Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Antonia Bird|
|Produced by||Adam Fields
Tim Van Rellim
|Written by||Ted Griffin|
|Music by||Michael Nyman
|Cinematography||Anthony B. Richmond|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
Ravenous is a 1999 Czech-American black comedy horror-suspense film directed by Antonia Bird and starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeffrey Jones and David Arquette. The film revolves around cannibalism in 1840s California and some elements bear similarities to the story of the Donner Party and that of Alferd Packer. Screenwriter Ted Griffin lists Packer's story, as recounted in a couple of paragraphs of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man, as one of his inspirations for Carlyle's character.
The film's darkly humorous and ironic take on its gruesome subject matter have led some to label it simply as a black comedy or a satire. The film's unique score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn generated a significant amount of attention. The film's production did not get off to a good start. Original director Milcho Manchevski left the production three weeks after shooting started. He was replaced by Bird at the suggestion of Carlyle.
During the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), Second Lieutenant Boyd, who is fighting in the United States Army, finds his courage fail him in battle so he plays dead as his unit is massacred. His body, along with the other dead are put in a cart and hauled back to the Mexican headquarters (throughout this journey blood drips into Boyd's mouth). However, in a moment of bravery, Boyd seizes the chance to capture the Mexican HQ. His heroism earns him a Captain's promotion but when General Slauson learns of the cowardice through which victory was achieved he posts Boyd into exile at Fort Spencer, a remote military outpost high in the Sierra Nevadas.
Shortly after Boyd joins the seven-man garrison at Fort Spencer, a stranger named Colqhoun arrives and describes how his wagon train became lost in the mountains. A Colonel Ives had promised the party a shorter route to the Pacific Ocean but instead had led them on a more circuitous route resulting in the party getting trapped by snow. People were reduced to cannibalism to avoid starvation. A rescue party is assembled to search for survivors. But before they leave they are warned by their Native American scout, George, of the Wendigo myth: anyone who consumes the flesh of their enemies takes their strength but becomes a demon cursed by an insatiable hunger for more human flesh.
When the soldiers reach the cave where the party had taken refuge they come to realize that Colqhoun and Ives are one and the same. He had killed and eaten his five companions and is now set on trapping and killing them as well. Colqhoun succeeds in doing this one by one, including Colonel Hart, the fort's commanding officer.
Boyd manages to escape the massacre by jumping off a cliff but breaks his leg in the process. He hides in a pit next to the body of a fellow soldier. Eventually he eats some of the man's flesh to stay alive. When he finally limps back into the fort he is delirious and severely traumatized; none of the remaining soldiers (who did not meet Colqhoun) believe his wild tale. A second expedition finds no bodies or any trace of the man. A temporary commander is assigned to the fort and to Boyd's horror it turns out to be Colqhoun, now cleaned up and calling himself Colonel Ives. The others still refuse to believe that Ives is the killer especially after he bears no sign of the wounds inflicted on him during the fight at the cave.
Ives tells Boyd that he used to suffer from tuberculosis but when a Native scout told him the Wendigo myth he "just had to try" by murdering him, eating his flesh and in the process curing his illness. He now planned to use the fort as a base to do the same to other passing travellers; he compares the location of the fort, with the guaranteed supply of isolated migrants that it entails, to the notion of Manifest Destiny that draws them there.
Boyd is suspected of murder after another soldier mysteriously dies chained up; he watches helplessly as the last officer is murdered by an unexpected ally of Ives: Colonel Hart, back from the dead after the massacre.
Ives saved Hart by feeding him his own comrades, and now Hart is addicted, like Colqhoun, to human flesh. Ives wounds Boyd and forces him to make a choice: eat or die. Eventually Boyd gives in and eats a stew made out of the last officer killed and his wound heals. But rather than join the two men in their conspiracy to convert General Slauson who is due to arrive at the fort shortly, Boyd convinces Hart to free him so he can kill Ives. Hart does so but asks that he be killed because he no longer wants to live as a cannibal.
