ByScott Wardell, writer at
Editor at MP. It never gets easier, you just go faster.
Scott Wardell

According to archaeologist Dr. Indiana Jones, the only thing more detestable than snakes are Nazis. True to form, Indy spent the majority of his film tenure throwing meaty punches against the Third Reich and their relentless efforts to pursue the occult. Indy's first cinematic scuffle with the goose-stepping goons came to an explosive climax in the final moments of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where we got a full-frontal look at what biblical forces think of Hitler-heiling assholes.

'Raiders of the Lost Ark' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

In particular, the scene responsible for an entire generation of movie fans' childhood nightmares, Major Arnold Toht's face-melting demise has become a timeless Raiders hallmark. One YouTube user has paid homage to the tedious hours spent meticulously crafting this practical effect masterpiece by slowing down the four-second scene in ultra slow motion, reducing the playback by 1100 percent. Witness the gory glory below:

Don't Look At It, No Matter What Happens

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Replicating this level of detail in a special effect is most often tasked to modern-day CGI, but when Raiders of the Lost Ark premiered in 1981, it was up to LucasFilm's special effects team to realize Spielberg's vision of Nazi mutilation on screen.

All Hail The Practical Effects Gods

Earning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects on Raiders, LucasFilm's Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) was ultimately responsible for depicting the deaths of Belloq, Toht and Dietrich in graphic fashion.

'Raiders of the Lost Ark' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Special makeup effects artist Chris Walas was tasked with creating the grisly deaths of all three antagonistic Nazis. Original storyboards for the film depicted the three villains crumbling into dust, but multiple failed attempts eventually inspired the special effects team to give each Nazi a uniquely gruesome finish — Dietrich's face collapsing inward like a deflating balloon, Toht melting away like a human candle and Belloq's head exploding in a pulpy mess — all achieved through practical effects.

'Raiders of the Lost Ark' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Walas began with a heat-resistant mold of actor Ronald Lacey's face, upon which he layered gelatin, colored yarn, and other "viscera." The gelatin layers were designed to melt under very low temperatures, shedding layer after layer until the skull was revealed beneath.

Using a hair dryer, Walas was able to control the melting effect over the course of several minutes. Shooting at less than one frame per second, the final sequence was sped up in post, resulting in the most shocking four-second visual of the entire film.

'Raiders of the Lost Ark' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Paying Homage To Practical Effects

While practical effects like this were costly and painstaking, the results are truly impressive, even 35 years on. Slowing down this sequence further highlights how much effort went into the effect — all for mere seconds of film. In a time before CGI, the men and women who pioneered these visuals were nothing short of visionary.


Which of these Nazis got it the worst?

(Sources: The Raider, YouTube: Yellow King Toy Boy)


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