Eating Raoul: Bartel’s Comedy about Sex, Murder, Cannibalism

Paul Bartel’s best-known movie, Eating Raoul, about sex, murder and cannibalism, paved the way for many future rude satires. The movie is purposely directed in a flat, plain manner–the low-key tone is its chief droll point. As a spoof, Eating Raoul is slight and thinly-textured, a 30-minute episode of a soap stretched to a feature length. Even so, with the help of the downtown press, Eating Raoul became a long-running cult film.

Paul and Mary Bland (Bartel and Mary Woronov), a self-deluding couple, are convinced they are superior to everybody else. Paul is a prissy mannerist, and Mary seems quiet, but her quietness conceals sexual longings. The Blands live in an L.A. apartment house inhabited by swingers, where every elevator ride is an adventure. Paul can quit his job in rotgut liquor store, and Mary can leave her job as a hospital dietician. Together, they could open a gourmet restaurant with a name like Chez Bland.

In Eating Raoul, Bartel, Woronov, and Richard Blackburn, who collaborated on the script, create a comedy form that’s between put-down and send-up, containing some accidental jokes. Mary is in the kitchen when a drunken swinger, looking for an orgy down the hall, breaks in and attempts to rape her. Paul hits the intruder with a cast-iron skillet and kills him. Practical folks, they empty the fellow’s wallet and put him in the garage compactor.

This first murder opens up a whole new world to the Blands. Having lost his job, Paul is now desperate for money, and Mary’s attempt to obtain a bank loan is denied, when she turns down the credit manager (Buck Henry) who’s fascinated with her breasts. With ads in the underground press, the Blands lure swingers to their apartment, kill them with a skillet, rob them and dispose of the remains in the compactor.

Their conscience is clean because, as Paul rationalizes, the victims are “horrible, sex-crazed perverts that nobody will miss anyway.” Their progress is temporarily interrupted, when Raoul (Robert Beltran), a Chicano locksmith with a desire for Mary, attempts to cut himself in on their racket.