It’s tough work making an honest living. Mary Bland is a ruthless nurse who gets no respect from her patients with whom she has lost patience, while her husband Paul is a wine expert working in a convenience store, his knowledge wasted on his customers and dismissed by his manager. They dream of opening a restaurant, but they lack the necessary finance.
An interview for a loan ending with Mary being thrown out of the bank when she rebuffs the advances of the manager and Paul’s attempt to sell some of his valuable collection ending with him out of pocket when he is instead robbed, with everyone else seemingly content to ignore the rules of civilised society Paul and Mary are on the point of giving up when serendipity strikes with the force of a cast iron frying pan.
Inspired by the guests of the drunken swingers’ party next door who overflow into the hall and invade their own apartment and with the co-operation of locksmith and burglar Raoul Mendoza, they lure wealthy men via a newspaper advert and kill them, Raoul disposing of the bodies, splitting the cash from their wallets and the proceeds of selling their cars.
Released in 1982 and now restored on Blu-ray for the Criterion Collection, Eating Raoul was directed by Death Race 2000‘s Paul Bartel from a script co-written with Richard Blackburn, less anarchic than the nihilistic Roger Corman production on which he made his name but no less satirical, a black comedy of manners, murder and making ends meet in Hollywood.
An uptight couple who sleep in twin beds wearing matching pyjamas surrounded by cuddly toys before whose comfortable lives are suddenly upended when they have to deal with a dead body in their kitchen, Paul and Mary’s morality swiftly moves from rigidly conservative to flexitarian: “He was a man, honey,” Mary tells her husband; “Now he’s just a bag of garbage.”
Mary and Paul played to perfection by Night of the Comet‘s Mary Woronov and Bartel himself, frequent collaborators and close friends, in his first film role Star Trek Voyager‘s Robert Beltran enjoys himself as Raoul, and the new edition of Eating Raoul also contains two of Bartel’s early short films, “paranoid fantasy” Secret Cinema and Naughty Nurse, both of them featuring women in unconventional roles and ahead of their time in their subversive approach.
Also included are a 2012 “making of” featuring Woronov and Beltran and a commentary with Blackburn, art director Robert Schulenberg and editor Alan Toomayan providing fascinating insight into the bizarre piecemeal shoot, borrowing equipment and begging mismatched film stock and drafting in friends and family to play supporting roles, and the unmade sequel, Bland Ambition.
Bartel having died in 2000, an archive interview dating to 1982 has him and Woronov discussing how they became involved in the “American traditions” of murder and mayhem in response to a series of challenging questions, more interesting than the bland, controlled publicity material of the current era, citing The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets as influences.
Eating Raoul is available on Blu-ray now as part of the Criterion Collection