Film / Ravenous

"It's lonely being a cannibal. Tough making friends."

A drama/horror/black comedy released in 1999, written by Ted Griffin and directed by Antonia Bird. Starred Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Davies, Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette, Neal McDonough.

Lieutenant Boyd, a soldier in the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, has a freak-out when his commanding officer dies in front of him and decides on Playing Possum. The Mexicans thus load him into a cartful of corpses and (for some reason) taken back to their base. Then some blood drips into Boyd's mouth, giving him an intense adrenaline rush during which he single-handedly captures the enemy command, winning the battle. But everyone realizes (most of) what happened when he throws up at the victory barbecue. He thus gets a Medal of Dishonor and a Reassignment To Fort Spencer, a rarely-visited ramshackle mountain pioneer stop in the Middle Of Nowhere populated solely by drunks, layabouts and crazies.

Boyd's just settled into his life of failure when a rambling loon by the name of Colqhoun stumbles in with a horror story; he was part of a party of six pioneers who found themselves trapped in a snowstorm. When they ran out of rations, they ate the pack animals. When those were gone, they ate their leather clothing. When those were gone, one of them starved to death. But instead of burying him... they ate him. A few weeks later, they ate the next one who died of starvation... and found themselves looking at each other oddly...

Colqhoun tells them that when he left when of the other pioneers was still alive and the Colonel of the fort sets out with his soldiers to attempt a rescue, out of boredom as much as anything else. But when one of them is hurt, he wakes up to find Colqhoun licking the wound...

Essentially, it's a Wendigo story filmed with a morbid sense of humor about Manifest Destiny, I Did What I Had to Do, and the varied joys of Black Comedy. The soundtrack absolutely cements its ambiguous character, ranging from a carefree organ piece underpinned with a dissonant string part, to a simple string dance piece which is played during a strangely funny murder scene.

