Ravenous (1999 film)

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Ravenous ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAntonia Bird
Written byTed Griffin
Produced by
CinematographyAnthony B. Richmond
Music by
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 19, 1999 (1999-03-19)
Running time
100 minutes
  • United Kingdom[1]
  • United States[1]
Budget$12 million
Box office$2 million

Ravenous is a 1999 horror Western cannibal film starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeffrey Jones and David Arquette.[2] The film, which is set in 1840s California, was directed by Antonia Bird and filmed in Europe. It was not a box office success and failed to recoup much of its $12 million budget. However, despite initial reception being mixed when released, it has since garnered a reputation as a cult film.[3]

Ravenous had a troubled production history. Issues over budget and shooting schedules were still ongoing when filming was about to start in Slovakia. After the original director Milcho Manchevski was fired three weeks into production, he was replaced by Bird at the suggestion of actor Robert Carlyle. Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn composed the film's score, which generated a significant amount of interest for its quirky and inventive use of loops, instruments and musical structure.[4]

Screenwriter Ted Griffin wrote a script that combined elements from the Donner Party and that of the real life "The Colorado Cannibal", Alferd Packer, who survived by eating five companions after becoming snowbound in the San Juan Mountains in the 1870s. However, the film's plot also serves as an overt criticism of manifest destiny through its use of cannibalism. By turning the act into an insatiable hunger, the voracious need to eat human flesh is equated to the all-consuming pursuit of power and wealth that was inherent to the expansionist attitudes of those seeking to settle the American frontier in the 19th century.[5] The film would be the last theatrical release to feature John Spencer.


During the Mexican–American War, Second Lieutenant John Boyd, who is fighting in the United States Army, finds his courage failing him in battle and plays dead as his unit is massacred. His body, along with the other dead, is put in a cart and hauled behind Mexican lines. However, in a moment of bravery, Boyd seizes the chance to capture the Mexican command post. 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 Nevada commanded by the weary but genial Colonel Hart, and staffed by a motley array of misfits: the pious Private Toffler, the drug-addicted Private Cleaves, the drunken Major Knox and the ferocious Private Reich, in addition to the Native American scout George and his sister Martha.

Shortly after Boyd joins the garrison, a frostbitten stranger named Colqhoun arrives and shares a hellish tale about how his wagon train became lost in the mountain because a Colonel Ives had promised the party a shorter route to the Pacific Ocean. Instead, he led them on a more circuitous route resulting in the party getting trapped by snow for three months. Wracked by starvation, Colqhoun and his fellow travellers were reduced to cannibalism, while he alleges that Ives resorted to murder. A rescue party is assembled to retrieve any survivors and capture Ives. George warns those who are leaving about 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 Ives' cave, Boyd and Reich investigate. They discover the bloody remains of five skeletons, and realise that Colqhoun is Ives and he murdered everyone. Colqhoun's plan is now to kill and eat the soldiers. Colqhoun quickly kills George, Toffler and Colonel Hart, and, after a brief struggle, Reich. Boyd escapes the massacre by jumping off a cliff but breaks his leg. He hides in a pit next to the body of Reich whom he eventually eats to stay alive.

When a delirious and severely traumatized Boyd finally limps back to the fort, he returns to find it has been reinforced by General Slauson and a detachment of cavalry. Cleaves and Martha (who were on a supply mission and had not met Colqhoun) do not believe his wild tale, while the hung-over Knox cannot recall and refuses to back Boyd up. A second expedition to the cave finds no bodies or any trace of Colqhoun. A temporary commander is assigned to the fort but to Boyd's horror, it is Colqhoun, who is now calling himself Colonel Ives again. The men still refuse to believe Boyd because Colqhoun bears no sign of the wounds inflicted on him during the fight at the cave.

Secretly, Colqhoun tells Boyd that he used to suffer from tuberculosis but when a Native scout told him the Wendigo myth, then he "just had to try" by murdering him and eating his flesh, a process that cured his disease. Colqhoun now plans to use the fort as a base to cannibalize passing travellers because, like the notion of manifest destiny, the migrants had a calling just like himself. Boyd is soon suspected of murder after Cleaves is mysteriously killed. While chained up, he watches helplessly as Knox is murdered by Colqhoun's unexpected ally: Colonel Hart, back from the dead after the massacre. Colqhoun had saved Hart by feeding him his own men in order to gain his assistance. But like Colqhoun, he is now hopelessly addicted to human flesh. Colqhoun mortally wounds Boyd, forcing him to make a choice: eat or die.

