Nightmare in Cambodia

The content below is from Episode 133 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast


  • I would like to apologize to you Who’d a Thunkers.
  • We are now two weeks into the month of October and I am just now starting the Who’d a Thunk It? FRIGHTFEST!
    • The first two years of the podcast, during the month of October I’ve only released episodes that were horrifying or creepy in nature.
    • Yet last week, the first episode of October 2022 I released an episode about Leif Erikson, the explorer Viking who was the first European to set foot on the New World… while a cool character, Leif’s story is not typically seen as a scary one.
    • I was just so excited to host my very first Leif Erikson party at my house that I had to do an episode right before Leif Erikson’s day.
    • But fear not… or… DO FEAR a lot, for the 2022 Who’d a Thunk It? FRIGHTFEST starts now!


  • This week’s recommendation segment ties directly into the main event.
    • I suggest you watch the original 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street.
    • I’ll talk more about it in the main event… so let’s get right to it.


Nightmare on Elm Street

  • Have you ever seen the movie Nightmare on Elm street?
    • The 1984 horror classic directed by the legendary Wes Craven has sparked a movie franchise spanning over 4 decades now. If you haven’t seen it, you have most likely heard of it, with the main antagonist Freddy Krueger.
    • Here’s a summary of the plot:
      •  several Midwestern teenagers fall prey to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a disfigured midnight mangler who preys on the teenagers in their dreams — which, in turn, kills them in reality. After investigating the phenomenon, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) begins to suspect that a dark secret kept by her and her friends’ parents may be the key to unraveling the mystery, but can Nancy and her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) solve the puzzle before it’s too late?
      • Yeah, a young Johnny Depp is in the original Nightmare on Elm Street.
    • I was first introduced to the movie franchise by a hoakey, sub-par crossover movie called Freddy VS Jason. I was a teenager and thought it was kind of cool to watch two slasher horror bad guys go up against each other, but trust me, the movie isn’t that great… not compared to the original.
      • The many, many sequels and spinoff movies that came after the 1984 original Nightmare on Elm Street were more hoakey and leaned into the comedy aspect of the slasher/horror genre. But let me tell you, the original is just down-right terrifying.
    • Last year I watched the original Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time and it is both a cinema marvel and horrifying at the same time.
      • When Freddy’s hand reaches up out of the bath water I think my body stiffened on the couch as I simultaneously said to Shannon “that is freaking genius!”
  • But what if I told you that Wes Craven based his classic on real-life events?
    • The real-life inspiration for this iconic horror film was a family that survived the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s.

