Mafu Cage, The (1978)

Mafu Cage, The (1978)

“You’re not in my daddy’s book. My daddy doesn’t know about you, Mafu. That makes you a very rare breed.”

An astronomer (Lee Grant) cares for her disturbed younger sister (Carole Kane), who is obsessed with drawing and killing primates she keeps in a cage at home.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Kane Films
  • Horror
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • Lee Grant Films
  • Mental Illness
  • Obsessive Love
  • Play Adaptations
  • Primates
  • Siblings

Chances are you’ve never seen anything quite like The Mafu Cage, a bizarrely memorable horror flick based on themes of mental instability, sororal devotion, incestuous behavior, and obsessive love. Director Karen Arthur never opts for cheap thrills, instead choosing to imbue her film with heavy doses of atmosphere — in the sets (including Cissy’s jungle-like living space and the almost minimalist white Mafu cage), the soundtrack (full of pulsating African tribal rhythms), and Cissy’s increasingly far-out costumes and makeup. Carol Kane is nothing less than brilliant in the lead role as Cissy: she shifts at a moment’s notice from seductive to contrite to leering, yet we never doubt the veracity of her impulses. Equally impressive are Lee Grant and James Olson as the primary targets of Cissy’s unpredictable behavior. Although we want to shake Grant for not placing her sister in a mental asylum years earlier, we can’t help admiring her loyalty and love for her disturbed sister; and Olson does a fine job as the innocent visitor who unknowingly walks into a web of insanity, only to pay dearly for it. My one complaint about the film is that we never learn what or who a “mafu” is; this minor quibble aside, however, I’ll admit I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this strange little Sleeper, which is nonetheless not for all tastes.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Carole Kane’s brilliantly deranged performance as Cissy
  • Lee Grant as Cissy’s loyal older sister
  • James Olson as Grant’s colleague and would-be love interest
  • Countless eerily memorable moments
  • The pulsating tribal soundtrack

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended. I can easily see this film becoming a cult flick once it’s rediscovered.


2 thoughts on “Mafu Cage, The (1978)

  1. I’m going to have to disagree. This movie is curiously uninvolving, a fate that often accompanies movies made from stage plays. The artifice of the stage adds a layer of stylization that keeps you out.

    The acting is great, but it seems to me they’re not playing to the camera or each other; they’re playing to the back row.

  2. Definitely not for all tastes. Definitely not for mine.

    Admittedly, there is something provocative in the premise – exploration of a primitive soul; into the mouth of madness; children in the shadow of renown who hardly measure up and, on some level, revolt – but for my money it’s all lost in execution.

    It’s bad.



    Did I mention ‘bad’? It’s like an energetic, errant stray who doesn’t listen when you’re saying “No. NO! Bad movie! BAD movie!”

    It’s longer than it needs to be – with credulity progressively straining to the point of going snap (the lesbianism? – huh?!; the one good friend who would certainly know something’s amiss during a wacko phone call and hightail it over there, etc.).

    The performances? …Well, aaaanywho…

    I’ve often found it amusing when someone says, “I want my (however much time) back!” But I can only blame myself. Not too much, tho; I was a bit free with the fast forward.

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