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By Ryan Turek
This is where the idea for this whole opinion piece came from. Each year, I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to watch this dark, amusing and downright bloody look at some good ol' American cannibalism in the mid-1800s.
When the film opened in March of 1999, I was one of four people who sat in the audience opening night at the Ziegfeld Theatre, one of the largest venues in New York City. The theater was an empty cavern. I've seen it packed many times before during viewings of blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Independence Day, but for Ravenous, it seemed like the theater had to give tickets away to get butts in seats. Alas, there was no audience for this bizarre gem and the cumulative box office gross proved that. By the time Ravenous' theatrical run was over, it would gross an estimated $2 million. Its distributor - 20th Century Fox - took a beating and would never speak of Ravenous again (besides, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was opening that summer, so all was not lost).
Ravenous is an acquired taste, for sure, but over time it has received a loyal fanbase. Directed by Antonia Bird (who helmed 1994's drama Priest), the film concerns a cowardly soldier named John Boyd (Guy Pearce) who is stripped of his "Captain" status, for an incident on the battlefield, and exiled to Fort Spencer in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There, he and his fellow soliders encounter a man named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) who had become lost in the wild and resorted to cannibalism to survive. His taste for human flesh does not dissipate, however, and he begins feasting on his rescuers. Further, the hunger for soldier meat begins to spread amongst the rest of the Boyd's team as well, giving Ravenous a bit of a supernatural edge (it becomes steeped in the Native American Wendigo lore).
Out of the creatively-bereft '90s (save for a few select films), Ravenous offered something unique. The cast is stellar (Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies, Neal McDonough, John Spencer) and the soundtrack is a perfect compliment to the story's mad tone. It's a gory, distorted and deranged slice of fictional American history that should not be forgotten.