This film includes examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Major Knox.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Private Toffler
  • And This Is For...: ... my horse, right after mentioning a murder.
  • Anti-Villain: Col. Hart at the end.
  • Arson Murder And Life Saving: This is how Boyd earned the backhanded promotion that landed him at Fort Spencer.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Averted. Private Reich has to remind Captain Boyd not to point a loaded rifle at him. A nicely subtle way of reinforcing how useless Boyd is as a soldier.
  • Author Tract: The writer, the director, and the leading actor are vegetarians, and take every chance they get to show their disgust of meat. A constant theme is comparing the flesh of animals to the flesh of humans. However, the honesty of that disgust enhances the horror beautifully. And, to be fair, that stew looks really good.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Boyd definitely thinks so as does Hart in the end
  • Big Bad: Colonel Ives kills his way through the cast of the film.
  • Black Comedy: The film is ambiguous in this regard.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The first member of Colqhoun's party to bite it in the flashback is the token black servant.
    • Also George, a resident native, dies before any of the other (white) main characters.
      • Though it's worth pointing out that while George dies first, he's shot after another character has been stabbed in the gut. While the knife is still inside him. And another knife is in his back. Almost an inversion, anyway, since Hart doesn't die.
  • Body Horror: The scene in the pit involving Boyd's broken leg is rather painful to watch
  • California Doubling: Inverted. The Slovakian Tatra Mountains double for the Californian Sierra Nevadas.
  • Cannibalism Superpower: In the film, the Wendigo myth is true; eating human flesh grants Super Strength, a Healing Factor, and cures all diseases. It also acts as a drug that makes heroin seem about as addictive as artificial sweetener.
    • Ives also implies that cannibals become sexually potent, though that might just be him making up for lost time after regaining his health. He was in bad shape before he started eating people.
  • Cassandra Truth: Boyd ends up with this problem when he tries to warn the others about Ives.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Knox is said to be "stronger than he looked" but it doesn't do him much good. Note the use of past tense.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hart most of the time, though he's revealed to be more Stepford Snarker in the end
    "My advice to you, don't get sick. I'd say don't eat but then again most of us have to"
  • Dirty Coward: Boyd. Everybody knows it, including him. He only took the Mexican fort after Playing Possum because some of his C.O.'s blood dripped into his mouth. But in the end, he willingly dies, taking Ives with him.
  • Downer Ending: But a hilarious downer ending, which, in this movie, is somehow possible.
    Ives: That was... really... sneaky.
    • With a touch of Died Happily Ever After - Boyd got Reassigned To The Frontier because of his cowardice, becomes a cannibal because he's afraid to die, but in the end he willingly accepts death hoping to stop Ives' cannibal conspiracy. If he had only thrown out the "Stew a la Major Knox" beforehand...
  • The End... Or Is It?: At the end of the film, the newly-arrived General Slauson greedily slurping up the "Stew a la Major Knox", thus becoming a cannibal and starting the whole mess up again.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: More like "Determinator Cannot Comprehend Coward". Ives is visibly shocked that Boyd would jump to seemingly certain death rather than stay and fight for his only real chance at survival. (Bear in mind that Boyd really was committing suicide with that jump, and the fact that he lived was pure luck.)
  • Evil Tastes Good: Ives certainly thinks so.
  • Evil Redhead: Exaggerated when Hart turns wendigo he becomes younger and his hair goes from grey to red. When he dies it goes back to grey again
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Boyd gets a medal for fainting bravely in the face of danger.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Again, Ives, who manages to make Boyd look absolutely insane by virtue of being so damn convincingly charismatic to everyone else.
  • Foreshadowing: Colqhoun has a rosary wrapped around his hand when he arrives at the fort. The same rosary can be seen in his flashbacks belonging to the woman that he claims to have left behind with Colonel Ives. This is the first sign that Colqhoun is not what he seems at all.
  • Faux Symbolism: There's a tenuous connection made between cannibalism and communion which signifies nothing and never comes up again. Ives spends the climax with the sign of the cross made in blood on his forehead for no reason and with no explanation. If anything, it symbolises exactly the opposite of what Ives would like to say about himself (a visible cross on the forehead evokes Ash Wednesday, when the sign reminds the bearer that they are made from dust and will die).
  • Genre-Busting: Though often compared to Exploitation Films like Cannibal Holocaust, the film has a lot of subtle navel-gazing amidst the rivers of blood and Gorn. Specifically, it hybridizes cannibalism with vampirism; cannibals are not depicted as diseased savages, but as healthy and refined. In turn, their feasts are not oddly sensual "necking" sessions, but brutally butchered human beings who are seen walking and talking when the cannibal decided they were food.
    Roger Ebert: "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.
  • Healing Factor: The effect of the Wendigo, but with the side effect of Horror Hunger.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Colonel Hart, starts out as a Knight in Sour Armor but turns cannibal when Ives brings him back from the dead before having a change of heart and asking Boyd to Mercy Kill him
  • Hemo Erotic: Ives has a thing for blood
