In 1975 Paul Bartel directed a film for Roger Corman’s company New World Pictures America’s premier manufactory of low-budget exploitation flicks. “Death Race 2000” was made to cash in on the popularity of “Rollerball” the future-sports hit of the year. A zero stars review from critic Roger Ebert obviously helped & the film became a cult classic, a midnight movie mainstay, a comic book & a Criterion Collection Blu-ray Deluxe Edition. Ebert later changed his tune too, noting that “Death Race 2000” had a “summer exploitation mentality in a clever way”.
The next year he made another Carmaggedon movie with the same star, David Carradine. It would be 6 years before his next film was released. Bartel, an actor/writer/director had always operated on the edges of the mainstream but “Eating Raoul” was going to be a hard sell to any Hollywood studio. It was made for just $350,000, a laugh out loud, choke on your popcorn movie, one of the best comedies of the early 80s & I’ve seen “Cannonball Run II”.
Paul & Mary Bland (Bartel & the wonderful former Warhol actress Mary Woronov) live a Fabulous Fifties, Dick Van Dyke/Mary Tyler Moore (ask your grandparents) life, dreaming of having their own restaurant while a wave of Los Angelean squalor breaks on the door of their apartment. The Blands (geddit ?) murder a swinger who gets too close, discovering an extreme but effective solution to the shortfall between their income & their aspirations. With the help of Doris the Dominatrix they infiltrate the “lifestyle”, knocking off rich perverts & trousering the dosh. Raoul finds a stiff while burgling the apartment & helps the pair maximise the profits of their operation. When this menage gets a little too hot & sweaty something, that would be Raoul, has to give. The Blands have an important dinner that very night & the only meat in the house is…Well, “Bon Appetit”, which is the name of the restaurant they open.
“Eating Raoul” is a rush of a movie, it’s short (84 minutes) & the Blands are rather sweet. The irony of the behaviour of these transgressive suburbanites as they pursue the American Dream is played as straight as a John Waters film. Meanwhile a parade of passing perverts (including Buck Henry, Ed Begley Jr, Gary Goodrow & others I should know) go for the gag as if they are being directed by Mel Brooks. If I give too much of the story away then I apologise. It is the archness, the gusto of the film, which makes it a great black comedy.
So, I like a cannibal movie. The Italian exploitation “Mondo” films peaked around 1980. Titles like “Zombie Holocaust” & “We’re Going To Eat You” guaranteed buckets of blood & flesh-eating fun. “Ravenous” (1999) , “Trouble Every Day” (2001) & the Hannibal Lecter series are more modern takes on the tasty taboo. My preference is to laugh along at such violations of the verboten. I know, that’s not funny that’s sick but I do find people eating other people amusing. C’mon, it’s only a movie.
“Parents” (1989) is set in the 1950s suburbs that the Blands had emerged from. Nick & Lily Laemle (Randy Quaid & Mary Beth Hurt) are living the Dream but their son Michael is troubled by sanguinary nightmares & by the provenance of the “leftovers” served at every evening meal. Michael has an active imagination but his worst fears are confirmed. Only bad things can happen to anthropophagites & they do. First time director Bob Balaban, a notable actor in “Catch 22”, “Close Encounters…” & plenty since, oversees a sharp comedy/horror blend & Quaid is a perfect mix of the straight & harrow. I mean that crazy kid must be crazy, right ? Ms Hurt…well she could be Mrs Reagan. Back to Ebert who said the movie was “depressing” & “depraved”, a “creepy bad time”. The New York Times wrote that “Parents” was best enjoyed on video in a “mindless, undemanding mood”…back then that would possibly be me.
In 1986 director David Lynch’s thrilling thriller “Blue Velvet” had penetrated the thin veneer of small town respectability with precision. In the 1980s not everything, in Hollywood or America, had to be of such quality. This was the decade when the President was a B-movie actor. “Parents” & “Society”, an accomplished horror film made in the same year, are both resourceful, low-budget, genre riffs on the idea that the suburban silent majority, with one of their own back in the White House, perhaps had something less wholesome on the menu.
Now “Delicatessen” (1991) is a whole different cup of meat. It is the debut feature film by director/writer team Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, award winning French animators. Set in a fantasy world where food is scarce & morality sparse the butcher/landlord of a crumbling apartment block keeps his deli stocked & his tenants fed with choice cuts from itinerants employed as handymen. The latest candidate/victim, Louison, an unemployed circus clown played by the elastic-featured Dominique Pinon, charms this eccentric community, particularly the butcher’s daughter. Will Love, assisted by “Les Troglodistes”, an underground vegetarian group, triumph over the desire for a nice plate of charcuterie ?
“Delicatessen” is a wonder of a film, each imaginative frame packed with detail & atmosphere. The storytelling is graceful & charming. Like Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” only on the poor side of town, Delicatessen’s technology had swerved the transistor, contraptions of Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson complexity & resourcefulness mirror the inspired surrealism of a terrific, category defying piece of cinema. This clip, a montage of synchronicity within the house, was used as a trailer for the film. It would be a struggle to nail the essence of “Delicatessen” in just 90 seconds. Jeunet & Caro collaborated on “City of Lost Children” before Jean-Pierre went to Hollywood for “Alien Resurrection” then to international acclaim for “Amelie”. I really do enjoy all of his films, even the slight “Micmacs”. If though you prefer to chew on something more substantial then get your teeth into “Delicatessen”.