DIRECTED BY: Paul Bartel
FEATURING: Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Robert Beltran
PLOT: An urban middle-class couple notices they live in a world where they’re surrounded by expendable idiots—so they take to robbing and killing them in order to finance their modest dreams.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Every weirdophile has seen this movie and remembers it as a satirical cannibal-comedy, quirky but not on the memorably weird end. It isn’t until you re-watch it fresh and recall all the throw-away details—the ketchup on the milkshake, the wine bottle plushie doll in Paul’s bed, the Doggie King dog food commercial—that you appreciate the weirdness bursting from the seams in this unique oddball masterpiece.
COMMENTS: Eating Raoul was too ahead of its time. You can hardly find a weird movie fan who doesn’t love this movie, and yet it still gets listed near the bottom of great black comedies. Now, we’re enthusiastic about Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the Coen Brothers, and even the Monty Python alumni getting recognized as the heralds of modern black comedy. But this movie opens with Paul Bartel getting bitched out by his liquor store boss for not selling the right wines. He is interrupted by an armed robber, shoots said robber dead (deadpan: “Mr. Cray, you killed him!”) and then goes right back to chewing out Paul Bartel’s ass. Next scene: Mary Woronov is a nurse who goads a horndog patient into finishing his pureed slop hospital food with the promise of hot nursey time, only to switch off with a burly male sidekick for an enema party. None of us filthy sinners love this golden apple enough, and that is why we are not worthy of it.
Our star couple is Paul and Mary Bland, two Hollywood middle-classers who are exasperated, stuck in the me-generation late-1970s swingers era while wanting nothing to do with them. They hate the disco party freaks almost as much as they hate being too broke to pay their bills and open the restaurant of their dreams. When one of these swingers ends up accidentally dead at their hands, a connection between the two issues takes shape, and the Blands decide to turn tricks, seducing swingers to their apartment. Said swingers are expecting a filthy payoff, only to meet the business end of a frying pan to the head. Tutored by “Doris the Dominatrix,” who shares her tricks of the trade in between spoon-feeding her baby, the Blands place an ad in the local kink mag, and the suckers bite right away. Might as well take the bread in their wallet, then. Just toss the bodies down the furnace chute, who’s going to miss them? It’s not like any of these tongue-waggling perverts had parents or anything.
But they do eventually meet one other individual with a clue, Raoul, who runs a suspiciously cheap locksmith service and moonlights as a cat burglar knocking off his clients. When their respective rackets collide, Raoul and the Blands join forces into an uneasy alliance. Raoul comments what a sweet couple they make, while leaning on a swastika pillow used in the Nazified sex fantasy of the latest client curled up in a trash bag in the kitchen. And from there, well, it’s just that kind of movie. It goes wherever it wants to, rewarding repeat viewings because you were too busy trying to figure out the plot trajectory to really listen to the hippie client’s hilarious rant the first time.
Although Eating Raoul was released in 1982, it is set in the 1970s, from Disco Demolition Night to Star Wars, without a hair of Ronald Reagan in it. Perhaps this film doesn’t get the attention it deserves today because, while it still wears well, a big bite of its satire is lost on modern audiences. Being ahead of its time, it takes a slow and cautious approach, as opposed to the manic pace preferred in our post-Evil-Dead world. The movie portrays virtually all those with non-vanilla sexuality as a stupid, crazed pack of psychopathic rapists, a view which doesn’t sit well in our modern pansexual acceptance era. Heck, Paul and Mary even sleep in separate beds, so maybe everything but celibacy is deviant to them. It’s difficult to convey what part of this picture modern audiences are missing, but you whippersnappers just have to appreciate what an irritating decade the 1970s were. This was the decade of the “Me Generation,” and lots of this swinging stuff was just another hollow fad. They just made everything they touched stupid. They made UFOs and pyramids the national religion, they made Debbie Boone’s “You Light Up My life” the national anthem, roving packs of them prowled the streets at night beating you up with macrame owls and “I found it!” bumper stickers if you didn’t swear fealty to Bigfoot. You’d get expelled from school for not doing enough cocaine. The “swingers” portrayed in this movie were just the then-current mold of whatever demographic you can’t stand in the present day.
That being said, Eating Raoul‘s story belongs to every generation. One IMDB reviewer called it “a movie for people who hate people,” which nails it. It’s a cheerful nihilistic scream at society in general, a love letter validating misanthropists everywhere. As a balancing act, the conservative undertones are quite brilliant: the Blands are bland people, their stuffy tastes for fine dining and their snobby wine selections seems to suck all the fun out of the world. But that shouldn’t be a sin in a black comedy—who said you have to love anybody in it? If you squint at it right, Eating Raoul is as punk as Repo Man, as hedonistic as Blood Diner, and as scathing as Putney Swope. Yet despite being almost universally loved, and even in the Criterion Collection, when we honor the great black comedies, it always seems to be the bridesmaid, never the bride.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“‘Eating Raoul’ is one of the more deadpan black comedies I’ve seen: It tries to position itself somewhere between the bizarre and the banal, and most of the time, it succeeds.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)
4 thoughts on “APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: EATING RAOUL (1982)”
Golly, Pete, if I didn’t know you any better, I’d come under the impression you’re something of a bitter person from reading this.
One thing I really enjoy about movies (and music, and fashion, &tc) from the first years of a decade is that they are actually the out-sized exaggerations of the preceding decade’s trends. “Liquid Sky” was made in 1982, like “Eating Raoul”, but exemplifies peak ’70s what-have-you with its own excesses.
I have, unfortunately, not seen this movie yet, but it’s been on my radar since when “reel.com” was actually a good place to go hunting for off-beat movies.
What a startling coincidence…I just rewatched this wonderful film a few weeks ago. I agree that it is an underrated black comedy classic, and I would argue that it has aged a bit better than you might think. There is a very contemporary theme here: the character of Paul seems to be asexual, a true rarity in early 80`s cinema. What`s more, he doesn` t apologize for it, noting that he and Mary have based their relationship on friendship and shared good taste. Although she is temporarily unfaithful, they work things out and all ends happily, albeit on a cannibalistic note!
And this film’s strength is in its treasure trove of offbeat supporting performances, from a Grade-A list of B-Movie staples: not only stalwarts like Richard Paul, Buck Henry, and Ed Begley Jr., but my goodness, just look at Susan Saiger (as the aforementioned “Doris the Dominatrix”), John Paragon (clearly, with Saiger, this film’s MVP as the porno shop owner), and even the ever-so-charming Edie McClurg as a proud patron of Penny’s.
How could you not leave the theater without a smile on your face?
And not to mention the incomparable Mary Woronov. Yes, this IS one of my favorite films.