Ravenous (1999 film)

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Ravenous ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Antonia Bird
Produced by Adam Fields
David Heyman
Tim Van Rellim
Written by Ted Griffin
Music by Michael Nyman
Damon Albarn
Cinematography Anthony B. Richmond
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 19, 1999 (1999-03-19)
Running time
100 minutes
Country Czech Republic
United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $12 million
Box office $2,062,405

Ravenous is a 1999 Western[1] black comedy horror-suspense film directed by Antonia Bird and starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeffrey Jones and David Arquette. The film revolves around cannibalism in 1840s California and some elements bear similarities to the story of the Donner Party and that of Alferd Packer. Screenwriter Ted Griffin lists Packer's story, as recounted in a couple of paragraphs of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man, as one of his inspirations for Carlyle's character.

The film's darkly humorous and ironic take on its gruesome subject matter have led some to label it simply as a black comedy or a satire. The film's unique score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn generated a significant amount of attention. The film's production did not get off to a good start, with the original director Milcho Manchevski leaving the production three weeks after shooting started. He was replaced by Bird at the suggestion of Carlyle.


During the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), Second Lieutenant Boyd, who is fighting in the United States Army, finds his courage fail him in battle so he plays dead as his unit is massacred. His body, along with the other dead are put in a cart and hauled back to the Mexican headquarters (throughout this journey blood drips into Boyd's mouth). However, in a moment of bravery, Boyd seizes the chance to capture the Mexican headquarters. 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.

Shortly after Boyd joins the seven-man garrison at Fort Spencer, a stranger named Colqhoun arrives and describes how his wagon train became lost in the mountains. A Colonel Ives had promised the party a shorter route to the Pacific Ocean but instead had led them on a more circuitous route resulting in the party getting trapped by snow. People were reduced to cannibalism to avoid starvation. A rescue party is assembled to get the survivors. But before they leave they are warned by their Native American scout, George, of 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 the party's cave they realise too late that Colqhoun and Ives are one and the same. After eating his five companions, his plan is now to kill and eat the soldiers. Colqhoun quickly kills them one by one, including Colonel Hart, the fort's commanding officer. Boyd escapes the massacre by jumping off a cliff but breaks his leg. He hides in a pit next to the body of another soldier who he eventually eats to stay alive.

When Boyd finally limps back to the fort, he is delirious and severely traumatized. The remaining soldiers (who never met Colqhoun because they were on a supply mission) do not believe his wild tale. A second expedition to the cave finds no bodies or any trace of the man. A temporary commander is assigned to the fort but to Boyd's horror it is Colqhoun, now cleaned up and calling himself Colonel Ives. The men still refuse to believe Boyd because Ives bears no sign of the wounds inflicted on him during the fight at the cave. Secretly Ives tells Boyd that he used to suffer from tuberculosis but when a Native scout told him the Wendigo myth he "just had to try" by murdering him and eating his flesh. A process that cured his disease. Ives now planned to use the fort as a base to cannibalise passing travellers because, like the notion of Manifest Destiny, the migrants had a calling just like himself. Boyd is soon suspected of murder after a soldier is mysteriously killed. While chained up, he watches helplessly as the last officer is murdered by Ives' unexpected ally: Colonel Hart, back from the dead after the massacre.

Ives saved Hart by feeding him his own men. But he is now addicted, like Colqhoun, to human flesh. Ives mortally wounds Boyd forcing him to make a choice: eat or die. Eventually Boyd gives in and eats a stew made from the dead officer. However, rather than join the two men in their conspiracy to convert General Slauson, Boyd convinces Hart to free him so he can kill Ives. Hart does so but asks to be killed because he no longer wants to live as a cannibal. Boyd and Ives fight inflicting grievous wounds on each other because their recuperative powers sustain them. Eventually Boyd forces Ives into a large bear trap that pins them both together. Ives taunts Boyd by telling him he will eat him but he dies first. General Slauson arrives, and while his aide looks around the dilapidated fort, the general tastes the meat stew left simmering on the fire. Martha, the sister of George the native scout, sees Ives and the dying Boyd together, closes the door, and walks away. Boyd does not eat Ives and dies.



The film was shot on location in the Tatra Mountains, Slovakia and Durango, Mexico. One week before production, original director Milcho Manchevski was said to have submitted new storyboards, which would have required additional two weeks of shooting.[2] The production company, Fox 2000, eventually agreed to an additional week, with complaints that Manchevski had refused production meetings with the producers. Meanwhile, Manchevski complained Fox 2000 executive Laura Ziskin micromanaged the production by vetoing his chosen technicians and casting against his wishes.

Shooting was delayed on the first day as Manchievski 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.[3] Screenwriter Ted Griffin was at hand for "constant rewrites" during the shooting.[2]

After three weeks of shooting, Ziskin arrived to the set with director Raja Gosnell in tow to dismiss Manchevski and place Gosnell in as a replacement. While Manchevski left the production, the cast has been said to have rejected Gosnell. Robert Carlyle then recommended Antonia Bird, his frequent collaborator and business partner, to take over.

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".[3] She also went on to say her predecessor, Manchievski, should not be blamed for the problematic production.[4]

Bird suggests the final theatrical cut had elements introduced without her approval, as she expressed disdain over the voiceover narration and was interested in recutting the film for the European market.[3]

This would be the last theatrical release to feature John Spencer, who would commit to his role as Leo McGarry full-time on the TV series The West Wing, before he died in 2005.[5]



Box office[edit]

Ravenous opened on 19 March 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.[6]

Critical response[edit]

Ravenous received mixed reviews from professional critics, somewhat tending toward the negative. However, the movie has since gained a cult following.[citation needed] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received 45% overall approval out of 46 reviews. Yet 79% of Rotten Tomatoes fans approved of the film.[7] Roger Ebert, gave Ravenous a better review, rating it 3 stars out of 4 and stating that it was "the kind of movie where you savor the texture of the filmmaking, even when the story strays into shapeless gore."[8]

Michael Smith of White City Cinema ranked it as his 21st favorite film of the 1990s.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/features/to-serve-man-why-ravenous-is-the-greatest-cannibal-western-ever-20151027
  2. ^ a b Directors Cut, Anita M. Busch, EW.com, 1998-04-10; Accessed 2012-04-04
  3. ^ a b c Film: They all but ate me alive!, Roger Clarke, The Independent, 1999-03-09; Accessed 2012-04-04
  4. ^ "FANGO Flashback: "RAVENOUS"". Fangoria.com. Retrieved 29 August 2017. 
  5. ^ "Ravenous (1999)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 29 August 2017. 
  6. ^ "Ravenous (1999)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-05-14. 
  7. ^ "Ravenous". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2007-05-14. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (1999-03-19). "Ravenous". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-05-14. 
  9. ^ "Ravenous - White City Cinema". whitecitycinema.com. Retrieved 29 August 2017. 

External links[edit]