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ravenous
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Ravenous

Ravenous is a 1999 horror/drama film directed by Antonia Bird and starring Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle and Jeffrey Jones. The film revolves around cannibalism in 1840s California and some elements bear similarities to the story of the Donner Party and that of Alferd 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. The film's darkly humorous and ironic take on its gruesome subject matter have led some to label it a black comedy. Plot In an opening prologue during the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), a United States Army officer, Lieutenant Boyd, freezes in battle while his unit is massacred. Playing dead he manages to infiltrate the Mexican headquarters and, after a moment of bravery, captures them. He is promoted to Captain for his heroism, but his Commanding Officer realises he is a coward and transfers him to the remote Fort Spencer in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

After Boyd joins the seven other inhabitants of Fort Spencer, a stranger named Colqhoun arrives and describes his wagon train becoming lost in the Sierra Nevadas and being reduced to cannibalism to avoid starvation. The party's guide, a Colonel Ives, had promised the party a shorter route to the Pacific Ocean but instead led them on a more circuitous route, and was then the one to lead their turn to cannibalism. The soldiers stationed at the fort see it as their duty to investigate and search for survivors, so assemble a rescue party. Before they leave they are warned by their Native American scout, George, of the Wendigo myth; a story that a man consuming the flesh of his enemies takes their strength but becomes a demon cursed by a hunger for human flesh.

When they reach the cave where the party had taken refuge they realise that Colqhoun is Ives and has lured them into a trap. He had killed his five companions and sets about killing the soldiers from Fort Spencer one by one, including the commanding officer, Colonel Hart.

Boyd manages to escape the massacre by jumping off a cliff, breaking his leg in the process. He hides in a pit along with the body of a fellow soldier and eventually he eats some of the man's flesh to stay alive. When he finally limps back into the fort he is delirious and severely traumatized; none of the remaining soldiers (who did not meet Colqhoun) believe his wild tale, and a second expedition finds no bodies or any trace of the man. A temporary commander is assigned to the fort and to Boyd's horror it turns out to be Colqhoun, now cleaned up and calling himself Colonel Ives. The others still refuse to believe that Ives is the killer, especially after he bears no sign of the wounds inflicted on him during the massacre. Boyd is suspected of murder after another soldier mysteriously dies and is chained up; he watches helplessly while the last officer is murdered by an unexpected ally of Ives: Colonel Hart, back from the dead after the massacre.

Ives tells Boyd that he used to suffer from Tuberculosis, but when a Native scout told him the Wendigo myth he "just had to try", murdering him, eating his flesh and in the process curing his maladies. Having murdered the expedition he led he now plans to use the fort as a base to do the same to other passing travelers; he compares the location of the fort, with the guaranteed supply of isolated migrants that it entails, with the notion of Manifest Destiny that draws them there.

He saved Hart by feeding him his own comrades (an act that seems to heal all wounds), and now the man is addicted like he is to human meat. Ives wounds Boyd and forces him to make a choice: eat or die. Eventually Boyd gives in and eats a prepared stew made out of the last officer killed, and his wound heals. But rather than join the two men in their conspiracy to convert another superior officer, he convinces Hart to free him so he can kill Ives. Hart does so, but asks Boyd to kill him first as he no longer wants to live as a cannibal. A battle between Boyd and Ives takes place at the climax, with both men wounding each other badly, yet they won't die easily due to their new powers. Finally, Boyd forces Ives onto a large bear trap and springs it, pinning them both together. Ives taunts Boyd by telling him he'll eat him as soon as he dies, but Ives expires first. Boyd refuses to save himself by eating Ives' body and dies on top of his adversary, no longer a coward.


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