Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Was Nightmare on Elm Street seriously inspired by the 1970s pop hit “Dream Weaver”?
Singer-songwriter Gary Wright was a good friend of former Beatle George Harrison. Harrison invited him on a trip to India. Right before going on the trip, Harrison gave him the book Autobiography of a Yogi (written by Paramahansa Yogananda) and after reading it Wright soon became fascinated by Indian culture and philosophy. Reading more of Yoganada’s works, he came across a poem by Yoganada titled “God! God! God!” which discusses the concept of the mind controlling its own dreams. I believe it specifically mentioned the mind “weaving” dreams. This inspired Wright to write the 1975 song “Dream Weaver,” which was a major hit on the pop charts in 1976. The song was especially noteworthy for the fact that besides drums by Jim Keltner, all of the rest of the music was performed by Wright’s keyboard synthesizer. Therefore, the song was likely the first “synth pop” hit ever.
However, did the pop song also somehow inspire Wes Craven to create the horror film Nightmare on Elm Street? Read on to find out!
As with a lot of legends, the answer is “sort of.”
The true inspiration for Nightmare on Elm Street seem to come from a series of mysterious deaths in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 1980s of some male Khmer refugees from Cambodia. The men all died in their sleep. Since they were all refugees, when reading about their deaths, Craven thought about the fact that likely each of the men were suffering from post-traumatic stress nightmares from the violence they dealt with in Cambodia. Years later, Craven recalled one of the deaths in particular:
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.”
More recently, scientists seem to be fairly certain that these sudden deaths have to do with a genetic mutation in a gene within the membranes of the heart that controls the ion levels in the heart. So it is a genetic disease that affects men in South Asia. However, these studies had not yet been done in the early 1980s. Back then, all it seemed to be was that otherwise healthy men were just suddenly dying when they went to bed.
So Craven, who had just recently finished production on the film Swamp Thing, was inspired by this to do a film about people dying while they were asleep. This is where “Dream Weaver” comes in. After hearing the song, it gave Craven the final piece of the puzzle – the idea of a villain (the evil Freddy Krueger) weaving people’s nightmares. In addition, Craven liked the sort of dark opening of the song with the synthesizers and that sound had a bit of an influence on the soundtrack for Nightmare on Elm Street, as well (Charles Bernstein did the music for the film).
So while it is a bit of a stretch to just say “‘Dream Weaver’ inspired Nightmare on Elm Street” when the major influence was the series of mysterious sleeping deaths, Craven does acknowledge that the song did inspire him to come up with a major aspect of the film’s plot, so I think it is fair enough to say that the legend is…
Thanks to Wes Craven for the information (from various interviews and DVD commentaries) and thanks to Gary Wright for the information about the origins of his hit song.
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