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Referenced in the quote at the beginning of the movie. Relevant to Boyd, who has to become a monster to defeat Ives.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: This is probably the only movie ever made where the protagonist fantasizes about eating David Arquette.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Colqhoun and Ives according to Robert Carlyle. Apparently his behavior in front of the cave was his transforming from one to the other
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Well, not exactly fight, but Ives does give Toffler a sporting chance, telling him to run instead of simply killing him as he stood there whimpering in shock.
  • Mad Eye: Every time Ives is about to do something even more grotesque than normal, one eye half-closes and the other eye gets wider. When he's sane (or acting sane), they're both perfectly normal.
  • Magical Native American: Mostly averted. George and Martha do tell the cast about the Wendigo Myth, but the rest of the time spend time either caring for the horses and doing other chores (Martha) or getting stoned (George).
  • Medal of Dishonor: Boyd gets one just before he gets Reassigned to Antarctica; everyone knows that his victory was due him Playing Possum, and they really don't want him around.
  • Mildly Military: The guys at Fort Spencer spend most of their time just kind of hanging out, eating, or getting stoned. Granted, there's not much better to do in the middle of nowhere, but still.
  • Mood Dissonance: Blood, murder, freezing weather, ambiguous moral decisions, character flaws, and... stoners. Comedy, drug humor, everybody here was Reassigned to Antarctica... but the emotional impact is unhindered.
  • Mood Whiplash: We have The Reveal, wherein Reich and Boyd find a cave full of bloody skeletons, "reverend Colqhoun" turns out to be the Big Bad Ives, two guys die brutally (Col. Hart is stabbed and gets tomahawked in the spine, George is shot); and it's immediately followed by Ives chasing Toffler around to silly banjo music.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Boyd, played by Guy Pearce. Also, the extremely-muscular Reich seems to have his shirt off a lot.
  • New Meat: Boyd starts out like this, but unfortunately doesn't get any better, resulting in his reassignment.
  • No Escape but Down: When Boyd is cornered by Ives/Colqhoun at the cliff's top. He jumps, without any landing spot. He survives, but his leg is badly broken. It's one of the film's more memorable scenes.
  • Over Drawn At The Blood Bank: The final fight was so over-the-top the production ran out of fake blood.
  • Peekaboo Corpse: Visible to the audience before the characters notice them, which makes the shock feel a bit less cheap. And there's a whole cave full! Wait a minute... One, two, three, four, five corpses with the meat stripped off... Oh Crap!! There were six pioneers! Colqhoun is the cannibal!
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The occupants of Fort Spencer. Contrary to the trope's general use, they don't really do so well.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The basis for every lead character except the villain. Possibly related to the nature of Western expansion, which likely attracted those who wished to leave.
  • Reassignment Backfire: Subverted. Boyd is sent to Fort Spencer as a punishment for his cowardice, but, despite the fact that he gets better, pretty much everyone dies anyway.
  • Screaming Warrior: Private Reich, even in the first second you ever see him.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Martha
  • Shown Their Work: The movie is, on occasion, oppressively realistic in its portrayal of its mountainous, unpleasant terrain and the military of its time.
    • It's with touch of Real Life Writes the Plot - there were serious problems with weather during production. The constant dissonance between heavy snow, thaw and relatively high temperatures around Fort Spencer? It's all Throw It In.
  • Snow Means Death: Sure, the trek into the mountains is dangerous, but it's really the cannibals you need to watch out for.
  • Southern Gentleman: Major Knox
  • Suicidal Gotcha: Messy, and without the common convenient landing spot. Boyd actually jumps off a cliff, falls down through tree limbs and into a Pit Trap, breaking the ever-loving crap out of his leg in the process. Also, the end of the movie, where Boyd lures Ives into a bear trap, which kills them both.
  • Taking You with Me: Boyd comes to this conclusion
  • The Stoner: "The over-medicated Private Cleaves".
  • Teach Him Anger: Ives to Boyd, although it's less about anger and more about power and health. Which ends in a very bloody Pygmalion Snapback.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Boyd spends the entire film as the designated wimp (he even gets a medal of cowardice), until the last 3 scenes when he decides to fight Ives, using all of his new cannibal superpowers.
    • In the backstory, Ives, who went from a tubercular, suicidal mess to a Diabolical Mastermind Made of Iron. And Col. Hart, who, in his first scene, cracks walnut shells under a giant book, but in a later scene, is able to crush them with his bare hands. All through the magic of cannibalism.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: One of the biggest offenders of '99. Before even the lector starts to comment the film, we already see Robert Carlyle's character as an inhabitant of Fort Spencer. Then half way through we also learn that Jeffrey Jones' character is a cannibal, Major Knox is killed and turned into a stew and Guy Pearce will fight to death with Robert Carlyle. And just to add insult to the injury, Robert Carlyle is shown in his Colqhoun persona, pointing a gun at Jeremy Davies. The trailer spoiled every single twist aside from the final scene.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: Boyd at the beginning of the movie. He, however, doesn't exactly fight his way out.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Which part of Colqhoun's story was a fabrication and which was truth? We know that Ives ate some people and that he lived in that cave. But what about all the details?