Eating Raoul (1982) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA rated: R for violence, nudity, sexual content, drug use and language
Running time: 83 min.
Cast: Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, Susan Saiger
Small role: Buck Henry, Ed Begley Jr., Edie McClurg, John Landis
Director: Paul Bartel
Screenplay: Paul Bartel, Richard Blackburn
Paul Bartel (Amazon Women on the Moon) and Mary Woronov (The One and Only, Death Race 2000) star as Paul and Mary Bland, a straight-laced Los Angeles couple (so platonic, they don't even sleep in the same beds, with other objects to cuddle with other than each other) who encounter financial hardships while saving up for a restaurant of their own after Paul loses his menial job, all the while they find depravity growing around them in the form of swingers parties. Through happenstance, they accidentally kill a partygoer trying to get it on with Mary, and discover that these swingers sure keep a good deal of cash on hand.
Since they are involved in illicit affairs, they're unlikely to tell anyone their whereabouts, making them the prime candidates for a kill-and-steal operation, which is just what the Blands do when they put an ad in the paper to get would-be clients to come over. The operation becomes more lucrative when they bring in Chicano thief, Raoul (Beltran, Night of the Comet), who takes care of the dead bodies for extra cash. But Raoul has aspirations of his own beyond making money, in the form of shapely Mary.
Eating Raoul is perhaps cult flick writer-director-star Paul Bartel's most well-known cult black comedy, which has become a semi-classic in its own right for its mix of mainstream and independent sensibilities. Bartel continues to explore the subversive and perverse side of life, tossing up macabre comedy with just the right tone to maintain its light-as-a-feather comedy experience.
One of the ironies of the moral couple is that they scoff at the immoral acts going on in the apartment down the hall, while their own murderous activities don't even give them pause, mostly because they feel that immoral people are deserving of death, even though they themselves engage in immoral activities in order to dispose of the sinners.
Despite their pious stance, Bartel is able to maintain a high amount of likeability for his lead characters, even when they engage in lies, deceit, murder, and adultery. Warhol muse, Mary Woronov, is especially appealing as the repressed wife, though Woronov, as an actress, exudes sensuality in a way that runs counter to her ability to play such a prim and proper spouse, or to believe a man like Paul could nab such a fetchingly seductive gal. But, it works for the dominatrix side of things, as well as the notion that Raoul might risk it all just to get it on with her, so suspension of disbelief in one regard offers up more believability in another.
Bartel is also quite likeable as the somewhat snobby husband, who eschews people and things that are of lower class, but does so with wit and an earnestness that suggests he believes what he says. Even the supporting cast is quite good, with Beltran offering up a perfectly cocky young Raoul, who you believe would break whatever rules are necessary to get what he wants. And even Susan Saiger as Doris the Dominatrix is especially impressive playing a number of comic roles trying to trick Raoul into giving up his game.
It's quite over the top in theory, but played with such a low key, the extremes balance out to make this a film you overlook such things as the lack of police involvement or the lack of realism in the frying pan form of deaths for the sake of the overall humor in the tale. Eating Raoul is a black comedy done right, outlandishly devilish yet done with a completely straight face.
©2012 Vince Leo