A troubled movie shoot is usually troubled for the good reason that everyone involved knows the film they're making is terrible. When this happens (and it happens a lot), no amount of script-doctoring, hiring, firing, new directors or reshoots changes the fact that you can't polish a turd. Witness The Avengers, Burn Hollywood Burn or this month's double offerings of turgidity, The 13th Warrior (see page 87) and Ravenous. Between them, they're enough to give ritualistic cannibalism a bad name for decades to come.
Chewing down on his buddies is Colqhoun (Carlyle), a traveller who's spent most of the winter trapped in the mountains and who urges a rag-tag band of US Army men to trek back with him to save any of his ill-fated party still left alive. Only of course there aren't any, because he's eaten them all and, due to some Native American folk tale, has absorbed their strength to become not only a serial killer, but a superhuman serial killer. And guess who's on the menu next?
Pointing the camera is Face-helmer Antonia Bird, who came on board during the shoot as director number three and therefore has all manner of excuses for the resulting mess. But even she doesn't know whether this should be funny or serious. So why should the audience?
Ravenous does have an almost-saving grace in the form of an impressive score from unlikely duo Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn. Although the music is frequently intrusive and out of place, it only jars because it's so much better than what's happening on the screen - a real candidate for a DVD with a score-only feature
Scream staple David Arquette pops up as a peyote-chugging soldier, the always fine Jeffrey Jones appears as a dithering officer and Carlyle is occasionally entertaining as the evangelical flesh-eater - but this is hardly a sure-fire mix for a good night out. A 19th-century slasher comedy about cannibals? It makes you wonder what kind of power-suited fool goes about greenlighting this kind of rubbish.
Staggering from set-piece to disjointed set-piece, Ravenous desperately searches for a purpose or a tale to tell. The mix of half-hearted humour and graphic cannibalism is more horrible than it is horror and darker than it is darkly funny.