Archive for the ‘cannibalism’ Tag

Ravenous (1999)   2 comments


After serving in the Mexican-American War, disgraced Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is exiled to the backwater post of Fort Spencer in the Sierra Nevadas.  Soon after, a man stumbles into camp saying he came from a lost wagon train.  F.W. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) claims the leader of his group, Colonel Ives led the pioneers to a so-called shortcut through the mountains where they got lost and quickly ran out of food.  Colqhoun recounts that Ives then convinced the party to eat each other.  “The day that Jones died I was out collecting wood, and when I returned the others were cooking his legs for dinner.”

Bon appetit!

Upon hearing that there might still be survivors at Colqhoun’s camp, the small contingent from Fort Spencer set out to rescue them from the wicked Colonel Ives.  As they explore the pioneers’ digs, the men realize they’re up against a lot more than an unbalanced man.

“You don’t like it?  Fine.  All the more for me.”

Antonia Bird (FACE) took over as director of RAVENOUS after shooting began on the recommendation of Robert Carlyle.  She does a great job of keeping up the tension.  The story, written by Ted Griffin (MATCHSTICK MEN) keeps you guessing and the performances by Guy Pearce, John Spencer, Jeffrey Jones, Jeremy Davies, and especially Neal McDonough and the utterly wonderful Robert Carlyle make the film fly by.  The script, full of dark humor and references to cannibalism and the Wendigo legend is witty and dry and the cast is well up to it.  The Wendigo, by the way, is a part man/part monster legend of the Algonquian people who say that once a man has eaten human flesh, he absorbs the strengths of those he’s eaten.  Of course, now he’s evil and is consumed (See what I did there?) with finding more men to eat.  Nummy.

You can’t eat just one!

RAVENOUS was a neat black comedy which dipped into one of my favorite historic tales.  I’ll watch pretty much anything about the Donner Party and the shortcut referred to in Colqhoun’s story sounds a lot like Hastings Cutoff to me.  An unpredictable story, terrific acting, sharp direction, and a creepy Morricone-ish score by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman all work to make RAVENOUS a wonderful watch.  I can’t believe it took me so long to see it.

“Alas, poor…oh jeez.”


The Donner Party (1992)   Leave a comment



Written and directed by Ric Burns, Ken Burns’ brother, The Donner Party chronicles the journey and trials of the ill-fated pioneers who left the midwest in search of the promised land in California.  Burns uses actors Eli Wallach, Amy Madigan, Frances Sternhagen, Lois Smith, Timothy Hutton, and writers David McCullough and George Plimpton to read the words written by the Donners, the Reeds, the Breens, and the rest of the group that made Truckee Lake famous.  The story, one which starts with such promise and ends, for some, with such tragedy becomes even more dramatic when told in the participants own words.  Fortunately for us, many of the 87 who started the trek from Springfield, Illinois in 1846 kept diaries and wrote letters describing their journey.  The actors do a lovely job with the material and the historians interviewed describe the events with obvious knowledge.   Then there’s the story itself.  That so many things can go so wrong for a single group of people strains credulity and yet we know it to be true.  The families, their wagons, and their cattle drove 2500 miles through rough terrain, believed the advice of Lansford Hastings and took an untried shortcut (which added 125 miles to their trip) and missed traversing the Sierra Nevadas in clear weather by one day.  During their ordeal, some emerged as heroes and heroines, risking their lives to rescue the dying or bolster their hopes. Some showed cowardice and savagery, murdering their comrades.  Some members of the party resorted to cannibalism to survive, and as ugly as that sounds, it’s certainly better than murder.   Burns does an admirable job  telling the pioneers’ stories, but I wish he had delved a bit more deeply into the backgrounds of his subjects and their lives after their return to civilization.  That could be nit-picking though.  I’m a bit of a Donner Party nut.

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