“What an ordeal! I thought he'd never stop talking,” groans scantily clad Mary Bland (Mary Waronov) as she steps over a dead man in a Nazi uniform who had been playing the role of her sadistic inquisitor only seconds before her husband, Paul (Paul Bartel), killed him with a cast-iron skillet. Paul prepares a lawn-sized Hefty to bag the unlucky kinkster as Mary heads to bed. It is all in a night's work for the clever couple, who are on a mission to earn the down payment for a house that will become their dream restaurant while ridding the greater Los Angeles area of lewd swingers!
Flashback to days before, when the Blands, a chaste couple living in a modest apartment, were worried about making ends meet. Pushed to the limit by the transient swingers willing to pay their building's increasingly high rent, the prudish Blands are surrounded. During one of the frequent, disruptive orgies held on their floor, a crazed swinger strays into the Bland apartment and attacks Mary. Paul whacks the churlish lech with the skillet, killing him. Unfazed by the murder, Paul is pleased one “degenerate” is gone and by the cash in his wallet. It occurs to Paul that the pair could whack more wealthy swingers and make their restaurant a speedy reality.
On the advice of a helpful dominatrix, Doris (Susan Saiger), the Blands place lurid ads in a local sex magazine. “We Do Anything” promises their ads, with photos of Mary striking sexy poses. Soon, swingers who agree to pay cash for kinky scenarios with Mary visit the Blands. Before Mary is compromised, all of them are quickly subjected to the skillet, frisked for cash and then bagged for removal to the basement trash compactor. When a crafty burglar, Raoul (Robert Beltran), discovers a body in the Bland apartment, he demands money for his silence and requests access to the bodies. Paul is disturbed, but Mary sees the bright side to Raoul joining their enterprise: they can step up production and off two or three swingers a night.
To complete Eating Raoul, director/writer/co-star Bartel subjected his cast and crew, all personal friends, to a shooting schedule of extended weekends over a year. Continuity was a challenge for director of photography Gary Thieltges, not just because of the unorthodox schedule, but also because much of the film was shot on donated short ends. On the lively commentary track included on this recently released Blu-ray, production designer Robert Schulenberg and film editor Alan Toomayan humorously recall Theiltges trying to process and match the mixed bag of footage at the lab.
Until The Criterion Collection released this Blu-ray, Bartel’s cult favorite existed on DVD only in a poor 2004 transfer made from dirty source materials. Criterion's HD transfer, supervised by Theiltges, is a revelation. In spite of the limitations created by the film's low budget, the image is incredibly sharp, giving each scene surprising depth and detail. Light balance always seems correct; colors have a solid richness; and there is no evidence of obvious DNR. With good contrast and visible film grain throughout, Eating Raoul has never looked better on home screens. The audio is impressive, eliminating all traces of the occasional distortion found in the 2004 DVD.
Bartel's weirdly sophisticated black comedy, a surprise box-office hit that manages to satirize everything from the Sexual Revolution to Reaganomics, has been creatively presented by Criterion. Supplements include an engaging audio commentary; two of Bartel's terrific short films; 25 minutes of new interviews with Woronov, Beltran and impish Edie McClurg; a promotional interview from 1982; a gag reel; and, finally, an incredibly clever insert booklet designed as a menu from “Paul and Mary's Country Kitchen,” featuring an essay by David Ehrenstein and an ad for the house specialty, the Bland Enchilada.
Eating Raoul’s many fans will rejoice at the care taken with this package, and it should impress newcomers as well. Bartel shines comic light on the kinkier corners of L.A., where numerous character actors, including McClurg, Buck Henry and Ed Begley Jr., as well as directors John Landis and Joe Dante, are joyfully caught with their pants down or chewing scenery as the Hollywood swingers who meet their respective ends at the hands of the Blands.