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Overall Rating

Awesome: 31.82%
Worth A Look38.64%
Average: 11.36%
Pretty Bad: 10.23%
Total Crap: 7.95%

7 reviews, 46 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Off-the-wall historical horror-comedy. Nothing else remotely like it."
5 stars

Now here's a true oddity, destined to be dismissed or overlooked. And no, I'm not tuning up for one of my misunderstood-masterpiece reviews. 'Ravenous' is no masterpiece, but it's a sturdy and fascinating union of two subgenres that usually aren't in the same room: the frontier movie and the cannibal movie.

I mean, how the fuck did they pitch this to the studio -- "It's Alive meets Almost Heroes"? That a major studio (20th Century-Fox) gave this a wide release, despite its gonzo premise and lack of stars, is heartening; that this noble experiment tanked on arrival is discouraging. Still, I'm glad it actually got the green light, actually got made, and actually got released, because it stayed with me longer than any other movie I saw in spring '99.

We're in the mid-19th century, during the Mexican-American war. That right there is enough to raise a red flag of political comment -- it was an ugly and unpopular war. Frederick Douglass called it a "disgraceful, cruel and iniquitous war with our sister republic. Mexico seems a doomed victim to Anglo-Saxon cupidity and love of dominion." The war was about America gobbling up California; in 1848, that state and New Mexico joined the other morsels in America's swelling stomach. Ravenous draws a direct parallel between the United States' insatiable hunger for territory and a cannibal's obsessive craving for flesh. And if you're a soldier trained to kill fellow human beings, why not eat them too?

Guy Pearce, longer of hair and furrier of face than he was in L.A. Confidential, is the closest thing to a hero -- Captain John Boyd, promoted for inadvertent heroism in action (i.e., playing dead to save his skin and getting dragged behind enemy lines, where he captured the Mexican commanders). Boyd's superior sees Boyd for the "coward" he is and transfers him to the remote Fort Spencer, a mountainous and stark place worthy of an Anthony Mann western. Boyd's new friends at Spencer include the cynical Hart (Jeffrey Jones, eyes twinkling with sarcastic wit), the "overly medicated" chef Cleates (a giggling David Arquette), the gung-ho soldier Reich (nail-tough Neil McDonough), and the devout young minister Toffler (Jeremy Davies, as recessive as ever).

When the tedium of life at Spencer is broken by the arrival of the mysterious Colquhoun (Robert Carlyle), the real meat is served. I won't reveal any more -- the ads have spoiled enough as it is -- but suffice to say that much flesh is eaten and more blood is spilled; the MPAA must really be getting laid-back lately. Director Antonia Bird (Priest), working from a sharp script by Ted Griffin, sustains an antic yet eerie mood, out there in the snowy boondocks where no one can hear you eat. A scene in a cannibal's underground lair just about matches the art-decorative creepiness of the flesh-eating family's crib in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Bird's direction is straightforward and clean, helping us buy into grisly events that just might have happened.

Pearce and Carlyle make fine doppelgangers, and the movie overall is nimble twisted entertainment; it seems to be stopping briefly in multiplexes on its way to a second life as a cult film on video and at midnight shows. I liked its courage in pursuing its dark view of colonialism to the last, bitter drop; it might make a good double-bill with George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which likewise used cannibalism as a symbol of America's unquenchable hunger and unfillable spiritual void. You find these unhappy but accurate insights in the least likely movies. Ravenous even throws in the Wendigo, the Indian myth about the beast who gains the strength and spirit of the people it consumes. Did the Indians come up with the Wendigo in response to, or in anticipation of, the white soldiers who would consume their land and people?

A movie that leaves such idle thoughts bouncing around in your head deserves better than to be called a sick black comedy. Though, of course, it's that too.