Boyd and Ives inflict grievous wounds on each other. But they don't die easily due to their recuperative powers. Finally in an outhouse, Boyd forces Ives into a large bear trap and springs it, pinning them both together. Ives taunts Boyd by telling him he'll eat him as soon as he dies but Ives expires first. Boyd refuses to save himself by eating Ives' body and dies on top of his adversary.
Martha, the sister of the native scout, George, finds the bodies of both Ives and Boyd, closes the door, and walks away. General Slauson arrives, and while his aide looks around the dilapidated fort, the general tastes the stew that was left simmering on the fire.
- Guy Pearce as Captain John Boyd
- Robert Carlyle as Colonel Ives / F.W. Colqhoun
- David Arquette as Private Cleaves
- Jeremy Davies as Private Toffler
- Jeffrey Jones as Colonel Hart
- John Spencer as General Slauson
- Stephen Spinella as Major Knox
- Neal McDonough as Private Reich
- Joseph Runningfox as George
- Sheila Tousey as Martha
- Bill Brochtrup as Lindus
- Fernado Becerril as Mexican Commander
- Gabriel Berthier as Mexican Commander
- Pedro Altamirano as Mexican Commander
- Damián Delgado as Mexican Grenadier
- Tim Van Rellim as Mr. MacCready
- Miezi Sungu as Jones
- David Heyman as Mr. Janus
The film was shot on location in the Tatra Mountains, Slovakia and Durango, Mexico. One week before production, original director Milcho Manchevski was said to have submitted new storyboards, which would have required additional two weeks of shooting. The production company, Fox 2000, eventually agreed to an additional week, with complaints that Manchevski had refused production meetings with the producers. Meanwhile, Manchevski complained Fox 2000 executive Laura Ziskin micromanaged the production by vetoing his chosen technicians and casting against his wishes.
Shooting was delayed on the first day as Manchievski and the production were still negotiating over the production budget and shooting schedule. As filming commenced, Manchevski says Ziskin sent him notes on the rushes "every day", complaining about the amount of dirt on the costumes and the number of closeups. Screenwriter Ted Griffin was at hand for "constant rewrites" during the shooting.
After three weeks of shooting, Ziskin arrived to the set with director Raja Gosnell in tow to dismiss Manchevski and place Gosnell in as a replacement. While Manchevski left the production, the cast has been said to have rejected Gosnell. Robert Carlyle then recommended Antonia Bird, his frequent collaborator and business partner, to take over.
Following ten days of negotiations, Bird arrived in Prague to helm the production. She, too, would criticize the circumstances under which the filming was to take place, describing the allocated studio space as "horrible" and the scheduling of the shoot "manipulative". She also went on to say her predecessor, Manchievski, should not be blamed for the problematic production.
Bird suggests the final theatrical cut had elements introduced without her approval, as she expressed disdain over the voiceover narration and was interested in recutting the film for the European market.
Box office performance
Ravenous opened on March 19, 1999 in the United States in 1,040 theaters, accumulating $1,040,727 over its opening weekend. It finished eighteenth for the weekend. The film went on to gross $2,062,405 in North America, far less than its reported $12 million budget.
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Ravenous received mixed reviews from professional critics, somewhat tending toward the negative. However, the movie has since gained a cult following. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received 43% overall approval out of 46 reviews. Yet 79% of Rotten Tomatoes fans approved of the film. Roger Ebert, gave Ravenous a better review, rating it 3 stars out of 4 and stating that it was "the kind of movie where you savor the texture of the filmmaking, even when the story strays into shapeless gore."
Michael Smith of White City Cinema ranked it as his 21st favorite film of the 1990s.
- Cannibal! The Musical – a 1993 American independent black comedy musical film
- The Donner Party – a 2009 film based on the ill-fated Donner Party expedition
- Cannibalism in popular culture
- Directors Cut, Anita M. Busch, EW.com, 04-10-98. Accessed 04-04-12.
- Film: They all but ate me alive!, Roger Clarke, The Independent, 03-09-99. Accessed 04-04-12.
- FANGO Flashback: “RAVENOUS”
- IMDB: "Ravenous" Trivia”
- "Ravenous (1999)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-05-14.
- "Ravenous". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2007-05-14.
- Ebert, Roger (1999-03-19). "Ravenous". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-05-14.