Giving Thanks for Eating Raoul (1982)

EATING RAOUL, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, 1982, TM & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All ri

Since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I’d like to give a shout out to a film I’m particularly grateful for: Eating Raoul (1982). Sure, it might not be the most obvious choice for holiday viewing, but it’s all about the importance of family, the rewards of the entrepreneurial spirit and the message that in America, anybody can succeed with enough determination and can-do attitude. What could be more patriotic than that?
If you’re not familiar with the film, right off the bat you should know that despite the title, it isn’t a sex film or a gory cannibal saga. What we have here instead is a twisted and oddly charming tale about a couple named Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov), a wine connoisseur and nurse respectively, who end up resorting to murder once some swingers move into their apartment building. A simple whack on the head with a frying pan is enough to put one aggressive harasser out of commission, and soon they take it upon themselves to rid the world of a few Southern California hedonists with the aid of the local burglar, Raoul (Robert Beltran), and a few well-placed ads in swingers’ publications.

EATING RAOUL, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, 1982, TM & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All ri

It’s odd that no one’s floated around the idea of remaking this film since the idea could easily work in the age of Craigslist and Tinder, but then again, there’s no way you could possibly replicate the magic of what director Paul Bartel and frequent co-star Mary Woronov put together here. The film was very low budget and scraped together with whatever money could be found here and there, a neat parallel to the Blands’ dream of opening their own country kitchen restaurant. Bartel (who sadly passed away in 2000) is probably most familiar as an actor with supporting bits in everything from The Usual Suspects (1995) to Piranha (1978), but he really shone in his appearances with former Warhol Factory fixture Woronov. Sort of the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor of the drive-in scene, they sparkled in such films as Hollywood Boulevard (1976), Get Crazy (1983), Chopping Mall (1986) (in which they reprised their roles as the Blands), and the immortal Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979).

However, Bartel was also an accomplished (and very funny) director in his own right, starting off with the hilariously warped short films The Secret Cinema (1968, later remade as an episode of Amazing Stories) and Naughty Nurse (1969) and continuing with the perverse horror comedy Private Parts (1972) and two Roger Corman favorites, Death Race 2000 (1975) and Cannonball (1976). The six-year gap between that last film and Eating Raoul was the longest in his directing career as he put this passion project together, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect when it finally unveiled in front of appreciative critics and indie audiences with a swift release on home video and cable TV adding to its enthusiastic word of mouth. I remember all of those dueling critics shows (Siskel and Ebert and all of their imitators) going gaga over this film on TV when it opened during one of the best years for American genre films, rubbing shoulders with other scrappy successes like Basket Case and Liquid Sky. There was something really special in the air in movie theaters that year, and this film captures it perfectly.

EATING RAOUL, Mary Woronov (seated), Paul Bartel (kneeling), 1982, TM & Copyright © 20th Century Fox

You’d think that a film about swingers and want ads would be terribly dated by now, but somehow this plucky little underdog just keeps getting better with age. I can’t think of too many comedies that use sound in such a creative way; that hilarious “klong” of the frying pan obviously takes the cake, but the whole soundtrack is a daffy delight from start to finish. On top of that you can have fun spotting unexpected faces all over the place including Buck Henry, Edie McClurg, Ed Begley Jr. and even Bland/Woronov pal Richard Blackburn, who directed the exquisite Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973), pops up here as James, “from the Valley.”

It’s the kind of darkly funny comfort film you can throw on either alone late at night or with a bunch of friends at any time, and I can’t think of anything better to throw on after the relatives have all left and your belly’s filled with turkey, ham, and/or mashed potatoes. If you really want to get creative, try pairing it up for a bizarro art house food fest with Babette’s Feast (1987) or Chocolat (2000), and you’ll really have a tasty time.

Nathaniel Thompson

8 Responses Giving Thanks for Eating Raoul (1982)
Posted By Susan Gordon : November 23, 2016 12:25 am

I saw Eating Raoul and Liquid Sky in their theatrical release, and Basket Case on TV. I’ve not thought of these fun movies in eons .

Posted By swac44 : November 23, 2016 10:05 am

Watched the Criterion release of this recently and yup, still holds up.

Posted By kingrat : November 23, 2016 7:29 pm

Great write-up, Nathaniel. I’m a big fan of EATING RAOUL, but fair warning: I recommended it to three friends who absolutely HATED it and didn’t think it was funny at all.

But I certainly laughed a lot.

Posted By EricJ : November 23, 2016 7:47 pm

The 80′s seem so long ago, back when indie films were just getting noticed–
Remind me, why did we think Paul Bartel was so “cutting edge” at the time?

Posted By Dan Hemsath : November 24, 2016 9:28 am

Great essay. I had a friend who rented this movie for “family movie night” in error as a kid, and as a result, it’s become a cult favorite for her; she was the one who introduced me to “Eating Raoul”.

Posted By AL : November 25, 2016 8:21 pm

Thank you for recognizing this delight; and also for mentioning the classic THE SECRET CINEMA–one of my Treasures…

Posted By George : November 26, 2016 4:23 pm

I have fond memories of seeing DEATH RACE 2000, CANNONBALL, and ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL at drive-ins (the perfect place to see them). And I love Bartel’s performance as director Erich Von Leppe (the name of Karloff’s character in THE TERROR) in HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD.

Posted By La Otra : November 29, 2016 2:12 pm

Saw this black comedy at the Vista theater on Sunset in Los Angeles. It was a memorable evening with a pre-show consisting of cast member Robert Beltran and a surprise appearance by the one and only Edith Massey, of Pink Flamingos fame performing her song “Hey Punks, get off the grass!” or something like that. The audience all wore paper crowns to celebrate the theater’s birthday and a great time was had by all. Hadn’t thought of Eating Raoul in ages. Thanks for the memory jog and the laughs it all produced.

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