Apocalypse Now Used Bodies Provided by a Grave Robber for Props Until Police Intervened

Posted 2022/05/25 4 0

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One of the greatest war movies ever filmed went through a deadly hurricane, near-death experiences and used actual dead bodies for props.

War is ugly, but we would be remiss if we did not remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives in the trenches. Memorial Day is approaching and there are reels and reels of movies to remind us of the bravery and casualties of war. However, if there ever was a drawer labeled for the macabre, perhaps a story behind one of the most critically acclaimed films made would fit right in.

The 1979 film Apocalypse Now, starred Marlon Brandon, Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall the younger fresh faces of Martin Sheen, Harrison Ford, and Laurence Fishburne.

Known as one of cinema’s finest war epics and one of director Francis Ford Coppola’s greatest achievements, Apocalypse Now is also remembered for having a complicated legacy which involved actor disputes, near-death experiences, treacherous weather conditions due to a hurricane and a brush with the law after receiving a report of corpses on the set.

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Apocalypse Now was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness and follows Captain Willard’s (Martin Sheen) mind-bending journey through the jungles of Vietnam to assassinate the rebellious Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who is overcome with madness from the violence of the war and lives in the ruins of an ancient temple where he is worshipped by indigenous villagers as a demigod. The crumbling ruins are strewn with bodies, decapitated heads, and overgrown foliage. See the trailer above.

At one point, co-producer Gray Frederickson visited the temple set. He had allegedly learned that dead bodies were being used as props for the film but had previously discounted as an outrageous rumor. On the day of his visit, Frederickson saw a row of corpses being used as props, hanging from trees, and placed strategically around the temple set. Frederickson demanded the bodies be removed and local Philippine police came to question every cast and crew member and seized their passports. Because the bodies were unidentified, local authorities had to make sure there wasn’t a serial killer on the loose.

Actor Sam Bottoms was infected with hookworm while filming and the parasite wrecked his liver. Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando did not get along, which led to Brando refusing to be on the set the same time as Hopper. Typhoon Olga destroyed 40 to 80 percent of the set and before filming had finished, Martin Sheen, then 36, suffered a heart attack. Worried that funding would be halted if word got out about his condition, Sheen claimed he had suffered a heat stroke instead. Despite all the difficulties, Apocalypse Now earned eight Academy Award nominations and is still considered to be one of the best films ever made.


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