years of stress may have contributed to the disease. Was that a reflection of the pressures that come with being forcibly transported from one environment to another that is wholly foreign and occasionally even hostile? She queries.
It’s possible that the threat of this enigmatic death sentence for Hmong immigrants is even more terrifying than the serial killer it spawned.
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