Wednesday, August 22, 2018

THE MAFU CAGE 1978






      Sisters Ellen (Lee Grant) and Cissy (Carol Kane) live together in sprawling Los Angeles mansion which is festooned with African art and tropical plants. Their father was a famous African anthropologist who spent most of his life over there with the younger daughter Cissy and after his death she has moved in with her older sister. Ellen works at Griffith Park Observatory and seems to indulge her younger sister's fascination with all things African allowing their home to be turned into a shrine to their father's work. Ellen had promised her father that she would always take care of the fragile Cissy and having spent most of her life with her father in Africa Cissy has become a virtual shut-in in her fantasy world that Ellen encourages. 
    Right off the bat we're shown that perhaps things are not all right as far as Cissy's mental stability is concerned. Child-like and never leaving the house she walks around near naked or dresses in African tribal clothing and constantly refers to her "mafu" and when she can get a new one. A large empty cage sets in one of the rooms and it's reveled that Crissy has had a series of primates she keeps as pets before she loses patience with them and kills them. Understandably Ellen is reluctant to provide her with a new companion while at the same time she's involved in a relationship with a co-worker David (James Olson) who she pushes back on when he tries to get serious with her.
     A family friend named Zom (Will Greer) brings over an orangutan (credited as 'Budar") to Crissy for a short period before it's and Ellen agrees to let her keep it if she promises not to harm him. When Ellen is forced to leave town for a few days and her boyfriend David makes an unexpected visit to the house things begin to spiral out of control and the feeling of queasiness and underlying terror that's been lurking in the plot he's brought to full force in the film's insane final act.




     Directed by Karen Arthur (who later went on to have a prolific TV career) it was marketed to play up the perceived horror elements but it really plays out as psychological terror and along such films as THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976) and 1971's LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH it also mixes feminism along with those psychological terror elements (with a bit of GREY GARDENS mixed in too.) Set almost entirely inside the bric-a-brac stuffed house which combined with the small cast brings a very claustrophobic feeling to the film's atmosphere which adds to slowly encroaching fear of what's going on with Crissy's escalating mental state. You get the feeling Ellen knows deep inside what's going on with Crissy and Ellen's oblivious denials which are brought on partly by loyalty and love none the less.
   The film moves into almost black comedy at certain points and almost makes you laugh nervously as we watch Crissy interact with her new mafu which are set against not to subtly implied incestuous relationship between the sisters (at one point Cissy remarks to Ellen "it's been a long time since you made me gush") along with it being implied that Crissy has had sex with her simian companions. Sadly these sordid plot points would become the selling factors for the film in some of its later release under titles such as MY SISTER, MY LOVE and DEVIATION.




    A criminally underused actress Carol Kane is wonderful here alternating between child-like innocence full on creepy an bring some genuine pathos to a role that could have easily been just crazy psycho. An amazing performance, most of her dialogue  with the orangutan seems to be ad-libbed. In almost any other scenario Kane would over-shadow anyone else in the film , but Lee Grant brings a delicate sensitivity to the role as someone who cares deeply for her sister while also realizing she is complacent in her sisters downward spiral.
    Written by Don Chastin and based upon a stage play by Eric Wespal it failed miserably at the box office even at one point being picked up by exploitation guru Jerry Gross (who also distributed ZOMBIE and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD) who ran it under the DEVIATION title. Baffling many a viewer who caught it on late night TV it even showed up in one of those big ol' Wizard video boxes.
    A big thanks to Realweegiemidget Reviews and Angelman's Place for hosting this blogathon in honor of the lovely and talented Lee Grant whose 93rd(!!) birthday is coming up this Oct. 31.









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