The Cambodian Massacre

  • In 1925, in a small Cambodian village called Prek Sbauv, a man named Saloth Sar was born.
    • He was the 8th of 9 children. They were born into a well-off land-owning farming family that owned 50 acres of Rice Paddy fields. This land was over 10 times the national average at the time.
    • But during his childhood, Cambodia was under French Colonial rule… a rule that was not supported by many of the Cambodian people.
    • In school, Saloth Sar got horrible grades. His wealthy parents were worried that their son wasn’t going to fare so well as an adult if he lacked the means to excel in his education career. But he did pick up at least one thing while in school, interest, and passion that aligned with the revolutionary Cambodian communists seeking independence from Frech Colonial rule.
Pol Pot
  • As he got older he spent less time in school and more time with the Communist Revolutionists, giving himself the name Pol Pot, short for the French phrase “Politique Potentielle” (potential politics).
    • His monicker reflected his dedication from then on in his life. Spending all of his time on communist politics and none in school, Pol Pot began to fail exams. He had his scholarship revoked, and conveniently agreed to go to Cambodia on behalf of his Communist Student group to assess the political situation back home.
      • Most likely he knew he couldn’t hack it in school and left the life of a student behind.
    • He returned home in 1953, the same year Cambodia gained independence from its French oppressors. And what happens when a ruling force leaves a large population? A power vacuum is left in the wake.
    • Then in 1956 Pol Pot starts teaching in Private schools, influencing the country’s youth. From 1956 to 1963 he teaches History, Geography, and French Literature.
      • While teaching, Pol Pot is a major player in the Cambodian Communist party. He is the party’s secretary in 1960 spreading his own version of Marxist-Leninism.
    • Everything was going great for Pol Pot, he was a teacher by day, and a communist revolutionary by night. But then the monarchy in charge of Cambodia at the time took notice of Pol Pot and his communist party… and didn’t like what they saw. The Monarchy began to seek out the Communists and drove them deeper into the Jungle, turning a political party into full-blown revolutionaries.
  • During his time in the jungle, Pol Pot met a group of Viet-Cong soldiers from the Vietnam war. Pol Pot, his scattered bunch of guerrilla fighters, and the Viet Cong got along well and joined forces.
    • With their forces combined, they became the Khmer Rouge Guerilla Army… Pol Pot now had a full-fledged army at his disposal.
    • In 1968 the Khmer Rouge set out to overthrow Cambodia’s monarchy and did a damn fine job of it.
    • Pol Pot, like many influential dictators, was very persuasive and charismatic. His followers were die-hard revolutionaries willing to do whatever their leader commanded.
    • One can draw similarities between Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler in how they ran their regimes.
  • In 1970 a chaotic and devastating civil war broke out in Cambodia.
    • Like most wars, it was complicated. But basically, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were up against the country’s military leader General Nol. But also the US was involved because Nixon wanted to root out the Viet Cong in Cambodia by sending 70,000 troops and dropping 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia.
      • As I said, it was chaotic
    • And where some see the despair in chaos, people like Pol Pot see opportunity. All of this violence just lead more and more people to join the Khmer Rouge
    • On April 17th of 1975, after a brutal siege and starvation campaign on the capital, Pol Pot had become the leader of Cambodia.
    • Everyone was hoping the country would cool down for a bit after all the violence of the civil war and the US’s bombing campaign… but that didn’t happen.
    • Pol Pot was in power now and he got to work creating his idea of a utopia.
  • Pol Pot wanted to bring the country back to its roots; a nation built on farming. He wanted to cultivate a grassroots farming community on a national scale. Not a bad idea on paper, but it is how he went about it that was truly horrifying.
    • He set his sights on the urban areas. The educated elite and urbanites were his targets.
    • First, he evacuated the cities. Doctors, Lawyers, and civil servants were forced into “re-education camps.” They had to give up everything they owned to the government and work themselves to death in Cambodia rice patties.
      • I remember the first time I heard about all this I kept thinking how counter-productive it all sounded. Education is good. Education is what propels a country forward… yet here is this cruel moron in power basically gutting the education of his own country.
    • Any resistance was dealt with by means of torture. Anyone trying to change this anti-education policy or even complain about it would be tortured until they complied or were killed.
      • The S-21 Detention Center was a former High School and the most notorious of Pol Pots re-education centers. Out of the 18,000 known prisoners sent to S-21, only 23 survived.
    • the Khmer Rouge interrogation agents were given torture manuals with instructions like “Our experience in the past has been that our interrogators, for the most part, tended to fall on the torture side… However, we must nevertheless strive to do politics to get them always and absolutely to confess to us. Only once have we pressured them politically, only when we have put them in a corner politically and have gotten them to confess will torture become productive.”
  • Pol Pot’s society was hell. He hated educated people so much and was such a small-minded idiot himself that he often sent people to his torture centers if they wore glasses… As if glasses make someone smart.
    • Pol Pot banned:
      • Private Property
      • Jewelry
      • Religion
      • Gambling
      • and Reading
    • If you were caught with any of these outlawed things… you were tortured to death.
    • So let’s say you were lucky enough to fly under the Khmer Rouge’s radar. None of Pol Pot’s lackies ever came to your village and no one you knew was ever sent to a torture center, rare, but possible.
      • You still weren’t off Scott free. Because Pol Pot got rid of all the civil servants and educated people in his country, BIG SURPRISE: the government started to be run poorly. Food shortages and mismanagement lead to widespread famines.
      • If you were lucky enough to escape the torture you would most likely have died by starvation and had your body dumped into a mass grave that would come be known as the Cambodian Killing Fields.
    • Despite his government not having any semblance of democracy, Pol Pot changed Cambodia’s name to the Democratic Kampuchea.
      • This idiot didn’t even know what democracy was.
    • He controlled who and how his citizens could have sex, wear clothing, and acceptable words to be used.
    • Causing another mass halting of food production, Pol Pot ordered all the rice fields to be aligned in a Checkerboard pattern. This stunt worsened the famine causing thousands more to die and he did it all so the fields he saw when he took a drive would resemble the country’s coat of arms…
    • He stocked the ranks of his Khmer Rouge army by abducting children and forcing them to fight in his army lest they be executed.
    • Pol Pot set out to create his vision of a classless utopia by creating rivers of blood and millions of deaths. The Khmer Rouge, a hardline-communist command, terrorized the Southeast Asian country from 1975 to 1979, killing between 1.7 million to 3 million people.
  • This is where our story ties into Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street.
    • Again, the summary of the movie is: Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. When the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.
    • But the real-life inspiration was arguably more horrifying because it actually happened.
    • A family that fled Cambodia during Pol Pot’s reign witnessed and fought through many horros to finally get to safety. Although they were no longer in physical danger, the entire family was plagued by the trauma they had just endured. The worst case was that of their youngest son. He had such vivid nightmares that he was convinced that “they” would come for him if he fell asleep.
    • The boy refused to fall asleep depriving himself of it for far too long, to the point of hallucination. Days passed before the family was finally able to get their son to sleep.
    • Even though this family safely fled to the United States, they, like many Cambodian refugees at the time, were plagued by their traumatic memories.
    • Wes Craven: “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 LA Times has written many articles on Pol Pot’s massacres in Cambodia and the traumatic effect it has had on the survivors:
    • Four months ago, a refugee Chan knew shot his wife and himself to death in front of the couple’s four horrified children. Patients have come to the clinic carrying guns they refused to relinquish, afraid of security guards because of their uniforms. And it is not uncommon, the psychologist said, for Cambodian refugees to suffer severe headaches, dizziness, disorientation, poor memory, depression, insomnia, body aches, irritability and hallucinations. Some, he says, hear the voices of dead relatives calling to them.
    • “They took my brother away,” said Rao Im, 53, speaking in a choked voice through an interpreter. “They tied him to a chair and beat him with a brick. Then they cut him open and took out his liver.”
    • Said a poker-faced Saroeun Sous, 41: “My 2-year-old son got sick. The soldiers said he was useless, so they threw him against a bamboo bed and broke his back. Two days later he died.”
  • Pol Pot committed atrocities that have had rippling effects. Alongside the many terrified survivors and their stories, one of those rippling effects was Wes Craven’s movie Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • What happened to Pol Pot?
    • In 1979, Vietnamese troops stormed Cambodia and captured its capital Phnom. They forced Pol Pot and his most loyal subjects back into the jungle.
    • While in the jungle, Pol Pot and his guerilla Khmer Rouge troops continued military operations through support from the US and China. This continued for another decade.
    • Until, in 1991 a ceasefire went into effect. In 1997 a Khmer Rouge splinter cell captured Pol Pot… the murderous SOB was placed under house arrest until he died a peaceful death from natural causes at the age of 72… No justice in this episode

Thanks for listening Who’d A Thunkers!

Until next time.

No guarantee I will produce an episode next week because… I’m getting married!!!