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Film / Ravenous (1999)

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

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

Captain Boyd is a Shell-Shocked Veteran of the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. As a Lieutenant going into his first battle, Boyd panicked when his unit was caught in a devastating ambush and rather than attempting to fight back or lead his men to safety, Boyd instead played dead in the hopes of saving his own life. However, when the Mexicans began collecting and burying the bodies from the battle, for no apparent reason a surge of strength and determination filled Boyd, and he broke free and captured the nearby Mexican commanders.

At first the Army intends to hide the truth and present Boyd as a hero, (complete with a promotion and a medal) but it soon becomes obvious that despite his single brave action Boyd's nerves are shattered and he's incapable of presenting the heroic facade the Army wants. The local general responds by giving Boyd a reassignment to Fort Spencer, a ramshackle and barely manned mountain fort in the Middle Of Nowhere high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, whose only purpose is being a stopping point for pioneers traveling to California. When Boyd arrives the fort proves to be populated mostly by drunks, misfits, layabouts, and crazies.


Boyd is just settling into his life of quiet failure when a rambling loon by the name of Colqhoun stumbles up to the fort with a horror story: he was part of a party of six pioneers who found themselves trapped in a snowstorm as they tried to cross the mountains. When they ran out of rations, they ate the pack animals. When those were gone, they ate their leather clothing. When that was gone, one of the pioneers starved to death. But instead of burying the body they ate him. Before long they were hungry again, and found themselves looking at each other oddly...

Colqhoun tells them that when he left the remnant of the group, there were two others still alive, the wife of one of the pioneers and their treacherous guide, Ives, who had seemed to truly embrace cannibalism. The Colonel of the fort sets out with his ragtag soldiers to attempt a rescue, unaware of the terrors they'll find...


Not to be confused with the unrelated 2017 film of the same name.

