The main body of the review was written by Jim Plath on the occasion of the 2004 SD release of “Eating Raoul” by Sony. The rest of this reviews has been written by Christopher Long, and addresses the 2012 Blu-ray release by Criterion.
The Film According to Jim:
Here's the recipe for a cult classic: Take low budget ingredients, add a healthy measure of kinkiness, a dollop of black comedy, liberal sprinkles of sex and murder, a pinch of ‘70s kitsch, and voila! You've got "Eating Raoul." It doesn't get any more offbeat than this. Trust me.
In this no-frills film, Paul Bartel does his best to impersonate Peter Sellers, who often wrote, starred in, and directed films, often playing multiple deadpan characters. Bartel co-wrote the screenplay and directed this film, in which he plays a single deadpan sort. Paul Bland is a wine collector who acts as high-brow as Frasier but ends up looking like the poster child for aberrant behavior. The staid and above-it-all Paul works in a liquor store in the Los Angeles area, which, we're told in a tongue-in-cheek intro (which may call to mind everything from "Dragnet" to "Reefer Madness") that you can't live in this degenerate city without some of it rubbing off. "Swingers," Paul continually huffs in disgust.
He and wife Mary (Mary Woronov) live in an apartment building that seems to be as much of a hangout for swingers (or pervs, as Paul prefers to call them) as crack houses are for drug addicts. One of them crashes their apartment and tries to accost Mary, but ends up puking all over the place and almost drowning in their toilet. That was only a mild hint of things to come. One evening, when another of the drunken swingers tries to show Mary how to swing, Paul reacts instinctively by nailing the fellow on the head with a large cast-iron frying pan. "He's dead," Mary says, and Mary should know. She's a nurse at a local hospital. But neither she nor her husband seem all that upset about the murder. They're more annoyed at the inconvenience of having to dump the body into the apartment's trash compactor, and mesmerized by the wallet full of money.
You see, it's their dream to open a restaurant in the country and get away from all this debauchery. Their apartment is full of vintage ‘50s furniture "on loan" from Mom, and like Rob and Laura Petrie of the old "Dick Van Dyke Show" they sleep in separate twin beds. If the rest of L.A. is oversexed, this couple's sex drive has been in neuter (I mean, neutral) throughout the near decade they've been married. Needless to say, the retro apartment is the perfect set for this couple who's as out-of-step with the times as the Brady Bunch was in the gag movie version. And the swingers apartment set looks like it was one left over from the old ‘60s send-up, "The President's Analyst," in which psychologist to the president James Coburn dabbles in the drug culture. The lens to film it looks as if it had been liberally greased with Vaseline, and the lighting all post-psychedelic red. When Paul takes one of the pervs back to this "pad" and is lashed around the neck by a dominatrix who gives him her card, he and Mary visit her later . . . to get advice on how they can get into the S&M role-playing and make enough money to buy a house that just opened up.
The rest of the film follows their fleece-‘em exploits as they take out an ad in a sleazy trade publication offering to do "anything," and they lure low-morality high-rollers to their apartment so they can "fry them up," so to speak. But who's Raoul? Funny you should ask. He comes to the Blands as a security expert who sells them locks, only to break in later and ogle the missus in her nightie. When Raoul stumbles onto their scam, he wants in . . . in more ways than one. He's the catalyst in this quirky, oddball film, the inadvertent deus ex machine who pushes this thing past Act 2 toward a conclusion that's both surprising and obvious. The performances are competent but unexciting. Still, there are some memorable moments. Susan Saiger is delicious as Doris the Dominatrix (in both costume and street clothes) and John Parragon does a hilarious Bob Newhart-style bit as a porn shop peddler. But "St. Elsewhere" fans will do a double take seeing Ed Begley, Jr. cast as a would-be rapist who strips Mary down.
So how good or how funny is it? I guess that depends on whom you ask. "Eating Raoul" took reviewers by surprise when it first appeared in 1982, and most gave it somewhere in the equivalent of an 8 on a 10 point scale. Newness and quirkiness will do that for reviewers, who see so many movies that anything off the charts or under the radar gets them excited. But fans of "Saturday Night Live" may watch this and liken it to a skit that's stretched out to fill an 83-minute feature. Is it funny? Yes, but the humor is dry and low-key, not laugh-out-loud—except for a handful of moments. Compared to "Airplane!", another irreverent film from the era, "Eating Raoul" feels as dated as the humor is understated. One of the trailers on the disc is for "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and, tonally, that's the kind of company this movie keeps. If you liked the full Monty in that knightly romp, you'll like this "tasty comedy of bad manners," as the cover art dubs this.
The Film According to Chris:
I like Bartel's “Lust in the Dust” (1985) but of course that has Divine, so how can it miss? As for “Eating Raoul,” comedies really are pointless when you're not laughing, and I wasn't. I like Mary Woronov plenty, but she's at her blandest (pun intended) here.
The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. “The new, restored, digital transfer” which has been “supervised by director of photography Gary Thieltges” is very sharp, and probably comes as a revelation to fans who have only seen the film on VHS or on the old 2004 SD from Sony which apparently had its share of problems. Sometimes I wonder if these “grubby” old cult favorites really should be restored to pristine condition because the degraded look can contribute to the enjoyment, but that's just nostalgia, and of course the film should be given the best possible presentation. Image detail is sharp throughout and the high def transfer seems to be darn dear flawless.
The linear PCM Mono track is clean and strictly functional, nothing dynamic here. I am sure that's what was intended originally as well. The dialogue is clearly mixed which is what matters. Optional English subtitles are offered.
Criterion has geared this release as much to Paul Bartel fans as to strictly “Eating Raoul” fans. The disc includes two of Bartel's early short films. “The Secret Cinema” (1966, 27 min.) is a dark comedy about a woman who is harassed by her boss and then rejected by her movie-obsessed boyfriend. As things go wrong, she begins to suspect there's something going on behind-the-scenes, the scenes of a movie being made about her life. It was a popular underground film in its time, and it's easy to see why; it's very sharp and quite memorable even if I could live without the funny names (Mr. Troppogrosso is too fat, ha ha). “Naughty Nurse” (1969, 9 min.) is substantially less sharp, and is just an excuse to film an S&M scene: an uptight nurse has a secret appointment and it involves leather and that's pretty much the whole thing. Bob Downey (A Prince) has a brief cameo.
The commentary track was recorded in 2012 for Criterion and features screenwriter Richard Blackburn, production designer Robert Schulenberg, and editor Alan Toomayan. Director Paul Bartel passed away in 2000, and could not be reached for comment.
“Cooking Up Raoul” (24 min.) is a 2012 featurette made for Criterion and includes cast members Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, and Edie McClurg reminiscing about the film.
In 1998, editor Alan Toomayan assembled a “Gag Reel” for Paul Bartel's 60th birthday, and Criterion has included this 6-minute bit as a bonus.
We also get an Archival Interview from 1982 (21 min.) with Bartel and Woronov discussing the new film.
The collection wraps up with a 2-minute Trailer.
The fold-out insert booklet is designed like a menu and features an essay by critic David Ehrenstein.
Cult movies wouldn't be cult movies if everybody loved them, so don't be too disappointed if neither Jim nor I are overly enchanted with “Eating Raoul.” The film's devoted fans should be pleased with this top-notch transfer and the diverse selection of extras, especially the two early Bartel short films.