RAVENOUS was released in 1999 to almost no fanfare and pretty much disappeared from movie screens as soon as it had appeared. It boasted a solid B-list cast including Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle, but for some reason was essentially ignored by horror fans. Then it came on cable and DVD, and soon the cult surrounding RAVENOUS started to build. Eventually I got sucked in myself - and I must admit, I've seen the movie now more than a few times. There's something just irresistable about its corky take on cannibalism in the 1840s (yes, I just wrote that).
The film starts off quickly, with a ceremony honoring Mexican-American War hero Guy Pearce, who single-handedly captured a Mexican command post. But how did he really do it? It turns out he played dead out of fear and found himself at the bottom of a pile of corpses. The blood dripped into his mouth, which somehow gave him the strength and courage to stand up and fight. His "reward" for his heroism? Being posted to a very remote, run-down camp in the mountains of California.
Here he comes across a very interesting cast of characters - including Jeffrey Jones as the camp commander, David Arquette as a goofball married to one of the local Indian women, and Jeremy Davies as a shy religious nut. Dysfunctional doesn't even begin to describe it. One day, a stranger arrives in the form of Robert Carlyle. He is the last survivor of a traveling party that became stranded in the cold of the mountains, eventually eating all their supplies until they ran out. One of the members apparently died, at which point the survivors ate him - and others. Carlyle recruits the soldiers at the camp to come recover his eaten camp.
This is when things get even more interesting. Did Carlyle lure them into a trap so he could eat them himself? The battle of wills between Carlyle and Pearce start to escalate as we realize both of them have become addicted to cannibalism. According to an Indian legend, once you eat a human, you gain his strength and you hunger for more and more. Indeed, you become ravenous. Ultimately, the film ends in a showdown between the two that ends the only way it really can.
But it's not even about the action. What makes this film so good and so unique is its style. The actors all play their parts with seriousness, but the film is in many ways a very dark comedy. Accentuating the odd atmosphere is a spectacular musical score by Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz fame) that will work its way into your head. And of course, there is more than enough blood and guts to satisfy any serious horror fan.
RAVENOUS is a film truly unlike any you will ever see. It's the kind of movie that you actually are amazed was ever made. Directed by British BBC vet Antonia Bird, and written by Ted Griffin (who went on to write Ocean's 11), it somehow balances the comedy and horror throughout in a way that is always fascinating. If you haven't joined the cult of RAVENOUS, now is the time.
RATING: *** and a half (out of four)