“He Said, Laughing” — Simon R. Green

Simon R. Green is the bestselling author of dozens of novels, including several long-running series, such as the Deathstalker series and the Darkwood series. Most of his work over the last several years has been set in either his Secret History series or in his popular Nightside milieu. Recent novels include The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny and The Spy Who Haunted Me. A new series, The Ghost Finders, is forthcoming. Green’s short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Mean Streets, Unusual Suspects, Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, Powers of Detection, and is forthcoming in my anthology The Way of the Wizard.

Apocalypse Now is a strange, wild movie. In it, director Francis Ford Coppola retells Joseph Conrad’s classic Colonial-era novel Heart of Darkness by transposing the story to the Vietnam War. In one scene, American soldiers attempt to seize a beachhead while simultaneously blasting Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” and surfing. Robert Duvall, playing the mad Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, stands tall as mortars land all around him, and declares, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” From there things only get stranger and more surreal, as Martin Sheen’s character Captain Willard travels farther and farther upriver, seeking a rogue colonel named Kurtz.

But the process of filming the movie was as mad and out-of-control as anything that appears on film. Drinking and drugs were rampant among the crew. A storm destroyed the sets, and the borrowed helicopters were called away to fight real-life battles. Star Marlon Brando had become grossly obese and refused to be filmed except from the neck up while standing in deep shadow. Someone on the production had obtained real cadavers to use as props, which turned out to have been stolen from local graves. And director Francis Ford Coppola, who stood to lose everything if the film failed, threatened repeatedly to kill himself.

Sounds pretty insane. But on the other hand, at least they never had to deal with zombies.