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Movies make return to Marengo

Few people would think that a little town like Marengo would ever be the location for the filming of a movie. But it was. And even fewer people would think that the town would be the site for the filming of two movies, but it was.
The crew from the movie ‘Madison’ showed up a few years ago and converted part of Marengo into a Hollywood version of smalltown America. This year, the crew from the movie ‘Fire From Below’ came knocking and filmed for three days last week in Marengo Cave.
The movie, starring Kevin Sorbo, is an action film about a seismic investigator named Jake Denning (Sorbo) and his fiancee, Karen, who are on a vacation at Lost Lake when an industrialist, digging in a nearby cave, unearths a vein of pure, base lithium and inadvertently brings it to the surface, where lithium combusts when coming into contact with water and begins to wreak havoc across the countryside.
Four boaters are the first to encounter the perilous effects when their craft is engulfed by walls of fire that erupt from below and across the lake bed. Jake and Karen start putting together clues when they find one of the boater’s charred remains. They later discover the entire town has succumbed to a deadly, noxious gas.
The military soon arrives and seals off the region, but things go from bad to worse when a seismic eruption entraps two of Jake’s colleagues and an Army sergeant below the earth’s surface in a labyrinth of mine shafts and caves. A rescue mission is mounted to try to save them before time runs out.
With the collaboration of the military, Jake must find a way to rescue his co-workers and prevent a terrestrial holocaust. But, unknown to Jake, the Army has a backup plan to detonate massive underground explosives ‘ at the expense of the lives of those trapped beneath the surface.
The entourage came to Marengo and filmed one day at the Marengo Warehouse and Distribution Center, using military helicopters and explosives to film the last scene of the movie. The crew then moved to Marengo Cave for three days of filming underground.
‘It was almost like the film was written for Crawford County and the caves,’ assistant producer Bill Dever said. ‘Actually, I feel that one of the stars of the film is Crawford County. We felt very welcomed by the county.
‘When this movie was in the planning stage, we started making calls about getting access to caves for filming. We decided to look at what Indiana has to offer and found that this area suited us,’ he said. ‘It would be difficult to top Marengo Cave. This county should be proud. And you guys have a mean, lean promoting machine in Carol Groves here at Marengo Caves. She helped make all of this possible.
‘I feel that Crawford, Harrison and Orange counties should be more involved in promoting themselves. This is a beautiful area, and even though a few people have said that Indiana wasn’t really good for filming, they’ve got it all wrong,’ Dever said. ‘Just in this area, there’s Patoka Lake, the casinos, really good military support, caves, rivers. We were lucky to find all of this. Some locals should take the initiative and become the master of their own destiny. And Indiana should have their own film commission. You have so much to offer, but no one is actively promoting it.’
(The Hoosier state does have a agency, FILM Indiana, to help promote itself.)
On the second day of filming at the caves, the morning started out with breakfast in the snack shop catered by Rose Toney, who owns Van’s Restaurant in Marengo. Makeup was set up in the same area, and when the actors finished breakfast, they took turns getting ‘made-up’ in whatever manner their roles required. Some had fake blood on them from ‘injuries’ they would later sustain when the filming started, some with real looking mud and dirt on their faces, and some, like the main characters, with regular makeup that helps them look more star-like.
One of the co-stars, GiGi Erneta, was through with makeup and sat down for a chat with Toney and Wilson.
‘I do a lot of horror and action films,’ said Erneta, who is from New York but now lives in Dallas. ‘I also do a lot of my own stunts. We actually filmed some of this movie in Dallas where I had to outrun explosions in a couple of scenes. I also do a lot of commercials.
‘Sometimes people will come up to me and say, ‘I’ve seen you somewhere before.’ I think it’s mainly because of the commercials I’ve been in, which are shown all over the country,’ she said. ‘I was in one commercial recently advertising Buffalo Wild Wings, where I went flying over a bar and a lot of people recognize me from that. I also host a television show in Dallas. But after this, I’m going to take a much-needed vacation.’
About the time the rest of the actors finished with makeup, producer Andrew Stevens entered the room and yelled in an intimidating way, ‘Where are my actors? ‘ I need my actors ‘ now! Let’s get to work ‘ now!’
And everyone headed for the caves for another day of filming.
‘I’m really proud to be a part of all of this,’ said Toney, who served more than 700 meals while the actors and crew were at the caves. ‘They have been so nice to us. They really make you feel appreciated.’
Sharon Wilson of the Crawford County Tourism Office, who was helping at the cave, agreed with Toney.
‘It’s really amazing,’ Wilson said. ‘We’ve gotten so many compliments. They act like we are the most important people here, like we are part of the crew. They are all very respectful. And they love the food. While we are setting up breakfast, they’re asking us, ‘What’s for lunch?’ They are such nice people, and this whole thing has been good for Crawford County.’
‘They just called me out of the blue one day,’ Toney said. ‘When they asked me to furnish the food, I told them that we don’t do real fancy stuff, and they said that wasn’t what they wanted. They told me that they needed food that would stick to their ribs. The caves are cold and damp, and they wanted hot food, not finger sandwiches and all that.’
And that’s what they got. Toney and her cooks ‘ Judy Jenkins, Imogene Griesinger and Betty Eastridge ‘ got up every morning at about three o’clock in order to have breakfast served at the caves by 6:30. They had a typical country breakfast each day. And for lunch, Toney and Wilson dished out vegetable soup, homemade chicken and dumplings, beef stew, chicken, pinto beans, coleslaw and several kinds of cakes.
‘We also served cornbread every day,’ Toney said. ‘They’ve loved everything we served and asked for more.’
Groves, vice president of marketing and public relations at Marengo Cave, was glad to have scenes from the movie filmed at the caves, but she wasn’t willing to put the caves at risk.
‘Bill (Dever) called about using the caves for filming,’ Groves said. ‘He came down and brought Andrew Stevens. They went to all four caves in the area and narrowed it down to this one. They had already been filming some in Texas and decided to film the rest of it here in Indiana. They actually pulled a lot of their crew from Louisville and Southern Indiana. It was planned to film here for three days, but another day was added once they started filming.’
One of the reasons Marengo Cave suited the filmmakers was that golf carts could be used to get equipment in and out of the caves.
‘We have paths in the cave that are wide enough for golf carts,’ Groves said, ‘but we wouldn’t allow them to drive the carts. Our people did that. And the film crew and actors were really restricted in where they could go and what they could do. We made sure they played by our rules by having some of our crew with them all the time they are in the caves.
‘They aren’t allowed to get off the paths, take food into the caves or touch anything,’ she said. ‘They are filming in two areas, the Crystal Palace and the Music Hall. Some areas are off limits. Movies come and go, but we must protect our caves.
‘But everyone has been really nice. Even the star, Kevin Sorbo, is very approachable. My son had his picture taken with him. It’s been a positive event for everyone involved.’
‘Fire From Below,’ a made-for-TV movie, should be released in late 2008. It will be shown on the Sci-Fi channel.