Eating Raoul: Criterion Collection
September 26, 2012
Equal parts Ealing Studios manner black comedy and wild taboo-smashing John Waters cult film, Eating Raoul (1982) exists somewhere in-between these two extremes. It was the brainchild of screenwriter Richard Blackburn and Paul Bartel, the latter of which cut his teeth on Roger Corman films either as an actor (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) or director (Death Race 2000). It was during these years that he met and began appearing in films with actress Mary Woronov. They had instant chemistry together and went on to appear in 17 films, Eating Raoul being among the very best.
Their film took the sexual revolution and put it on its ear by presenting a “square” couple that kills swingers and other sexually adventurous people and serves them up as dog food. Paul Bland (Bartel) is a man with refined tastes who works at a liquor store for a man with no taste. At one point, he chastises Paul for buying expensive wine just before blowing away a would-be robber. His beautiful wife Mary (Woronov) works at a hospital and deals with miscreants, like a leering patient, in a very humorous way.
The Blands dream of owning their own restaurant and earning just enough money to get out of their apartment building full of sexually permissive swingers. It doesn’t help that they’re up to their eyeballs in bills. When they accidentally kill one of the creeps attending a neighboring apartment’s party, they find a decent amount of cash in his wallet. After Paul has six bottles of his most expensive wine ripped off by a con man and they kill another sex-crazed maniac, the Blands come up with a scheme where Mary lures swingers to their apartment based on a kinky sex ad in the local newspaper. Paul kills the person with his trusty frying pan and they take their money. Raoul (Beltran) is a locksmith who installs new locks for the Blands’ front door and finds himself instantly sexually attracted to Mary. He quickly figures out what they’re up to and gets in on their action.
The Blands are a conservative couple that seems stuck in the 1950s, right down to their hand-me-down furnishings and habit of sleeping in separate beds (in a nice touch he sleeps with a stuffed wine bottle). Bartel’s vision of Hollywood is that of a decadent city full of sexual weirdoes and predators. Almost everyone they encounter tries to take advantage of them, usually sexually. Initially, they are too naïve and trusting but this changes quickly. There’s a funny scene where Paul and Mary visit a dominatrix (Saiger) at her home in order to get some tips on how to lure swingers to their apartment (“I personally draw the line at golden showers,” she offers helpfully) and she happily educates them while during chores.
Eating Raoul was shot on a low budget and it shows but this is part of its charm. The film is anchored by engaging performances from Bartel, Woronov and Beltran. They breathe life into the satirical screenplay, which anticipates the more accessible John Waters films he made in the late 1980s and onwards. The swingers and cannibalism subject matter certainly didn’t appeal to mainstream audiences and the film went on to develop a cult following over the years. Bartel directed a few more films but nothing as inspired as Eating Raoul.
Eating Raoul has never looked better on this new Blu-Ray transfer. The transfer is perfect with a crisp, clean look.
There is an audio commentary by screenwriter Richard Blackburn, production designer Robert Schulenberg and editor Alan Toomayan. They point out that Bartel used a lot of friends from other films he had worked on in front of and behind the camera for Eating Raoul. The three men recall all kinds of filming anecdotes, laughing and joking with each other on this engaging track.
“The Secret Cinema” is a short film Bartel made in 1966. It was shot in black and white and done like a silent film but with a laugh track. Bartel remade it in 1986 for Steven Spielberg’s short-lived television series Amazing Stories. In addition, Schulenberg talks about it in a nine-minute audio interview.
“Naughty Nurse” is another short film Bartel made in 1969. It focuses on the misadventures of a nurse who moonlights as a dominatrix.
“Cooking Up Raoul” is a 24-minute retrospective documentary featuring Woronov, Beltran and McClurg recalling their experiences making Eating Raoul. Woronov talks about how she first met Bartel and how he got her a role in Death Race 2000 (1975). Beltran does an amusing Bartel impression as he recounts how he was cast in the film. McClurg came from an improv comedy background and tells a funny story behind her scene in the film.
Also included is a 5-minute gag reel featuring the cast blowing lines and cracking each other up.
There is an archival interview with Bartel and Woronov done in 1982. They talk about what their film is about and what they learned from Corman. Bartel speaks eloquently about the Blands and the ‘50s décor of their apartment among other topics.
Finally, there is a trailer.