Every “Indiana Jones” movie has a MacGuffin — an object the cast is looking for that’s primarily used to drive the film’s action or plot. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” it was the Ark of the Covenant, and when it was finally found, its new Nazi owners just couldn’t wait to crack it open. As it turns out, they might have wished they hadn’t. While Indy has the good sense to tell Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) not to look inside the Ark, the film’s goose-stepping baddies aren’t quite as smart.
Once open, ghouls fly out of it, swirling their way in and around the film’s villains, ultimately melting the head of the Gestapo agent, Toht (Ronald Lacey). “Steven [Spielberg] was just yelling at us: ‘Look this way! Look up! look down! It’s horrible! It’s coming at you! It’s moved away! It’s coming over to the left! Keep looking!’ We were just reacting like that instantly, with no idea what we were looking at,” actor Paul Freeman (who played Indy’s nemesis, René Belloq) told USA Today, commenting on the confusing nature of shooting digital effects when they were far from commonplace.
The “Raiders of the Lost Ark” ending is still a moment people ask him about all the time: “They usually say, ‘How did they do that with your head?’ As if, how surprising I’ve still got a head,” laughs Freeman. “Or they say, ‘What was inside the ark?’ Well, a bit of sand … but that’s all. The magic was added later.”