Where to begin? A wounded Vietcong begging for water, as he struggles to keep his entrails inside him with a pot lid. The over-the-top raid on a village where schoolchildren flee from the sound of approaching helicopters, which is then spectacularly napalmed. Hysterical "civilians" grenading MediVacs.A tiger out of friggin' nowhere. An abandoned MASH with corpses left to rot in lockers. A plane crashed in the water with no explanation. The massacre of the sampan. A remote outpost with no apparent leadership (presumably being the victim of an apparently well executed VC ambush), the unlucky men stationed there being slowly driven insane by fireworks, flashing lights and haunting music. Kurtz's compound. Kurtz placing Chef's recently severed (and still-twitching) head on Willard's lap and of course the Montagnard ceremony. The film seems to be trying to show the entire Vietnam War as being this trope, and it does a pretty good job of it.
The movie can be summed up with a single, nightmare-fueled quote: "I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream; that's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor... and surviving."
Kurtz himself is something of this. The way he's almost always shown in the dark, and only ever partially visible, is particularly creepy, and one can only imagine how Willard must feel in his presence. Even worse still he's more than willing to decapitate an innocent man and casually drop his head in front of his commanding officer.
The REAL Nightmare Fuel? The worst part of it all might be that many veterans and witnesses have said that this film is one of the truest representations of what the war was like.
And while Kurtz is telling this story the camera cuts back to Willard while at the background you see one of his guards as a vague silhouette in the distance very slowly moving and turning around. When you first see this it's a veritable unnerving Jump Scare, especially since it's not clear what he is doing back there? It seems as if he is catching a fly or something?
The collective conclusion of all the terrible things Kurtz had faced in his life and what it turned him into, summarized by his final words, "The horror.......the horror". He doesn't even say it as dramatically as people would think, he's so shell shocked he's gone way past that.
The execution of the water buffalo is genuinely disturbing to watch given that at one point it looks directly at the camera.
Worse than that; the killing of the water buffalo is 100% real.
Willard is trying to find someone in charge at a chaotic, violent battle over a meaningless bridge upriver. A soldier kills a Viet Cong by sniping him with a grenade launcher. Willard asks him if he knows who's in command. The soldier just stares at him and says "Yeah," letting his silence confirm exactly what he's talking about.
Earlier on, Willard asks a jittery machine gunner "Who's your commanding officer?" The soldier looks at him and says, "Ain't you?". It's incredibly unnerving to see an outpost of soldiers just completely break down in terms of order and coherence.
The previous outpost they stopped at wasn't much better. The whole place looked ghostly and deserted, with only a handful of shell-shocked soldiers still hanging around.
Kurtz domain is littered with corpses and dismembered heads while his group of fanatics just waltz around, it's clear they can kill Willard's squad but they just stares at them. Any reservation Chef and Willard had in killing the colonel (he is/was a member of the army so killing him felt awkward) goes out the window because this is not war anymore, it's pure madness.
General release prints added an unsettling end credits sequence, in which the Kurtz compound explodes. Since this caused some viewers to misinterpret the resolutionnote it looked as if the Army ordered an air strike after the killing of Kurtz, later prints use either an end credits sequence with a simple black background, or (emulating the initial, limited release) no end titles at all.