Eating Raoul is a 1982 black comedy directed by and starring and co-written by Paul Barte
Set in a squalid, pre-HIV Los Angeles, Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov) are a married couple who want only to leave the city and open a country restaurant, so they can get away from the swingers that have taken over their apartment building, driving the rent up. When one of the swingers gets into their apartment by accident and attempts to rape Mary, Paul kills him with a cast iron frying pan. This gives them an idea: place sex worker ads in newspapers, lure swingers (Mary: “Horrible sex crazed maniacs that no one in the world would miss.”) to their apartment, kill them and rob them.
This works pretty well, until a hustler named Raoul (Robert Beltran) gets involved, disposing of the bodies at a dog food factory, and stealing the now-abandoned cars. He also sets his sights on Mary, who does not entirely object. This sets up a tangle of jealousy, betrayal, and murder.
The Blands’ guide into the realm of sex work (of a sort) is Doris the Dominatrix (played by Susan Saiger), who gets special mention in the opening credits. Paul gets her card at a swingers party
Mary: “That’s disgusting.”
Paul: “Apparently, a lot of swingers enjoy that sort of thing.”
Mary: “I don’t mind a little hugging and kissing but that?”
Doris is, by far, the sanest person in this movie. She gives them advice while looking after her toddler in her kitchen and doing laundry.
Doris: “I personally draw the line at golden showers.”
Mary: “Golden showers?”
Doris: “That’s all it is, is acting. [commanding voice] Lick my sneakers you little worm! [regular voice] See what I mean? It’s easy?”
Mary: “‘Lick my sneaker, you little worm.’”
Doris: “See? You’re a natural.”
Doris: “Really there’s nothing to it. Just remember to get the money up front. And whatever they want to do, stop if it draws blood.”
Paul and Mary have to deal with the problems of “real” sex workers: the expense of acquiring costumes and props, catering to hyper-specific fetishes, no-show clients, difficult clients. You’d think it might actually be easier to just service them and avoid the hassle of disposing of the bodies, but to them, murder is preferable to sex work as a way of making money. It’s Paul and Mary against the world, and as long as they get the money to make their dreams come true, the world can burn.
Paul: “Mary, what do you think makes them go for that weird stuff? Are they crazy?”
Mary: “They’re sick. This world is overflowing with millions of sexual freaks.”
Paul: “We’re so lucky we’ve found each other.”
Mary and Paul seem very uncomfortable with anything sexual. (Granted, swingers keep trying to rape Mary.) They sleep in two single beds with an end table in between, with Mary clutching stuffed animals and Paul cuddling a pillow shaped like a giant wine bottle.
“‘Sexual liberation.’ Just look what it’s brought us,” comments Mary.
Later, Paul and Mary need to “speed up production” to get the house they want. They go to a big swingers party, where Doris is a main attraction. A man falls to his knees in front of her and cries, “Oh, beat me Doris. Whip me. Make me write bad checks!” (Is this where that phrase originated?)
Doris tells Mary and Paul, “All these bozos have to pretend like it’s all a joke in front of their friends. But half of them will look me up for real next week. He’ll be back for more.”
Another party guest wants them to get together with her and her husband. “Moose is into voyeurism and I’m into exhibitionism. [giggle] We like B&D but we don’t like S&M. We met at the A&P. [laugh] But we don’t like labels.”
As we’ve seen in other films, the equipment, costumes and set dressing of BDSM figure as a stand-in for sexual excess. We get to see Mary in a variety of costumes, including a German fraulein, a Minnie Mouse outfit, and a dog collar. There’s actually not a lot of nudity in Eating Raoul. BDSM is just part of the sexual excess. A scene in which Paul awkwardly buys handcuffs and other toys at an adult store, demonstrates that handcuffs are the preferred metonyms for BDSM in film, even if they are never used.
Eating Raoul has a very 80s feel. The sexual revolution has come and gone, and what matters is making money. The dividing line is hedonists versus hustlers, and Paul and Mary know which side they are. But in their own way, they’re just as “freaky” as the people they murder, with a sexless marriage between an implicitly gay man and a repressed heterosexual woman. As taken as Mary is with Raoul’s Latino swagger, she ultimately sides with her husband
I wonder if Paul and Mary will turn into “Mother” and “Father” from The People Under The Stairs.