Film: Also showing - A funny, bloody little movie

Ravenous (18) Antonia Bird; 100 mins The Italian Job (PG) Peter Collinson; 103 mins Stop Making Sense (PG) Jonathan Demme; 88mins A Kind of Hush (15) Brian Stirner; 96 mins Skin Flick (no cert) Bruce LaBruce; 70 mins Varsity Blues (15) Brian Robbins; 105 mins Mouchette (no cert) Robert Bresson; 90 mins
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The Independent Culture
T he year is 1847. Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is sent to man an army fort in the high Nevadas. He settles in for a freezing winter with his peculiar comrades, when a half-dead stranger called Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) lurches through the dark. The man speaks of how he was recently trapped in the winter mountains with a wagon party. Starving, they ate their dead companions, until one of the group began to murder the living for food. Boyd leads a rescue party with Colqhoun as guide, and what follows is grotesque and unpredictably performed. Antonia Bird's comic horror-western Ravenous is rarely played for laughs. She opts instead for a savage kind of grace, for an atmosphere exultant and confrontational and unconstrained.

The film is pretty scary. Its opening flashback scenes in which Boyd escapes from certain death during the Mexican-American war - are very like the opening moments of the Gerard Depardieu vehicle Le Colonel Chabert, and almost as horrible. In both films, the heroes are buried alive beneath scores of corpses, waking light-headed under a heap of bloody fingers and thighs and cloths, straining for release but buttoned too tight into their jackets, desperately avoiding the wild confronting stares of the dead about them. Bird's film runs the gamut of such nightmare scenarios, but outstrips any other I can think of lately in gore.

The blood in this film seems to come from everywhere - unpredictable, full of deranged life. Carlyle is particularly affecting, perhaps by virtue of his eyes, which are like those of a great white shark - small, soul-free, black as cave water. Although Bird and her story do run out of steam, the film never slams to a dead end. Sometimes the whole thing feels quite simply a horror story enthusiastically told, and at others you imagine the flesh-eating baddy as the Pioneer incarnate - pawing at his dreams, crushing anything that stands in his way, made utterly determined by the frenzy of his exertions.

Re-released in celebration of its 30th birthday, The Italian Job stars Michael Caine as Charlie Crocker, a crook planning to nab gold bullion in Turin during a massive traffic jam that he's engineered. Ironically, the more famous second half of the film - the heist itself, featuring three expertly driven Mini Coopers - feels pedantic compared to what comes before. The first half is hilarious, plumed and crested on waves of camp, with Noel Coward as the crime boss Mr Bridger, escorted to his private prison loo by sycophantic wardens, and Michael Caine in a woundingly cheeky suede waistcoat begging Professor Peach (Benny Hill) to shut his maaf. The film has blind faith in British Leyland. You can almost hear director Peter Collinson sniggering into his imported ploughman's sandwich at all the Italians trying to pass off their Fiat Cinquecentos as actual automobiles.

Stop Making Sense is Jonathan Demme's 1984 film of the band Talking Heads in concert, re-released, from what I can gather, for the hell of it. Shot over three nights but edited into one show, the film benefits from an absolute lack of interest in backstage chat or the audience, who might not be there at all, but for the odd squeak. Byrne, who looks like a cross between Wilfred Owen and an equable mongoose, loves to jog furiously up and down on the spot. The whole band do - their arms ablaze, their white pumps going crazy. Sometimes random words are transmitted onto a back screen: Pig. Air Conditioning. Onions. Babies. It all takes an awfully long time. Every song has at least 15 verses, and keeps slipping over into what sounds worryingly like jazz.

Based on an autobiographical manuscript by Richard Johnson, A Kind of Hush has a gang of street-smart London lads seeking revenge for a life- time of sexual abuse. Neither polished nor particularly smart, the film does have a note of realism which is worth clinging to. Hard and concentrated by its close, its take on retaliation is unusually intransigent.

Bruce LaBruce's Skin Flick, a "legitimate porno film", follows a group of gay skinheads banging their way across London. It's breathtakingly self-indulgent, its characters offering sexual fantasies to the camera to push the film to feature length. And Varsity Blues is a hackneyed teen sports movie bewailing the trials of the high-school football hero, played by James Van Der Beek of Dawson's Creek. Jon Voight plays the evil coach, who will stop at nothing to win the championship, and spends his time fingering his trophies and doing sums.

Mouchette, Robert Bresson's 1966 classic, concerns a teenage girl from a poor family who lives in an unkind village, with a dying mother, violent siblings and malicious friends. Bresson examines character through action rather than words - Mouchette completing her slow and upsetting odyssey to grace, like a character in a religious parable. Her journey has even been likened to a Stations of the Cross. If anyone wants to be reminded of how hope feels, then watch her (Nadine Nortier) on the dodgem cars at the fair. She glances at a boy, and her sullen face travels through anguished conviction into the film's lone and wholly adolescent smile. In the light of what comes after, the moment hangs over you like a mantilla for days.