21st Oct2019

‘Eating Raoul’ Blu-ray Review (Criterion)

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, Susan Saiger, Richard Paul | Written by Paul Bartel, Richard Blackburn | Directed by Paul Bartel

eating-raoul-blu-cover

Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov play David and Sarah Bland, a stuffy married couple who are politely angry at the world for not allowing them to open their restaurant. Money is tight, and to make matters worse, next door is having a swingers party. When one of the partygoers gets the wrong idea and attacks Mary, the Blands kill him. And, wouldn’t you know it, he has a wad of cash on him.

The Blands concoct a plan: They will attract punters to the house with Mary’s charms, and then Paul will kill them. Here’s where Raoul (Robert Beltran) enters stage left. An apparently friendly handyman, he agrees not to blab as long as he can take the bodies (and the cars the grubby victims don’t need any more) off their hands, for sale to local gangsters. The scheme is never really in hand, and then it becomes thoroughly out of hand. Raoul has the hots for Mary, and suddenly Paul is the one in danger. Where will Mary’s loyalty lie – with the exciting young buck who’s simply out for a buck (and something that rhymes with buck), or her paunchy, balding husband?

Woronov and Beltran would go on to appear in Night of the Comet in 1985, and Bartel and Woronov would have a brief cameo in Chopping Mall the following year; but Eating Raoul leans away from the horror and hard into the farce.

The central joke – about a mundane couple engaging unashamedly in a scheme of mass murder – wears thin way before the end, but there are enough amusing ideas to sustain the film. There’s a great scene where the Blands consult Doris the Dominatrix (Susan Saiger) for business tips, and they find that she’s just a dull housewife when she’s not at work. The encounters with the pervert punters are fun – all of them enjoy roleplay, whether it’s dressing like a baby or an Nazi torture agent. And there’s a running joke where the murders are comically clean, all committed with a single bonk on the head with a frying pan – this never gets old.

The cheesy, bouncy comedy sitcom score is hardly an ironic counterpoint. Eating Raoul has none of the sinister weirdness of something like Bob Balaban’s Parents. This is closer aligned with the bawdy sex comedies of the 1970s. As such, some of the sexual politics – specifically the jokes involving sexual assault – are dated and sometimes awkward to watch.

The film doesn’t make it easy to sympathise with the Blands. Paul is a pompous man who uses racist slurs, while Mary all too easily cheats on her husband. Underlying everything is a cynical view of human nature. But it’s important to remember when this was made: 1982, a year after Ronald Reagan came into office, actively encouraging his America to revitalise itself through rampant capitalism and ruthless competition: Get what you deserve by screwing whoever’s in your path. In that regard, Eating Raoul is a circus mirror reflection of the culture of the time.

There’s also the sense that we are witnessing the long, dark hangover of the characters’ youth. The Blands are living amidst the wastrels of the Love Generation: sexually free hippies from the 1960s, now middle-aged and still living the faded dream. Combined with a final message espousing companionship and loyalty, rather than base desire or unchecked passion, it’s actually quite conservative in its outlook.

Though more grounded than, say, the raucous satire of John Waters, Eating Raoul never gets bogged down with realism. (Cops are conspicuous by their absence.) Such concerns would only slow the film down. It may not have the gag rate of a classic comedy, or the resonant imagery of a classic horror, but what it does provide is a uniquely twisted perspective on the re-emergent situation in America at the time.

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES:

  • New, restored digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Gary Thieltges, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary featuring screenwriter Richard Blackburn, art director Robert Schulenberg, and editor Alan Toomayan
  • The Secret Cinema (1968) and Naughty Nurse (1969), two short films by director Paul Bartel
  • Cooking Up “Raoul,” a new documentary about the making of the film, featuring interviews with stars Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, and Edie McClurg
  • Gag reel of outtakes from the film
  • Archival interview with Bartel and Woronov
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Ehrenstein

Eating Raoul is out on Criterion Blu-ray from today, 21st October 2019.

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