Jul 14, 2014
When it comes to cinematic camp, I can rarely stand the intentional lowbrow and largely cartoonish camp exploitation ‘auteur’ filmmakers like Russ Meyer and Herschell Gordon Lewis. Indeed, the closest I can get to appreciating such proudly degenerate drivel is the films of actor and sometimes auteur Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000, Lust in the Dust), who was certainly a marvelous iconoclast and cinematic satirist that was just far too witty and subversive for the mainstream, hence the relative obscurity of most of his films today, especially when compared to the work of Meyer and even Lewis. Indeed, compared to Meyer and Lewis, Bartel also had much more testicular fortitude as a sort of less conservative west coast Paul Morrissey with no qualms about attacking the left and the counter-culture movement, with what is arguably his magnum opus, Eating Raoul (1982), being a sardonic satire of sexual liberation in Hollywood where an eccentric and slightly snobbish married couple begins luring in and slaughtering bourgeois swingers so they can steal their money in the hope of realizing their dream of opening a restaurant. Co-written by Richard Blackburn, who also acted as associate producer/quasi-co-director and previously directed the criminally underrated lesbian Lovecraftian vampire flick Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973), Eating Raoul is a wonderfully wicked buffet of libertine laughs and lunacy that is marinated in a sort of rather refined elegance and sophisticated cynicism that reminds one why auteur Bartel was probably one of the most passive-aggressive misanthropes that has ever worked in film. Starring Bartel and lapsed Warhol superstar Mary Woronov (Chelsea Girls, Silent Night, Bloody Night), who starred alongside one another previously in a number of films (in fact, they would later reprise their roles from Eating Raoul in the 1986 cult horror-sci-fi flick Chopping Mall), in the lead roles with the sort of quirky chemistry that one could expect from an effete middle-aged fag and a seasoned fag hag, the film may not be art but there is certainly an artfulness to its audacious comedy. Featuring the sort of eclectic perverts that one would expect to see in an early John Waters film and set in a Hollywood quasi-Sodom where rape is even more common than theft in a work that alludes to the cannibalization of a Mexican mensch, Eating Raoul is a “comedy of murders” that allows the viewer to safely revel in the serial killing of various upper-middleclass degenerates from the comfort of their own home, thus the film also acts as a sort of scathing piece of cinematic therapy that may deter potential serial killers.
Opening with a narrator stating, “Hollywood, California, city of contrasts. Home to the rich and powerful…yet so popular with the broken and destitute. Here sex hunger is reflected in every aspect of daily life…and instant gratification is tirelessly pursued. A center of casual violence and capricious harassment…where rampant vice and amorality…permeate every strata of society…and the barrier between food and sex has totally dissolved. It is a known fact that prolonged exposure to just such a psychopathic environment…will eventually warp even the most normal and decent among us. This then is the story of Hollywood today. Not a pretty story, but presented here exactly as it happened” juxtaposed with images of attempted sexual pillaging and various other forms of post-sexual revolution degeneracy, Eating Raoul immediately establishes a tone that is nothing if not pleasantly politically incorrect. Protagonist Paul Bland (Paul Bartel) is a discernibly bland, if not cultivated, man who makes a pathetic living working as a liquor store clerk and who, while working one day, makes the absurd mistake of ordering a case of $400-a-bottle Château Lafite Rothschild wine from the store, which could not have happened at a worse time, as he needs $20,000 to realize his dream of opening a fancy country kitchen restaurant. Although seemingly sexless, if not downright latently homosexual, Paul is married to a nurse that has bigger balls than he does named Mary (Mary Woronov) and she has an even harder time suffering fools than her ambiguously impotent hubby does. When a hyper horny patient named Mr. Barker (John Shearin) attempts to get in Mary’s granny panties at the hospital, the wickedly wise nurse gets him back by getting an ugly old hick-like fellow to give him a ‘high colonic.’ With their rent jacked up to an extra $175 a month and their apartment complex invaded by middle-aged swingers, Paul and Mary are not exactly in the highest of hopes.
After a couple degenerates attempt to rape Mary and Paul kills them with a frying pan, the couple comes up with the epiphany of luring sex perverts so they can kill and ultimately rob them. After all, as Paul complains, “People are pigs. How do they get away with it? Why should they live so well when good people like you and me get shafted?” so the married couple decides that it is their turn to do the shafting. After going to a single mother named “Donna the Dominatrix” (Susan Saiger) who has no problem talking about anything ranging from “golden showers” in front of her baby boy to advice about being a ‘lady of the night,’ the married couple places an ad in a local trash newspaper and Mary begins her marvelously murderous career of being a pseudo-dominatrix who accepts any sort of pervert, albeit for a hefty price. Indeed, Mary comes into contact with a pseudo-SS sadist who gets off to role-playing with concentration camp sex, an Aryan hippie rapist, an elderly midget cowboy with a large dog, and a proponent of paraphilic infantilism, among countless other patent perverts who Paul exterminates with a regular old kitchen frying pan.
