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Part horror allegory, part black comedy, Ravenous is a different kind of cannibal movie

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The belated release of Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno has us hankering for other movies about cannibalism. Bon appétit.

Ravenous (1999)

From its opening scene—an officers’ luncheon soundtracked by a nauseating mix of scraping, chewing, and brass band—Ravenous announces itself as something even stranger than a cannibal flick set during the Mexican-American War. Part allegorical period horror, part black comedy, and dosed with satirical and homoerotic overtones, the film—a troubled project that swapped directors early on, and opened to indifferent audiences and reviews—remains one of the genuine studio-backed curios of the 1990s.


Directed—for the most part, anyway—by British TV veteran Antonia Bird, with a script by Ted Griffin (Ocean’s Eleven, Terriers) and a cast composed almost entirely of “that guy” character actors, Ravenous is a movie where the mismatched and often conflicting tones are a big part of the appeal. Nothing typifies this more than the eccentric, justly celebrated score, a paranoid mix of sequencer loops, folk instruments, and moody neoclassical interludes, composed by Michael Nyman and Blur frontman Damon Albarn.

Guy Pearce stars as Boyd, a cowardly officer who is effectively booted from the front and sent off to Fort Spencer, a remote nowhere in the Sierra Nevadas. There’s diddly-squat to do, until one F.W. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) shows up with a story about a band of settlers led into cannibalism by their guide. From this point, the movie gets weirder and more deliberately discomfiting, both in its humor and in its gore; here, a scene of a cannibal chasing his next victim through a forest is accompanied by knee-slapping fiddles, suggesting some kind of nightmarish, old-time version of The Benny Hill Show.


Nobody seemed to know what to make of it back in 1999; certainly not 20th Century Fox, which seemed to have thrown up its hands in exasperation at trying to market the movie. And yet, Ravenous’s uniquely kooky sensibility has given it a surprisingly long life as a cult favorite. It’s the rare whatsit that isn’t the product of a single out-there vision, but of a surplus of directions and meddling, from the wildly divergent acting styles to the unconventional aesthetic choices (like the title whooshing across the bottom of the frame, over a shot of Boyd vomiting) to that score, which Albarn and Nyman wrote more or less independently of each other. There’s nothing quite like it.

Availability: Ravenous is available to stream on Netflix, and can also be rented or purchased digitally from Amazon Instant, Google Play, and YouTube. It is also available on DVD through Netflix or possibly your local video store/library.