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originally posted: 12/30/06 07:12:06
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell grisly tongue & cheek fun 4 stars
3/22/13 KayBeQueenBee It was strange and different, but I liked it. 4 stars
12/06/08 Shaun Wallner Great Film! 4 stars
6/20/08 Anaxis Saw this when it was released, and I rated it then as destined to be an immortal cult film, 5 stars
6/03/08 mr.mike Constantly threatens to go over the top...yet never does 4 stars
1/03/07 William Goss Screwy, but watchable period cannibal thriller. 3 stars
2/25/06 Robert More misses than hits, but enough genuinely bizarre moments to be at least memorable. 3 stars
10/09/05 K. Sear Fantastic tongue-in-cheek film-making 5 stars
9/08/05 tatum Tasty! 4 stars
8/12/05 ES Terrible editing, watch when Carlyle trips on a snow patch and reveals its a sheet 2 stars
3/24/05 erebus45 This is the most underrated movie ever.!! Fantastic!!! 5 stars
12/24/04 Anne-Marie A keeper. Scenery, music, plot, gore all perfect 5 stars
5/12/04 Michael Made me wont to be a cannibal 4 stars
4/24/03 Mister Killjoy Best cavalry-cannibal-vampire-immortal-manifest-destiny movie. Besides "The Bodyguard." 5 stars
3/27/03 Jen It was gross & creepy, but i liked it still. 4 stars
1/23/03 The Grinch Pretty good...fairly original...unpredictable...oddball soundtrack, grade A B movie (USDA) 4 stars
1/09/03 Lex brilliant! A+ cast, music, most intelligent gore flick ever! 5 stars
11/16/02 .Choadushouse. holy sh*t! I loved this movie! great performances by all and great gore! eerie! 5 stars
12/04/01 sphen why is everyone turned off by it?! I think its a very well written movie.. great soundtrack 5 stars
10/04/01 Liam Markus This is a bloody awsome film 5 stars
6/03/01 DJ Smurf Creepy as hell. 5 stars
5/12/01 ExorciseTheDemons Micheal Hyman's score definatley helps an already good movie. 5 stars
4/16/01 LiL Anyone hungry? 4 stars
12/02/00 Phil Bon Apetite! 5 stars
11/07/00 Charles Heppenstall Great film. Buried on theatrical release in England. 4 stars
9/30/00 Wes Made me hungry in the theater, first dvd i bought, a great movie 5 stars
9/21/00 Terrie Smith Not a bad film at all; Robert Carlyle walks away with it. Great cinematography. 4 stars
7/12/00 Eric Much better than I expected & want to see it again! 5 stars
12/08/99 James Keough Interesting at first. After seeing it three times in a row, I'm convinced it's one to own. 5 stars
11/05/99 John Linton Roberson Half a good film is better than none 3 stars
10/08/99 Elgyn6655321 Very original and cool movie, with a great cast and weird music. 5 stars
9/16/99 Matthew Bartley Mmm,tasty. Demented fun 4 stars
7/04/99 Sketch Turner Amazing movie 5 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg This film is amazingly good. I was surprised that NOBODY was in the theater with us. 5 stars
6/25/99 perry mahaney kick ass movie destined for immortallity 5 stars
5/02/99 little jerry Treads a very fine line between the strangely interesting & a cult film by design. 4 stars
4/21/99 Ah Dooey Get me a burger now! 4 stars
4/15/99 Jon Jackson Great actors, bad movie, not the first time, not the last. 2 stars
4/08/99 Big Jimmy for some reason I found myself craving a steak after watching this movie 4 stars
4/08/99 Brian M pass me another leg please 4 stars
4/01/99 f*r*o*s*t*y #1 (out of three) on my "Worst movies of all time." roster. 1 stars
4/01/99 Thanatos The character interaction in this movie was cool...and the eating people thing, too 5 stars
3/28/99 jvt A good premise not always well executed 3 stars
3/26/99 jenny this movie was so wonderful - fast paced, suspenseful, and the music was really strange :) 5 stars
3/12/99 Orgazmo The BEST FILM OF A DECADE, Cannibals are back, thank god! 5 stars
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  19-Mar-1999 (R)


  22-Apr-1999 (MA)

Directed by
  Antonia Bird

Written by
  Ted Griffin

  Guy Pearce
  Robert Carlyle
  David Arquette
  Jeffrey Jones
  John Spencer
  Jeremy Davies

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