After the couple unwittingly hires a young mestizo thief posing as a locksmith named Raoul Mendoza (played by real-life second-generation Mexican-American Robert Beltran), the married murderers turn into a threesome. Indeed, after breaking into Paul and Mary’s place and discovering their dastardly deeds, Raoul offers to become their partners, as he plans to sell the corpses of their victims to a dog food company, thereupon making their serial killing business even more lucrative. Of course, Mary and Raoul eventually become lovers (Thai weed comes into play) and the latter conspires to kill Paul, as he wants the gringo’s cash and naughty nurse wife. After Paul complains to Mary regarding Raoul, “Twice he tried to run me over…the rotten little beaner,” the reasonably happily married murderer decides to take revenge against the Hispanic Don Juan by hiring a chick to pretend to be a nurse (as well as a blind nun and immigration agent) who coerces the pseudo-Latin lover to take an ostensible anti-venereal disease pill that ultimately makes him impotent. Of course, Raoul finally figures out that he has been fooled and pulls a gun on Paul, but Mary stands by her husband and whacks the whacked out Hispanic over the head with a frying pain, thus killing him. Forgetting that they have promised dinner to their realtor James (played by co-writer Richard Blackburn, who also played a porn addict obsessed with a magazine called “Nuns and Nazis”), Paul and Mary serve Raoul for dinner. In the end, the quasi-antiheros get their restaurant. While eating Raoul, James states, “I hope you make this a permanent item on your menu…it’s French,” to which Mary replies, “No, it’s Spanish.”
Inspired by the classical cannibalistic serial killer antihero Sweeney Todd, as well as somewhat similarly themed films like the British black comedy The Ladykillers (1955) and François Truffaut’s self-professed “favorite American film” The Honeymoon Killers (1969) directed by opera composer Leonard Kastle, Eating Raoul ultimately totally transcends its influences as a sort of Tinseltown take on the Grand Guignol that makes a mirthfully macabre mockery of everyone and everything, ranging from anally-retentive Château Lafite Rothschild sniffers to a lapsed Catholic Mexican professional thief with a special (and ultimately deadly) affinity for brown-on-white miscegenation. Featuring everything from auteur Paul Bartel killing over a dozen swingers by plunging an electric lantern into a hot tub to a Chicano conman proudly declaring, “I ain’t no wetback” to a phony immigration agent, Eating Raoul is a rather idiosyncratic cinematic example of off-color comedy being channeled through a sort of venomous wit comparable to Oscar Wilde. Not surprisingly, a sequel to the film entitled Bland Ambition, which was written by the original writers (including Dick Blackburn, was scheduled for production, of which director Bartel described as, “[The film] starts with Paul and Mary Bland happily ensconced in their Country Kitchen, where they're doing a land-office business. The arrogant young Governor of California stops off to have lunch and is furious he is not recognized and permitted to jump the line. In retaliation, he sends a health inspector to close down the Country Kitchen, and Paul and Mary are encouraged by the media to retaliate in kind and run against him for Governor of California,” but rather unfortunately, Vestron pulled the plug on the funding about 10 days before they were to begin shooting. Of course, the death of Bartel in 2000 at 61 from a heart attack guaranteed the sequel would never be made. Although described by auteur Bartel as follows, “I wanted to make a film about two greedy, uptight people who are at the same time not so unlike you and me and Nancy and Ronnie, to keep it funny and yet communicate something about the psychology and perversity of those values . . . My movie touches on many things: the perversion of middle class values, the resurgence of Nixonism, machismo versus WASP fastidiousness, film noir . . .,” Eating Raoul ultimately seems like an assault on ‘Americanism’ in general, from the rich workaholics who only find solace in banging their best bud’s wife to small-time cholo crooks who may hate everything that old school white America stands for, but still want a piece of the rotten American pie. Of course, it is quite doubtful that a film like Eating Raoul could be made today, as it lacks ‘diversity’ and ‘racial sensitivity,’ among countless other intolerable things that people are suppose to tolerate nowadays, thereupon making it all the more interesting that it was directed by one of the most flagrantly effete and pathologically passive-aggressive ‘queen’ character actors in film history
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 1:19 AM
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