Eventually, Boyd gives in and eats a stew made from Knox. However, rather than join the two men in their conspiracy to convert General Slauson, Boyd convinces Hart to free him so he can kill Colqhoun. Hart does so, but also asks to be killed because he no longer wants to live as a cannibal. Boyd agrees to this. Boyd and Colqhoun fight, inflicting grievous wounds on each other, as their recuperative powers sustain them. Eventually, Boyd forces Colqhoun into a large bear trap that pins them both together. Colqhoun taunts Boyd by telling him that he will eat him if he dies first, but if he dies first Boyd will have to make the same choice Colqhoun made him make before; eat or die. General Slauson returns, and while his aide looks around the dilapidated fort, the general tastes the meat stew left simmering on the fire and enjoys it. Meanwhile Colqhoun continues to taunt Boyd before succumbing to his wounds, leaving Boyd struggling for life. Martha find the barn with the two men inside and opens the door seeing the deceased Colqhoun and the dying Boyd together. She closes the door with a sad half smile, and walks away. Boyd does not eat Colqhoun and dies.




The script for Ravenous was one of three screenplays by Ted Griffin that he sold to a studio in a week.[6] The script was loosely inspired by the Donner Party, as well as the story of Alferd Packer, an American prospector and former Union Army soldier who murdered a group of traveling companions, ate them, and claimed to law enforcement that he did so out of self-defense and survival.[6] In September 1997, Macedonian director Milcho Manchevski was announced to direct the film for Fox 2000.[7]


The film was shot on location in the Tatra Mountains, Slovakia and Durango, Mexico.[8] One week before production, original director Manchevski reportedly submitted new storyboards, which would have required an additional two weeks of shooting.[9] Fox 2000 eventually agreed to an additional week, with complaints that Manchevski had refused production meetings with the producers.[9][10] Manchevski claimed Fox 2000 executive Laura Ziskin micromanaged the production by vetoing his chosen technicians and casting against his wishes.[11][10]

Shooting was delayed on the first day as Manchevski 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.[11] Screenwriter Ted Griffin was on hand for "constant rewrites" during the shooting.[9]

Three weeks into filming, Ziskin arrived to the set to dismiss Manchevski and have him replaced with director Raja Gosnell.[9][11] Though Manchevski left the production, the cast was said to have been unhappy with Gosnell and were rumored to hold a mutiny on the set.[11] Robert Carlyle then recommended Antonia Bird, his frequent collaborator and business partner, to take over.[11] Bird had a previous business relationship with Ziskin and admired the script.[8]

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".[11] She also went on to say her predecessor, Manchevski, should not be blamed for the problematic production.[12]


Bird suggested the final theatrical cut had elements introduced without her approval, such as the voiceover narration and explanatory quotes. Bird felt these elements were superfluous and expressed a desire in recutting the film for the European market.[11]


The film uses its period setting and the act of cannibalism to critique manifest destiny, colonialism, and capitalism.[2][5][13] Said Bird, "As a European, observing early Californian history and making a film about that — I kind of believe Europeans were responsible for a lot of stuff that happened here. Robert Carlyle’s character represents that. The Europeans practiced genocide. I think the good things about America — we’re (Europeans) not responsible for."[8]

Though Bird said the film is "more about social misfits than the whole seductive nature of power", she stated, "I would like to think that someone who enjoyed it ('Ravenous') only as gallows humor would start to think. The metaphor of power and a society where we’re encouraged to be competitive is, to me, not a great society."[8] Thus, cannibalism can be seen as a critique of "contemporary America where the way of life seems to be more and more a matter of consume or be consumed".[8] In addition, she said that the cannibalism can be interpreted as an addiction to drugs or a yearning for eternal youth, which manifests in modern-day Western society as the consumption of junk food or the obsession with plastic surgery.[8] "Robert Carlyle’s character is the ultimate drug pusher and Guy Pearce’s character is the ultimate junkie," said Bird.[8]


The score was done by composer Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn of the band Blur. Instruments used for the score were from the film's historical period and included the violin, guitar, banjo, jaw harp, and squeeze box.[14] Nyman and Albam reworked versions of American patriotic songs and old Methodist hymns (including those of Stephen Foster, known as the "father of American music") to be intentionally out of tune and off-kilter.[8]


Box office[edit]

