Ravenous (1999)

I have to put a post up about this film. It really is one of my favorites of all time. Ravenous is one of those films that is really hard to describe to people, or fit into any kind of genre. It has elements of a horror film with its gore and gruesome subject matter. This its blended seamlessly with bits of humor throughout the film, giving it a comedic feel at times. Due to the time period in which it takes place, post Mexican-American war before the birth of western expansion, there are many staples of a western film present. On top of all this, it’s remote mountain location lends Ravenous to feel like a wilderness adventure film. Putting all this together you have a great amalgamation of cinema, unfortunately 20th Century fox had no idea how to market this film. It failed miserably at the box office, though not for my lack of effort as I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen. The film’s quirky tone is set perfectly by a few quotes at the beginning of the film:

“He that fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.”-Friedrich Nietzche

“Eat Me.” -Anonymous

Guy Pierce stars as Captain John Boyd. He receives his promotion to captain after capturing an enemy post single handed. His tactics in doing so, however, were deemed less than heroic by his commanding officers. Still, being a “hero” they couldn’t just court marshal him, so they send him to the most remote military post they had in the States, Fort Spencer in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Once there he is greeted by a group of outcast soldiers, led by Col. Hart (Jeffrey Jones) who have done their best to adapt to the remote fort. Its all nice and boring there until a mysterious man named F.W. Colqhoun (played to perfection by Robert Carlyle) shows up at the fort nearly starved to death. He tells a harrowing tale of his wagon train getting lost in the mountains. The party, including Colqhoun, eventually resorts to cannibalism when a blizzard traps them. When Colqhoun relays the fact that some members of his party may still be alive up in the pass, the soldiers at Fort Spencer must go out as a rescue party. The group of soldiers soon make a grisly discovery at the camp, and Colqhoun wasn’t entirely honest about his tale.

I believe the title of the film takes on another meaning when you consider the time period that the film takes place. Gold had just been discovered in California and as a nation we were on the precipice of a massive westward expansion. The United States was (and still is) ravenous, devouring anything in its path, be it land, gold or even people, in the case of Native Americans. This film does take on the Native American myth of Windigo, a creature who eats the flesh of a man to gain the strength of his spirit. While I have seen many low budget horror films turn this myth into a creature feature, Ravenous takes the mythical creature to be a man consumed with a desire for power and strength. Director Antonia Bird combines this with a strong dose of Christian imagery, even going so far as to say that Christians are cannibals for eating the body of Christ every Sunday. Now I can justify posting this on Easter Sunday, maybe. The juxtaposition of Colqhoun who gains incredible strength through cannibalism and Boyd who avoids it, despite having a taste of the power himself, really creates a strong moral conflict for the film in the middle of all the gore and mayhem. The way their relationship is shown by the director, Colqhoun is really attempting to seduce Boyd into his way of life. This leads to some undeniable homosexual undertones in the film, most of which really start surfacing near the end of the film.

During all this craziness, we are treated to one of the most underrated, bizarre and fitting film scores ever by Damon Albarn (the driving force behind the bands Gorillaz & Blur) & Michael Nyman. The score equally compliments the western and horror aspects of the film. There is a 10 minute sequence near the end of the film. This segment contains an epic brawl between Boyd and Colqhoun where they are tearing each other to pieces using everything from swords and daggers to pitchforks and hatchets. The dark, methodically building piece of music used make this scene a perfect blend of music and cinema.

Unfortunately, the executives at 20th Century Fox have let this film fall by the wayside. Not even a DVD release enhanced for widescreen TVs has been put out. I can only hope that this film’s cult following (which seems to be growing by the year) will push the company enough to put out a Bluray. I rarely buy DVDs or Blurays anymore, but I would gladly shell out some cash for a crisp Hi-Def copy of this.

-Wes Kelly

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4 thoughts on “Ravenous (1999)

  1. This is one of my favorites, a friend dropped it off and simply said, “Watch it.” Great performances by Jeffery Jones and Robert Carlyle, and that soundtrack is perfection. Awesome movie.

  2. When it opened, the theater I worked out gave out promotional Ravenous “beef jerky,” I think it still have it somewhere. One of the best items I ever got from a studio.

  3. I remember hearing about that one, maybe the coolest thing Fox did to promote it. The bars of soap they had out for Fight Club’s opening come to mind, also the same year by Fox as well…

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