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  Mafu Cage, The Take These Chains
Year: 1977
Director: Karen Arthur
Stars: Lee Grant, Carol Kane, Will Geer, James Olson, Budar, William Sherwood
Genre: Horror, Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Now that their beloved father has died, Ellen (Lee Grant), an astronomer working at the nearby observatory, and her sister Cissy (Carol Kane) live alone in an isolated, sprawling mansion. Cissy is a virtual recluse who spends her days reminsicing about their childhood in Africa where the women's anthropologist father worked with native tribes. This means Cissy's llfe revolves around her pet ape, which she calls Mafu, conducting her own ceremonies and drawing many pictures of apes and African-related subjects, but all this can't last as Cissy is sliding into insanity. Ellen is attempting to progress with a relationship with colleague David (James Olson), but will Cissy keep dragging her back home?

The Mafu Cage was adapted for the screen from the French Eric Wesphal play Toi es Tes Nuages, or You and Your Clouds to translate, by Don Chastain, and seems to leave an impression on all who see it, even if it's just, "I'm never watching that again!" It's in the genre of hothouse melodrama, with the two sisters sharing a close but damaging bond which grows close to being incestuous, although this is never explicit, confined to the odd scene of kissing and cuddling. I don't know how this was staged in the theatre, but Cissy has a habit of killing off whichever current Mafu is in the cage, just as Ellen returns home near the beginning of the film to find that her sister has killed the pet ape.

Uptight Ellen does not feel the affection towards animals that Cissy does, but doesn't wish to kill them either, yet somehow within days they have secured a replacement thanks to Cissy's threats of suicide if she doesn't get her way, Ellen being too weak willed to turn her down. If you only know Kane from the likes of television sitcom Taxi, you might know she can be an eccentric performer, but nothing prepares you for her role here where she is utterly convincing as a psychotic. She screams, dances to her tapes of African music, alternates between sweetness and all-out hysteria and adopts the word "DUMBSHIT!" as a catchphrase whenever things don't go her way. What Cissy needs is professional help, but Ellen is reluctant to admit there is a problem, to her cost.

Zom (Will Geer) is a friend of the family who happens to own an animal sanctuary and unaware that Cissy bumped off her previous pet ape, turns up at the door with a new one, an orang-utan (Cissy doesn't seem bothered that orang-utans aren't from Africa - maybe he was all the production could get). The ape is immediately named Mafu and Cissy takes it to the cage where she locks it in. Later, she lets it out and plays with it in the garden - marvel at unsettling scenes where Kane pours wine into the ape's mouth when kissing it - but already her madness is taking over and it's not long before she has whipped it to death with a length of chain (I'm assuming the real orang-utan, who oddly receives an "and introducing Budar" credit, was unharmed). Now denied a pet, Cissy graduates to humans when David arrives to see Ellen while she is away on a trip, and more tragedy is just around the corner. As a study of how the emotionally and psychologically needy can tip the balance over into terrorising those they depend on, The Mafu Cage is memorable, but Kane's performance will either elicit fascination or fingernails down the blackboard frustration in viewers. Music by Roger Kellaway.

Aka: My Sister My Love, The Cage
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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