Criterion // 1982 // 83 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // October 10th, 2012
It's amazing what you can do with a cheap piece of meat.
In 2004, I was as excited as I could be over Sony Pictures' DVD release of Eating Raoul, the first time it saw any home release beyond old and worn VHS copies. I couldn't have been more disappointed, then, to find that the release was full frame, unrestored, and basically just like the tapes. After all these years, in a surprising move, Criterion has deemed the cult classic worthy of a stacked Blu-ray release in their collection, and now I couldn't be happier.
Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel, Hollywood Boulevard, and Mary Wonorov, The House of the Devil) are married and have one dream: to open up their own restaurant. The trouble is that, living in Los Angeles, they are beset at all moments by sick perverts, criminals, and swingers, all of whom want a piece. Plus, they're basically broke so, when a sleazy sex fiend enters their apartment and tries to put his hands on Mary, Paul does the only thing he can by whacking him over the head with a frying pan and killing him. Not only is there one less perv in their building, he's carrying a ton of cash, and a light bulb goes off in their heads. They take out an ad in the sex papers with Mary as a fetish queen, entice customers to their apartment, and take them out. When a young and handsome burglar named Raoul (Robert Beltran, Night of the Comet) catches them in the act, though, he wants a piece of the action, in more ways than one.
Rarely, if ever, has there been a movie as simultaneously unhinged and grounded as Eating Raoul. If that sounds like a contradiction, it's because you haven't seen it. This is a movie about murder, sex perversion, and cannibalism, all told with a John Waters sensibility. Yet, at the same time, Bartel, who also directed as well as starred, cites the film's inspirations in mannered British murder comedies The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets. It's quite a combination and rarely does a comedy hold it all together so solidly from start to finish as this.
It's not just that the movie is always funny, though it is, it's that the movie is always on point, satirizing consumerist and capitalist culture, the swinging '70s and the residual garishness of the early '80s, and even the prudish backlash the main characters represent. They want the world to be a Doris Day-style 1950s fantasy, with their separate beds, matching pajamas, and Paul's body pillow shaped like a champagne bottle. One has to wonder why they still live in Los Angeles, but it wouldn't be a movie if they moved to Omaha and, plus, they'd never have met Raoul, who becomes the most important part of their lives, both bringing Mary out of her frigid shell and becoming the driving force in the success of their restaurant, whether he ever wanted to or not.
The story is ridiculously hilarious and Bartel's direction is quite a bit more sophisticated than the budget would have you believe. It's cheap, sure, but especially with this new transfer, it's clear that he had talent that many Roger Corman graduates and other low budget filmmakers did not, with an efficiency in his shots and some really effective hand-held camerawork. Really, though, what makes Eating Raoul so fun is the litany of outrageous cameos. From such comedians as Ed Begley Jr. (Transylvania 6-5000), as a rich guy posing as a hippy, and Edie McClurg (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as a swinger, to odd character actors like Richard Paul (Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight) and writers like Buck Henry (The Graduate), to a future director in John Landis (The Blues Brothers), the movie is absolutely stacked with funny and ridiculous appearances, all appearing for a few seconds but, together, making the film more memorable than it would have been with just the story to work from.
As much as I love Eating Raoul as a movie, Criterion's Blu-ray release is the most exciting part. Not only is it the first time the film has been in its original aspect ratio, it looks absolutely amazing. The fashions are too dated for it to look anywhere near new, but the 1.78:1/1080p transfer is essentially perfect. I would have been happy with a moderate upgrade, but luckily, Criterion didn't scrimp on their efforts to clean up the print. The digital artifacts, grit, and general awfulness that infected the old DVD are completely gone, leaving only a brilliant looking film, perfectly clean with an accurate grain structure and incredible detail. The black levels are very deep and colors are as garish as one could possibly want. The sound mix doesn't pack the punch that the image has, but it's as good as it gets for a linear PCM mono mix, with a near complete elimination of all hiss, pop, and crackle that hurt every other release.
The extras are awesome, as well. It starts with a brand new audio commentary featuring screenwriter Richard Blackburn, editor Alan Toomayan, and production designer Robert Schulenberg that is funny, engaging, and more detailed than I would have expected from thirty year old memories. Next, a collection of interviews under the title, "Cooking up Raoul," features Mary Wonorov, Robert Beltran, and Edie McClurg that is equally fun. Between the two pieces, there are plenty of hilarious Paul Bartel impersonations that are a listen by themselves. Maybe the best features are the two short films by Bartel, "The Secret Cinema," from 1966, a wonderful piece of paranoia that he remade 20 years later for the Amazing Stories television anthology, and "Naughty Nurse," from 1969, which is as fun as it sounds, but short and insubstantial. Finally, a short gag reel and a trailer finish out this stacked and fantastic Blu-ray release.
One of the best comedies of the 1980s and, certainly, my favorite cult comedy of all time, Eating Raoul is perfect in its craziness and still brilliant after all these years. If you've never seen the movie, do so now and, if you're already a fan, pick this Blu-ray up today.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Films