A Nightmare on Elm Street has stood the test of time as one of the best horror films of the past 40 years. Wes Craven’s 1984 film about a maniac preying on teenagers in their sleep was inventive …and it scared the crap out of people.
But Craven didn’t come up with the film’s creepy plot out of thin air. The director actually got the idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street from a 1981 newspaper article with the headline “Nightmares Suspected in Bed Deaths of 18 Laotians.” The condition became known as “Asian Death Syndrome” because most of those affected were of Southeast Asian descent, specifically Laotian-Hmong. The people affected by the condition would scream in their sleep… and then die.
Some Southeast Asian countries already had a word to describe this strange phenomenon. Filipinos call it ‘bangungut’ and the Japanese refer to it as ‘pokkuri.’ Both words roughly translate to “nightmare death.”
What made the cases even stranger was the fact that the 18 dead were all in good health before they suddenly passed away. One doctor who researched the phenomenon said, “These are all healthy men with no previous symptoms; the average age was 33. The situation is almost always the same. It only occurs in men and it only occurs in their sleep. The report is they cry out and die or are found dead the next morning.”
The same doctor discovered that 17 of the 18 victims had slightly enlarged hearts and that most of them had some kind of defect in the system that is in charge of carrying electric impulses from the brain to the heart. He hypothesized that a random electronic discharge, possibly caused by a nightmare, overloaded the men’s systems, killing them suddenly.
How’s that for being scared to death?