This film includes examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Major Knox.
    Col. Hart: Never found a bottle he didn't like.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Private Toffler has some very odd behaviors, including strange twitching and sometimes going mute.
  • And This Is for...: ... my horse, right after mentioning a murder.
  • Anti-Villain: Col. Hart at the end, when he rejects cannibalism and opts to being killed by Boyd.
  • Arson Murder And Life Saving: This is how Boyd earned the backhanded promotion that landed him at Fort Spencer - he captured enemy outpost only because he froze in combat and then played possum.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Averted. Private Reich has to remind Captain Boyd not to thoughtlessly point a loaded rifle at him. A nicely subtle way of reinforcing how useless Boyd is as a soldier.
  • Artistic License – Military: Fort Spencer's skeleton crew consists of three privates, one captain, one major and one colonel. There is not a single NCO. Things get only weirder after two privates, the colonel and their native guide get killed, but no replacement aside new colonel is sent, even if there is already a major and a captain in place, but a dire shortage of rank and file - those three officers command a single private. Normally, a captain commands a company, which is roughly 120 men. For given period, Boyd alone should be made a commanding officer of Fort Spencer, especially since it's wintertime skeleton crew.
  • 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 has certain elements of it, especially when you add in Soundtrack Dissonance during some horrific scenes.
  • 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. Although another character, who was white, had already been mortally wounded and was on death's door... but then he also wound up not dying because Ives converted him to cannibalism, so...
  • Body Horror: The scene in the pit involving Boyd's broken leg is rather painful to watch.
  • Buried in a Pile of Corpses: Boyd plays dead in one for a time, resulting in him ending up in the enemy base and singlehandedly capturing it from the inside.
  • Cannibalism Superpower:
  • Cassandra Truth: Boyd ends up with this problem when he tries to warn the others about Ives. Everyone still alive at the fort never saw Ives when he appeared, calling himself Colqhoun, and Boyd is a newcomer they barely know who's acting crazy. If anything, Boyd winds up being the target of their suspicions.
    • Well, Major Knox was there, but he got himself blackout drunk either while or just after treating Colquhoun, and the only thing he can remember is that Colqhoun had a full beard.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Boyd is the main character, but he's an unequivocal coward who's not exactly hero material.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Wondering why the drunken Major Knox is the fort doctor? Because he's a legitimate doctor... it's just that horses are usually more his field than people.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The drunken sot Major Knox knocks Boyd out with a single punch at one point. Later when Colonel Hart is commenting on the stew they made out of Knox, he comments that Knox "was stronger than he looked". It didn't do Knox much good, however. Note the use of past tense.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Colonel Hart most of the time, though he's revealed to be more Stepford Snarker in the end. When he first runs down the personnel situation at Fort Spencer to Boyd, (telling him how the drunken Major Knox is the one who plays doctor if they need someone to do so, and Cleaves the stoner is the local chef) he gives us his gem:
    "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 let his entire unit get massacred around him while playing dead in an attempt to save himself. He only captured the Mexican officers because he swallowed the blood of dead officers that had dripped into his mouth and it gave a minor version of the Wendigo's Cannibalism Superpower. But in the end, he finds the moral and physical courage to fight the monstrous Ives to the death, and when Ives is on the edge of victory Boyd willing gives his life to take Ives with him.
  • Dying as Yourself: Hart asks Boyd to kill him because he doesn't want to live as a cannibal anymore, Boyd himself chooses to die instead of eating Ives in the end.
  • 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 setting up the potential to start the whole mess up again. Of course, the good general wouldn't know where the meat came from, or how to repeat the experience, so that throws some doubt as to whether things will in fact start over.
  • 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. What he didn't anticipate was that Boyd really was committing suicide, and the fact that he lived was pure luck.
  • Evil Tastes Good: Ives certainly thinks so, especially given his state before he turned to the dark temptations.
  • 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. Although it is possible to miss seeing it, the same rosary can be seen in his flashbacks belonging to Mrs MacCready that he claims to have left behind with Colonel Ives. This is the first sign that Colqhoun is not at all what he seems.
    • The flashbacks provide more of this. The scenes describing the journey have plenty of detail, and show the struggle of the pioneers, but certain things are more or less hidden from viewers. Mostly, the appearance of Ives and how the various pioneers died. This is done to hide the fact that it's Colqhoun who did all the murdering.
    • While telling the story, Colqhoun has hard time recalling the names and origin of the party members. That's because he never really cared about those people and only saw them as a meal.
    • After wiping out the party from Fort Spencer, at one point Ives is seen chuckling to himself as he drags Toffler's body into the cave. Considering we later see him eating outside in the stream, why was Ives dragging it in there? For Colonel Hart to eat, as we will find out later.
    • Hart is about the only character shown eating food that isn't meat when he is munching on walnuts when Boyd first arrives at Fort Spencer. Hart later proves to be unable and unwilling to live as a cannibal, to the point that he begs Boyd for a Mercy Kill rather than continue on that path.
  • 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.
  • Graceful Loser: Ives.
    That was... really... sneaky.
  • Great Offscreen War: And a war that rarely shows up in fiction.
  • 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, and doesn't mind it being splashed all over him (including his face) at all.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Referenced in the quote at the beginning of the movie. Relevant to Boyd, who has to become a monster to have a chance to defeat Ives.
  • Horror Hunger: The desire for more human meat is extremely strong in those who partake in cannibalism, to the point of being The Corruption and making them willing to viciously murder and abandon morality due to the craving.
    Colqhoun: (talking about eating the first person to die from the pioneers) I ate sparingly. Others did not. The meat did not last us a week. We were soon hungry again, only this time our hunger was different. More... severe. Savage.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: This is probably the only movie ever made where the protagonist fantasizes about eating David Arquette.
  • It's All About Me: A big part of what makes Ives so irredeemably evil. When dying on tuberculosis, he killed, cooked and ate a person who told him a myth, just to try prevent his own death, with absolutely zero guaranteed it would work and completely disregarding the side effects. Then he callously wiped out an entire pioneer party that he lured to the middle of nowhere, just to get closer to the place that he wanted to use for his long-term plans. And then killed and ate almost entire crew stationed in Fort Spencer. All just because it was good for his own health. Sacrifice and embracing death is in fact one of the main themes of the movie, with Boyd becoming a "hero" by playing dead instead of fighting and then spending rest of the story living under the heavy burden created by this event.
  • 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.
