Paul Bland (Paul Bartel) is a wine connoisseur working at a cheap liquor store. Mary Bland (Mary Wornov) is a nurse. Neither of them are happy with their lives and dream of opening a small bistro. They don't like sex either and are both very annoyed at the constant swinger parties happening down the hallway. One night a drunk swinger enters their apartment and attacks Mary. Paul bashes him on the head with a frying pan, killing him. They find a lot money on him and concoct a plan. They offer services to ‘rich perverts’ and then kill them. It’s all going perfectly until they underestimate a locksmith by the name of Raoul (Robert Beltran).
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Eating Raoul was a mainstay on the USA Network in 80s. I had caught parts of it several times as an impressionable kid, but it really wasn’t until Chopping Mall (1986), where Paul and Mary Bland make a cameo, that I became curious about it. I’m huge fan of Chopping Mall in my fever to gather every magazine, poster, and VHS box I could find, I decided to give Eating Raoul a chance. I was in for something completely different. I was probably the only kid with a picture of Mary Woronov in my locker at junior high school.
A real tribute to how well Eating Raoul is written and performed lies in the fact the viewer is made to identify with Paul and Mary, the squarest individuals in the film. They are the outsiders in a strange universe that is rife with aggressive perverts. Paul and Mary are a charming couple, and Mary’s temptations into the seedy life of Raoul are played with a light touch. A lot of black comedies feel the need to descent into real grimness. Eating Raoul usurps expectations by retaining a mild tone even when death, attempted rape, and betrayal hang over the scene.
It’s obvious this isn’t a high budget production, but Bartel learned under Roger Corman, so he knows how to shoot simply and efficiently. The simple flat appearance of the film, most of which takes place in the Bland’s small apartment, is a perfect aesthetic for their lives. The comedy often comes down to the deadpan couple facing off against increasingly outlandish clients. The (literally) climactic attack is an accidental mass electrocution at a huge swinger party.
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The three leads are all excellent. Paul Bartel, is perfect at creating a character who is both snobbish and sympathetic. Mary Woronov’s Mary Bland is the most complex, as a person pulled between the comfort of her life with Paul, and the pleasures that Raoul can provide. Robert Beltran gives the opportunistic Raoul just enough heart to keep him from becoming another a simple threat to them.
Criterion has created an excellent Blu-ray disc for Eating Raoul. The image is surprisingly crisp and colorful. There are quite a few extras, including some of Bartel’s short films. Eating Raoul is the most congenial black comedy I’ve ever seen and it’s definitely worth checking out.