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  Eating Raoul Put The Swingers Through The Wringers
Year: 1982
Director: Paul Bartel
Stars: Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, Susan Saiger, Buck Henry, Richard Paul, John Shearin, Darcy Pulliam, Ben Haller, Garry Goodrow, Richard Blackburn, Hamilton Camp, Allan Rich, Ed Begley Jr, Don Steele, Edie McClurg, John Paragon, Billy Curtis
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It has been one of those days for aspiring wine merchant Paul Bland (Paul Bartel), as he dissuaded a customer at the shop he worked at from buying an inferior product and his boss was so incensed that he fired him. He telephones his wife, nurse Mary (Mary Woronov), to tell her that he'll be able to pick her up from work, though doesn't explain further, and when they return to their apartment block they are caught off guard by the amount of so-called swingers infesting the building. They have money problems to deal with and don't need the sexual harrassment from these lowlifes, but what if those reprobates provided a way out of their predicament?

Eating Raoul was proof that a decent script is most important if you're planning your movie, especially if that was a low budget film as director and star Paul Bartel had, with co-writer Richard Blackburn, crafted a simple plot that was ingenious enough to win it cult acclaim for decades afterwards. Bartel had been sick of having his projects fail to get off the ground thanks to blinkered Hollywood execs, so had the last laugh when Eating Raoul took off in the way it did, appealing to the blackly comic sense of humour of the kind of viewer who the Blands would probably not have approved of. Settling into a cycle of raising funds from friends and family, then shooting when the chance arose, it didn't sound too promising.

Fortunately those investors had faith in that fine script, and Bartel managed to rustle up an equally fine cast, some of whom were more recognisable than others, to do it justice. What the Blands see as an escape route from their unfulfilled lives arises when one of the swingers barges into their apartment the night Paul loses his job, and he is clonked over the head when he attempts to rape Mary, the weapon being a frying pan from the kitchen. This gives the couple a brainwave: how about they invite perverts to their apartment and kill them with the frying pan, then take their cash? Dumping the bodies in the incinerator is no trouble, so after taking advice from a dominatrix (Susan Saiger), the plan goes into action.

There's no blood in this film, indeed you get the impression that the Blands would not tolerate any violence that got too messy, particularly in their own home. Bartel had the idea of showing up the new conservatism of America with Eating Raoul, illustrating how those who had put Nixon into power and had forgotten their error and put Reagan into the White House ten years later were easily as corrupt as those they took against, but here Bartel went too far the other way. Because there are no sympathetic liberals in the story, the swingers are too corrupt to represent a rebuttal to the square Blands, with the result that the homicidal duo grow more, not less, likeable the further the movie progresses.

Sure, they don't see anything wrong in killing off people they think of as scum, but this obliviousness to their depraved anti-depravity is oddly endearing, as if they unwittingly joined the ranks of the unprincipled which means they can be forgiven. This is a comedy after all, and it's never so bleak that despair settles over it, although it does come close with the introduction of a certain Raoul (Star Trek Voyager's Robert Beltran), he of the ending that is given away by the title. He poses as a locksmith, then wheedles his way into Mary's affections as a far more exciting lover than Paul could ever be, which threatens to create a rift between them. Raoul even gets in on the body disposal act - could this spell curtains for the Blands? Maybe the film isn't as consistently funny as you remember, but it does have a pleasing sense of the ridiculous, and in the way it has you cheering on serial murderers is more subversive than it might appear. Music by Arlon Ober.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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