  • Just Between You and Me: Ives lays out his larger plot to Boyd in this manner. When the two are alone Ives lays out his plan to create a small but well-connected group of cannibals similar to Ives, who can ambush small groups of pioneers passing through Fort Spencer and cover it up effectively. Ives also picks the time and place of this revelation quite carefully to make sure he isn't overheard by any of the others.
  • Lack of Empathy: During Colquhoun’s tale of how Colonel Ives Killed and ate the rest of their party, Reich is the only one not horrified. Later, he coldly dismisses Boyd’s concern for the mortally wounded Hart. The only person he does show empathy for is his Morality Pet Toffler.
  • 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 Toffler stood there whimpering in shock. It's combined with heavy Mood Whiplash due to the fast banjo flick playing in the background.
  • Lured into a Trap
    • Colqhoun leads the party from Fort Spencer out into the wilderness and away from help, right to ground he knows and where he can get an advantage on them, complete with hidden weapons and traps.
    • Boyd does this to Ives at the end of the movie. Boyd is weakening from his fight with Ives, so he sets up a bear trap, lures Ives to the location by pretending to be weaker than he is, and when Ives comes to finish him off, Boyd wrestles Ives into the trap and springs it on both of them to make sure Ives will have no chance to escape.
  • 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).
  • Meaningful Background Event: In-universe, the film takes place right when Californian Gold Rush is about to start. While nobody in Fort Spencer knows about it yet, including Ives, this would provide a steady influx of random pioneers going through the fort.
  • Meaningful Name: Reich is a blonde muscular fighter who seems the only proper soldier in the fort.
  • 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.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Colonel Hart decides to try a rescue the moment Colqhoun reveals that the last people left from the party are a woman and Colonel Ives, who it seems will inevitably murder her. Nobody voices any objections, and both Reich and Boyd are later more upset about her death than those of all the other pioneers. Their reaction is justified, since the entire trek was to get her rescued. By the end of the film, the only inhabitant of Fort Spencer left alive is Martha. She wisely packs her things and just walks away.
  • 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 while also being a skeleton crew, 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.
  • Morality Pet: Toffler is the only person Reich, otherwise a Sociopathic Soldier, cares about, to the point of Ho Yay.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Boyd, played by Guy Pearce. Also, the extremely muscular Reich gets a number of shirtless scenes because... well, just because.
  • Neck Snap: Boyd kills a Mexican officer at the beginning this way.
  • New Meat: Boyd starts out like this, but unfortunately doesn't get any better once he goes into battle, resulting in his cowardly acts during battle and his subsequent 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.
  • Non-Action Guy: Despite being an Army fort, Fort Spencer has far more of these than it does capable soldiers. Reich is a genuine fighter, Martha is tough in her own way, and on the few occasions when Knox and George aren't either drinking or smoking themselves silly they'll at at least try, but everyone else in the fort is a coward, a bumbler, or a misfit.
  • Not Quite Dead: Reich is somehow still alive after taking a knife to the chest and falling off a cliff, and in his dying confusion he makes one last attempt to fight... apparently unaware that he's trying to choke Boyd rather than the guy who actually wounded him.
  • 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!
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Private Reich, who bathed in ice cold water, shows a cold indifference to all of the deaths he witnesses with the exception of Toffler’s, and threatens to murder Boyd and Colquhoun several times. Downplayed, since he has a Morality Pet in the form of Toffler.
  • The Quiet One: Unlike her brother George, Martha can speak some English, but she generally chooses not to. Hart discusses this when he first meets Boyd, and bets that Boyd didn't get a word out of Martha when she escorted him to Fort Spencer. The only time she says more than two or three words at once is when Boyd asks her how to make the Wendigo's Horror Hunger stop.
  • 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, or was a convenient place to kick out the misfits that you didn't want around.
  • 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.
  • The Reveal: A number of these start coming around the midway point of the movie.
    • Colqhoun is the one who killed and ate the rest of the pioneer party.
    • The myth of the Wendigo is at least partially true, as eating other humans grants superhuman strength, toughness, and healing abilities. It also creates an obsessional Horror Hunger in those who partake in cannibalism.
    • Boyd's sole brave deed in the war and the unusual strength he showed doing it? A result of getting a small portion of the Wendigo super abilities when he swallowed the blood of the dead officers that were stacked on top of him.
    • Colqhoun and Ives are one and the same, and Ives is planning to use his connections within the Army to become the new commander of Fort Spencer, after which he'll be free to prey on pioneers passing through the fort en route to California.
  • Screaming Warrior: Private Reich, even in the first second you ever see him.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Martha, at the end of the film. When she comes back and finds Boyd and Ives together in the bear trap, she immediately leaves the fort. Given she's the last survivor of fort's inhabitants and a lot of weird things happened, she would end up questioned. And telling a story about mythical monster while being native and a woman is definitely not going to work her any favours.
  • Settling the Frontier: A very important element of the background is the influx of pioneers to settle down in lands freshly captured from Mexico. Manifest Destiny is also brought up and discussed.
  • 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!.
  • Sinister Minister: When Colqhoun introduces himself, he notes that he's "a servant of God." He's also a murderer and cannibal.
  • Snow Means Death: Sure, the trek into the mountains is dangerous, but it's really the cannibals you need to watch out for.
  • Sociopathic Soldier:
  • Southern Gentleman: Major Knox has a very thick southern accent and is an officer.
  • Splatter Horror: Many of the film's gore and themes surround the comparison of human meat and animal meat, and a shot of a raw steak is offered the same loving attention as a shot of a slaughtered human body. Then again, since most of the crew are vegetarians, the honest disgust that frames meat of both types helps to enhance the story's horror nicely.
  • The Stoner: "The over-medicated Private Cleaves".
  • 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: With Ives seemingly getting the better of their fight, Boyd comes to the conclusion that this is the only way to stop him.
  • Teach Him Anger: Ives to Boyd, although it's less about anger and more about power and health that come from being a cannibal. 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 Expositor: 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? Especially since some of them don't stick together.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Mr Janus from Virginia travelled with his black "servant" Jones. The action takes place in the winter in early 1848, making it more likely for Jones to be simply a slave.
  • Wendigo: Referenced, but nobody turns into a literal monster. Human flesh acts like an addictive Super Serum, and that's about it.
  • The World's Expert on Getting Killed: Reich is the most capable and motivated soldier of the entire garrison. Naturally Ives kills him easily with a thrown dagger and a convenient cliff for him to fall off.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Zig-Zagged with Ives. He had nothing against killing and eating Mrs MacCready, but in the end, Martha is the only inhabitant of Fort Spencer left alive and he apparently completely ignored her existence.


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