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TV URBAN LEGEND: Was A 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, who invited him on a trip to India. Right before they left, 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 hit 1975 song “Dream Weaver,” which was especially noteworthy for the fact that, except for drums by Jim Keltner, all of the music was performed using Wright’s keyboard synthesizer. Therefore, the song was likely the first “synth-pop” hit.
However, did the pop song also somehow inspire Wes Craven to create the horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street?
As with so many legends, the answer is “sort of.”
The true inspiration for A Nightmare on Elm Street seems to come from a series of mysterious deaths in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 1980s of some male Khmer refugees, who all passed away in their sleep. As they were all refugees, when reading about their deaths, Craven thought they likely suffered from post-traumatic stress nightmares from the violence they experienced 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.”
Scientists now seem fairly certain these sudden deaths were the result of a mutation in a gene within the membranes of the heart that controls ion levels. So it’s a genetic disease that affects men in South Asia. However, in the early ‘80s, it appeared as if these otherwise-healthy men were suddenly dying when they went to bed.
So Craven, who had only recently finished production on Swamp Thing, was inspired to make a film about people dying while they were asleep. This is where “Dream Weaver” comes in: After hearing the Craven was provided with the final piece of the puzzle — the idea of a villain (Freddy Krueger) weaving people’s nightmares. In addition, the filmmaker liked the sort of dark opening of the song, which had a bit of an influence on the soundtrack for A Nightmare on Elm Street (Charles Bernstein created the music for the film).
So while it is a bit of a stretch to just say “‘Dream Weaver’ inspired A Nightmare on Elm Street” when the major influence was the series of mysterious sleeping deaths, Craven does acknowledge 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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