Ravenous is a 1999 horror Western cannibal 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 Alfred 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.
Upon receiving reports of missing persons at Fort Spencer, a remote Army outpost on the Western frontier, Capt. John Boyd (Guy Pearce) investigates. After arriving at his new post, Boyd and his regiment aid a wounded frontiersman, F.W. Colghoun (Robert Carlyle), who recounts a horrifying tale of a wagon train murdered by its supposed guide — a vicious U.S. Army colonel gone rogue. Fearing the worst, the regiment heads out into the wilderness to verify Colghoun’s gruesome claims.
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.
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. The production company, Fox 2000, eventually agreed to an additional week, with complaints that Manchevski had refused production meetings with the producers.
Ravenous bombed at the box office, grossing $10 million less than it cost to make and anticipating a climate where a film like this would be lucky to premiere at Fantastic Fest in advance of a straight-to-VOD release. Perhaps that’s for the best. A major studio trying to wrangle something so bloodthirsty and off-kilter is like a child trying to raise a feral hyena — it’s too wild to tame, and it’s always laughing at you for trying.