04th Jun2014

‘Ravenous’ Blu-Ray Review (Scream Factory)

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Robert Carlyle, Guy Pearce, Jeffrey Jones, Jeremy Davies, Neal McDonough, David Arquette, Stephen Spinella, John Spencer, Joseph Runningfox | Written by Ted Griffin | Directed by Antonia Bird

Ravenous-Blu

In honor of Ravenous finally being released on Blu-Ray from those magnificent madmen at Scream Factory, I thought I’d conjure up some words about one of the great, underrated chillers of the 90’s. It’s a film I’ve deemed a personal favorite amongst mixed fans of film. I’ll recommend it without batting an eye. It’s essential viewing for horror fans, period. One of the key elements to understanding why I love Ravenous, you have to understand the background of my film going history that brought me to it.

For a great period in the 90’s, I saw many films in theaters with my uncle, and when I say many, I’d say it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of a metric ton. They ranged from the good, to the bad and invariably with the ugly. I remember seeing Ghost in the Machine, Halloween: H20, The Sixth Sense, and most of The Blair Witch Project (which was the dawn of found footage and neither one of us were prepared for the onslaught of shaky cam theatrics). I can’t think of a weekend that wasn’t spent in the hallowed halls of any movie theater, and I remember growing up from the age of where I watched theatres go from modest to megaplex.

But, like some sort of auditors, we would watch the trailers as a test to say, “Well, now I know what we’re seeing next.” And that’s a fine thought process. Even in the 90’s when trailers would show very little (remember when they did that?), but just enough to get audiences in seats, I still remember that some studios never knew how to sell the film. Sure, there’s a trailer and that’s playing in front of theatergoers worldwide, but if you can’t tell what the film is about, then any audience member would watch it and shrug it off as if saying, “What’s the point?”

And that was my problem as well. When I first saw the trailer for Dark City, it grabbed me but hadn’t hooked me. But, after subsequent viewings of the trailer, and being assaulted with these gorgeous images, I was frothing at the mouth to go and see it. And you know, despite the trailer telling me absolutely nothing about the film, I loved it. I still do. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. But, the point of all this rambling leads down one alley: Just because a film doesn’t expressly tell you what it’s about, doesn’t mean the film isn’t worth your time. Because chances are, it is.

To call Ravenous, a cannibal film would be selling it short. It is and it isn’t. It’s a dark comedy that knows it’s being funny, but it’s a film that dabs in theories of more mythological elements (a brief discussion of the Wendigo is bandied about early on). I remember seeing advertisements for Ravenous and my only real takeaways were: Jeremy Davies screaming, “He was licking me!” Or the image of a crazed Neal McDonough screaming at the top of his lungs while standing in icy cold water. It was made to be a horror film, but what kind of horror film would it be? In the 90’s, there was a deluge of slasher films and knockoffs of those slasher films, almost half of which went straight to video (not that that’s a bad thing).The answer is that Ravenous is many films all wrapped up in one, a celluloid shape shifter that’s just brilliant from top to gruesome bottom.

The film’s real testament lies first in the great script by Ted Griffin. It’s a real Russian nesting doll of a film. First, it whips from genre to genre sometimes in the same scene, generally staying in the horror realm, though there is a bit towards the middle where it settles comfortably in the suspense mode, though that lasts not too long, and still gives off a sense of dread so thick not even a knife could cut through. It’s also funny to listen to Griffin’s commentary with Jeffrey Jones (which incidentally ends up like listening to Principal Rooney give grief to a Ferris Bueller), where he posits another ending for the film where the whole story of Ravenous is just a ghost story that a group of kids are telling around a campfire.

It’s also brilliant writing that the lead, the hero is introduced as a coward, and acts that way pretty much throughout the entirety of the film, though Pearce’s John Boyle gets his own redemptive ending with an excellently choreographed fight, and an exchange that’s so much in the vein of black comedy that it practically drips ink. The film is a murderer’s row of great actors from Jeffrey Jones to Robert Carlyle to Guy Pearce, practically every actor in this film fits the mold of the character they were cast in, and late director Antonia Bird coaxes performances out of them that range from feral to genteel all the way down the spectrum to gut wrenchingly redemptive.

The characters play things out in a realistic manner, they aren’t stock, clichéd characters and they die not because of stupidity, but because of sheer, unrelenting fate. And that’s what’s so brilliant, the courage of the men at the base lead to their downfall, while the one who begin the story hiding out during wartime survives right up until the end. It’s irony, and in this world, it’s the swift, brutal kind. The violence could fall under that same note, it’s done very realistically, and happens in a lightning fast manner, befitting for a tale of old Western brutality. And yet, the violence isn’t done for gratuity’s sake, it’s all relevant to the plot.

Ravenous is aided by gorgeously lensed photography by Anthony Richmond, and the locations, a mix between studios in Prague, the Sierra Nevada, and Mexico, allow for an in depth immersion into the story and help to get you in the right frame of mind for a tale of a monstrous man. Whether in the woods, or in the confines of the outpost, danger is lurking around any corner, and you can practically feel the noose tightening around everyone’s necks at the film swiftly moves towards its gore laden, brilliant finale. The score by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman fit the film’s sensibilities so perfect; it’s really hard to find a film that mirrors its score so well. The twangy, banjo-y music plays like a twisted, mutated version of ‘Dueling Banjos.’

Ravenous could not have been an easy sell for Fox 2000. You could practically see the executives shrugging and saying, “What’s the point? No one will watch it, and no one will understand what it is.” It premiered in March 1999, right in a dead zone of wilderness, and while it garnered some critical acclaim (Roger Ebert’s positive review among the critical voices); it wasn’t a hit for the studio. It’s not hard to understand why. After all the film’s hero is a coward, barely does anything actionable and when he finally does, dies as a result of it. More so, the bad guy wins. It’s a bleak ending for a film with a mix of everything in it. It’s gory, especially towards the end. Audiences weren’t looking for that in early March. And it’s a shame because they missed out on one of the best horror films to come out in the 90’s, not to mention one of the best horror films of all time.

Ravenous is out now on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory.

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