"The horror! The horror!"
As dying words go, those uttered by Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in the Vietnam war epic Apocalypse Now are pretty unique.
Then again, Francis Ford Coppola’s war movie was a unique one. While other Vietnam-based efforts like Platoon served more as semi-autobiographical accounts of the conflict, Apocalypse Now took inspiration from literary sources - Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness, to be precise - which served as the basis for much of Coppola’s film, including Kurtz’s parting words.
“The horror! The horror!” is not just Kurtz commenting on the stark reality of warfare, but him reflecting on his own life, actions and the darkness of humankind. It’s a bleak, eye-opening final moment and one that only adds to the sense that Apocalypse Now is not just a war movie or social commentary on Vietnam – it's a horror film, showcasing the senseless brutality of conflict and the sickening depths of depravity people can sink to.
It's a prime example of the way in which the horrors of war have provided the perfect canvass for some of cinemas most fascinating explorations of terror in its many forms - but it's not the only example.
Veering between everything from the psychological to the more visceral, these war-inspired horror movies blur the lines between reality and fiction to create something utterly terrifying.
10. Jacob's Ladder
Fatal Attraction director Adrian Lyne swapped steamy thrillers for the supernatural with this story about a shell-shocked Vietnam vet haunted in his everyday life by vivid hallucinations and strange visions of nightmarish creatures.
Tim Robbins stars as the frazzled US infantryman, Jacob Singer, a man still reeling from the death of his young son as well as the experience of seeing his comrades die during an attack on the Mekong Delta.
Blending elements Gothic horror with the grim reality of warfare, Jacob’s Ladder also veers into good old-fashioned thriller territory, with Jacob eventually discovering many of his GI friends have suffered similar nightmarish visions.
He sets off in search of the truth. Was he drugged as part of some US military experiment? Or was something else at play?
A well-paced and visually inventive horror effort, Jacob’s Ladder could have fallen apart in the wrong hands, but Lyne paces the story well, offering glimpses of the terror lurking beneath the surface of Jacob's existence without dwelling too much on the blood and guts.
He’s careful to keep the focus on Jacob too, with Robbins delivering a performance to rival his very best – we're looking at you Shawshank Redemption. It all builds to a surprising crescendo you’ll probably love or hate with a passion. Either way, the film is one hell of a ride.