When? 1999 | Where? Amazon Prime Instant Video, DVD.
Horror movies are often about transposing our real-life fears into something more fantastical. But when it comes to the concept of cannibalism, the line between the horrors we make up and those that exist in the real world are blurred, making the subject one of the more unnerving tropes that exist under the umbrella of the horror movie genre.
True tales of humans eating other humans have existed since time immemorial: From the tragic story of the Donner Party and the infamous case of the Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the Andes who ate each other to survive, to the disturbed serial killers like Boone Helm and Jeffery Dahmer who ate their victims on purpose. So, it’s no surprise that the gruesome subject has both repulsed and fascinated society, and become fodder for literature, television, and movies.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF 20TH CENTURY FOX
- GOOD EATS: Cannibal-horro-period drama Ravenous tries to be many things at once. It fails in most of them, but still retains a sort of gory charm.
In the film world, cannibalism has been largely relegated to the fringes of the horror genre, demoted to graphic b-grade shock cinema such as the infamous 1980 Italian exploitation flick Cannibal Holocaust, or its modern-day spiritual successor, Eli Roth’s Green Inferno.
But in Hollywood anything is possible. That includes trying to make a big-budget cannibal horror movie, complete with a star studded cast. Such is the case with 1999’s Ravenous, a $12 million film that tried straddling the line between the horror and gore of its predecessors, while taking on—with varying degrees of success—the trappings of a big-budget Hollywood period drama.
Set against the backdrop of the Mexican-American War, Ravenous tells the story of a young officer, played by Guy Pearce, who is assigned to a remote Fort in the Sierra Nevadas. Once there, the film revolves around Pearce’s character slowly realizing that something at the fort is very wrong. His superiors and fellow soldiers have become members of a gruesome conspiracy; killing and consuming human beings in the belief that the act will bring them power, good health, and possibly eternal life.
Watching the film, you can’t help but see how it struggles to be many things at once. It plays with the shocking gore and some supernatural elements of horror, throws in moments of some serious historical period drama, and even includes some black humor and comic relief. The cast included some pretty talented actors, including Jeffery Jones, John Spencer, and Neal McDonaugh. The cinematography of the harsh Sierra Nevada wilderness is pretty stunning. But the film tries to be too many things to its audience, and what could have been a really interesting genre-bending movie ends up simply being fractured, confusing, and at times even boring. Really, it’s only worth watching if you have an interest in weird, failed, and vaguely campy horror films.
While Ravenous may not be a cult classic, the territory it dipped a toe into has been revisited with far more success recently. The 2015 horror/Western mash up Bone Tomahawk executes the frontier period piece and cannibal horror elements in a far more effective and satisfying way than Ravenous ever did. Still, for all its faults and missteps, Ravenous still has its charms for horror film buffs who are, ahem, hungry for something a little different. (101 min.)