'Eating Raoul' is a deliciously wicked dark comedy about surviving the amoral cesspool and soul-crushing corruptness that is Hollywood. It's part cultural satire and part slapstick nonsense with several great moments of funny shrewdness, mostly poking fun at "Me" generation trends, balanced with a few not so great bits. A party host (Don Steele) comes with a clever name like Howard Swine, but his radio DJ-rant is a head-scratcher. The opening moments, however, are amusing, showing Tinseltown as the ideal place for dreamers of fame and fortune, but also attracting the sexual riffraffs, the drunken bums and the unscrupulous. This quirky montage and narration sets the tone for flat-out laughs and subtle jabs about what is sometimes required of a person in order to succeed.
Quaint, outmoded and completely out of place couple Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov) find themselves stuck in a city they see growing progressively worse. If their witty surname is not enough to reflect their plainness and humdrum lives, then their small apartment strewn in 1950s furniture and possessions makes it clear these people are living in another plane of reality. From sleeping in separate beds to miraculously being able to cook up a chicken dinner within minutes, the two are perfectly made for one another, partial to a lifestyle and worldview of friendly neighbors seen only in 'Ozzie and Harriett.' Preferring a blind eye and blissful ignorance, this couple clearly punched out during the sexual revolution, which includes not showing a physical attraction to each other. Their focus is instead on opening a swank, high-class restaurant, but they lack the funds.
Woronov is fantastic as the sexually reserved but not quite so modest nutritionist, working as a nurse to make ends meet. She brings an exotic appeal to her character, a slight hint of willingness to let loose her lustful side if properly motivated, which explains men's shameless pursuit of her. Serving also as director and co-writer of this sidesplitting tale, Bartel is equally amusing as her awfully prudish husband who grumbles about his low-station, but dreams of someday becoming a posh dealer and connoisseur of wine. Unfortunately, the best job he can muster is as a liquor-store clerk while his trusting nature gets the best of him when robbed of a box of expensive bottles. Yet, after a series of lucky accidental deaths, the witless couple discovers a get rich quick scheme that lures the city's wealthy, swinging perverts by placing an ad in an adult newspaper.
It's not until the titular Raoul (Robert Beltran), a professional burglar with a locksmith scheme of his own, comes into the picture that Paul and Mary finally start breaking from their antiquated shells. As bodies begin to mount, the stranger happily assists with removing the corpses so long as his methods remain his little secret, a discovery we later to come find out is as repulsive as it hysterical. With each depraved weirdo answering the ad, including Ed Begley Jr., the business flourishes, and Raoul begins to wedge himself between the square but otherwise happy couple. This only ignites Paul's deeply buried jealous side while awakening Mary to the sinful pleasures of her body, leading to a droll confrontation where the two prove capable of doing what it takes to buy their dream.
'Eating Raoul' is Bartel's fourth full-length feature after two other wildly popular cult favorites, 'Private Parts' and 'Death Race 2000.' The film noticeably lacks a polished, carefully-designed style, feeling largely like something meant for the stage. (Coincidentally, the script was later turned into a stage musical a decade later.) But the production's offbeat and rather sophisticated humor is part of its charm, keeping our attention on the growth of the characters and their interactions. Several of the gags are on the swinging 70s trends — an orgy party and hot tub disaster are a hysterical highlight — popular with an older crowd, dying a slow, humiliating death as everyone enters the 1980s. The movie became a surprise hit in theaters, quickly growing into an admired cult horror comedy, and it remains a great romp with a shockingly delightful conclusion.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Blu-ray edition of 'Eating Raoul' comes courtesy of The Criterion Collection (spine #625) on a Region A locked, BD50 disc and housed in their standard clear keepcase. Accompanying the disc is a large yellow pamphlet that opens like restaurant menu with an excellent essay entitled "Murder Most Delicious" by David Ehrenstein. There are no trailers or promos before being greeted by the distributor's normal menu options.
According to the liner notes, this AVC-encoded transfer was struck from a fresh remaster of the original camera negatives and supervised by cinematographer Gary Thieltges. Compared to the previous the DVD release, the results are rather splendid and often remarkable. The high-def video shows a brighter, cleaner assortment of colors, with primaries looking particularly bold and animated. Flesh tones appear natural with excellent texture during close-ups.
The 1.78:1 frame comes with a thin layer of grain that's consistent and stable, giving the image a much-appreciated film-like quality. The picture displays spot-on contrast and lots of deep, rich blacks throughout. Fine object details are well-defined in several sequences, revealing plenty of background information that adds to the film's hilarity. You can clearly read the writing of the packages in the porno shop and take in every inch of the Bland's apartment, decorated in dated 50s furniture.
The only visible issues with the presentation are age-related or the result of the photography. A few scenes appear softer and blurrier than others with a noticeable dip in resolution and color. Shadow delineation is also somewhat problematic here and there, such as the scene when Paul and Mary sell numerous high-end cars. They're not enough to be a serious distraction, but worth mentioning nonetheless. Otherwise, 'Eating Raoul' looks fantastic on Blu-ray.
The uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack has also been cleaned up for the best possible presentation, and like the video, the engineers have done an outstanding job with the original elements. Dialogue is loud and clear in the center of the screen with superb fidelity and intonation in the vocals. Imaging is surprisingly wide with a good deal of warmth, providing an attractively broad soundstage that cleanly displays lots of background activity. Although not very extensive, dynamic range is sharply rendered with excellent acoustical details in the music and the few bits of action. The lossless mix also shows several good moments of bass during song selections, making for an enjoyable high-rez track.
Supplements are shared with the DVD.
In 'Eating Raoul,' writer and director Paul Bartel delivers a wonderfully entertaining black comedy that takes jabs at the 70s cultural trends as a couple with antiquated sensibilities enter the decade of excess. Starring Bartel, Mary Woronov, and Robert Beltran, the offbeat cult horror film remains an entertaining romp of delightfully wicked behavior of doing what one must in order to succeed. The Blu-ray comes courtesy of The Criterion Collection, and the audio/video presentation is a night-and-day improvement over its previous DVD release. Several new bonus additions make this collection recommended for fans.