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Eating Raoul

Paul Bartel's indie black comedy Eating Raoul (1982) made a little splash when its release coincided with the advent of home video, a time when cult movies were delivered from college and midnight venues to a larger audience. With its racy, but inexplicit, mix of sex and violence and its familiar sitcom-quality sense of humor, the picture made the perfect segue, for many virgin viewers, from mainstream fare to the vanguard of bad taste (even straight-laced Leonard Maltin sang the movie's praises in his omnipresent movie guides of that decade). Bartel — a protege of Roger Corman — was already a rising star of the low-budget cult scene, having previously directed the wacky cult fave Death Race 2000, and he appeared as a performer in popular indie genre flicks like Piranha and Rock 'n' Roll High School. Satirically condemning the "depravity" of Hollywood, Eating Raoul stars Bartel as Paul Bland, a snobbish, down-on-his-luck wine aficionado who, with his wife Mary (the always transsexual-looking Mary Woronov), dreams of opening a fine restaurant. Every legitimate opportunity for financing their eatery, however, is interrupted or endangered by the omnipresence of a perverted and ubiquitous culture of swingers, freaks, and other low-lifes. The Blands, unable to fend off an aggressive onslaught of come-ons and sexual assaults, inadvertently stumble onto a cunning plan to capitalize on this plague of degeneracy. Optimistic puritans at heart (they sleep in separate beds, although this doesn't stop Mary from wearing a see-through dress to a meeting with a loan officer), the Blands nonchalantly decide to bankroll their wholesome aspirations with murder: they lure rich swingers, promising an evening of lurid B&D, and kill them (with an unconvincingly light blow from a frying pan). Their profits increase when they ally themselves with crafty thief Raoul (Robert Beltran), who offers to dispose of the piling corpses for even greater lucre. What Eating Raoul lacks in its prosaic execution is mostly mitigated by the strength of its concept. Bartel's directorial style is weak, and his wit (he co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Blackburn) veers wildly between the mildly clever and the juvenile. Nevertheless, the material offers enough opportunity for salacious fun that — despite some lackluster set-pieces and constant mugging by the supporting cast — even with its poor batting average Eating Raoul delivers enough silly, dark humor to deserve its marginal notoriety. With appearances by Buck Henry, Ed Begley, Jr., and Edie McClurg. Columbia TriStar presents the film on DVD in a decent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a source print that shows strains of the movie's low-budget origins, while audio comes in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Trailers, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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