Ravenous opened on March 19, 1999, in the United States in 1,040 cinemas, 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.[15]

Critical reception[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 51% rating based on 65 reviews and an average rating of 6/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Ravenous tries bringing cannibal horror into an Old West setting, ending up with an uneven blend that will fail to satisfy most fans of either genre".[16]

Roger Ebert rated the film 3 out of 4 stars and stated that it was "the kind of movie where you savor the texture of the filmmaking, even when the story strays into shapeless gore."[17] He noted the film is "more interested in atmosphere than plot", but conceded Bird "shows she's a real filmmaker...and has an instinct for scenes like the one where a visiting general savors the broth of a bubbling stew".[17] Ebert concluded Ravenous "is clever in the way it avoids most of the cliches of the vampire movie by using cannibalism, and most of the cliches of the cannibal movie by using vampirism. It serves both dishes with new sauces."[17] Janet Maslin of The New York Times reviewed the film negatively and said "a potentially strong cast makes its way in deadly earnest through material that's often better suited to a Monty Python skit".[18]

Audiences, particularly in the US, were said to be confused about the tone of the film,[11] which combines various genres such as horror, black comedy, satire, and film noir.[8] Said Carlyle, "Because the subject matter is so gruesome and the visuals are so distasteful, there are going to be people who are not going to be too happy to watch this one. They’ve said all along that it’s going to be a hard sell. It’s a period piece. I think that’s why there’s humor in the film. I like the fact that it’s unusual and that it is hard to place. I think that’s a good thing — probably not for the people who are trying to make their money back."[8]

The film has garnered cult status since its release.[19][3] In a retrospective review in Rolling Stone, David Ehrlich wrote, "Ravenous butchers the fantasy that the United States is a banquet with room for everyone at the table. This is a landscape where 'manifest destiny' becomes a handy euphemism for all sorts of horrors, and a reminder that progress was never possible without savagery; the frontier was the Hunger Games, and it always has been. That may not be breaking news, but the film isn’t interested in telling you something that you don’t know, only showing it to you in a way so giddy and gruesome that you’ll never be able to forget it."[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Ravenous (1999)". British Film Institute. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Ehrlich, David (October 27, 2015). "Why 'Ravenous' Is the Greatest Cannibal Western Ever Made". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on July 7, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Evangelista, Chris (October 11, 2019). "31 Days Of Streaming Horror: 'Ravenous' Is A Cannibal Cult Classic". /Film. Retrieved June 17, 2022.
  4. ^ Draper, Sam (May 6, 2020). "Ravenous – Damon Albarn & Michael Nyman". www.lovehorror.co.uk.
  5. ^ a b Abrams, Simon (June 18, 2014). "Forgotten Flick Ravenous Is the Best-Ever Manifest Destiny Cannibal Comedy". The Village Voice.
  6. ^ a b "Unsung Anniversaries #6: Ravenous". That Shelf. March 19, 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  7. ^ Petrikin, Chris (September 19, 1997). "'Rain' man Manchevski bites to helm 'Ravenous'". Variety. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "'Ravenous' for Fun: Dark Humor is Lifeblood of Tale on Cannibalism". The Morning Call. March 19, 1999. Archived from the original on May 26, 2023. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d Busch, Anita M. (April 10, 1998). "'Creative differences' shake up Hollywood". EW.com. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Stepenberg, Alejandro (June 26, 2015). "The Best Movie You Never Saw: Ravenous". JoBlo. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Clarke, Roger (September 3, 1999). "Film: They all but ate me alive!". The Independent. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  12. ^ Hanley, Ken W. (March 19, 2015). "FANGO Flashback: 'RAVENOUS'". Fangoria.com. Archived from the original on August 30, 2017. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  13. ^ Chaw, Walter (September 20, 2022). "'Ravenous' Is A Fabulously Gory Horror Film About Cannibalism … But Also Capitalism". Decider. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  14. ^ Schulte, Tom. "Ravenous Original Soundtrack". AllMusic. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  15. ^ "Ravenous (1999)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 14, 2007.
  16. ^ "Ravenous". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 2, 2022.
  17. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (March 19, 1999). "Ravenous". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 14, 2007.
  18. ^ Maslin, Janet (March 19, 1999). "'Ravenous': His Favorite Dessert? Lady Fingers, of Course!". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  19. ^ Dee, Jake (March 20, 2019). "The Test of Time: Ravenous (1999)". JoBlo. Retrieved May 26, 2023.

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