I've watched the 1977 Karen Arthur movie The Mafu Cage about a half dozen times since it was reissued on DVD late last year, and I still don't know what the fuck a Mafu is. I believe it is the name Carol Kane's Cissy character gives to all of the creatures she keeps in a cage in her house and eventually murders because she doesn't like being touched. These creatures are usually apes but sometimes humans. Oh, and she doesn't always dislike being touched: she actually enjoys being touched by her sister, who she has sex with, except when she does that, she does most of the touching.
This movie is so fucking weird!
The Mafu Cage is Three Women meets Grey Gardens meets Tarzan. It is ridiculously '70s. It is so '70s, it should come with a Quaalude and 3D glasses where one side is brown and one side is green. It being as '70s as it is means that it is both entirely off the wall and paced like a person on crutches. And not temporary crutches, but the kind with the bicep cuff. Hardcore crutches that bespeak genuine disability. It also is completely un-PC, from a scene in which Cissy brutally beats her orangutan to death (they didn't actually kill an ape for the sake of this movie -- even though it wouldn't have been unheard of in the '70s -- but as Kane relays in a recent interview that's on the DVD, she visibly disturbed her orangutan co-star, whose trust she spent much of the filming gaining) to having its principal characters carry out the aforementioned incestuous lesbian affair, despite (or probably because of) Cissy's unspecified mental illness...
"It’s been a long time since anyone but me stroked your breasts," says Cissy to her sister Ellen (played by Lee Grant) at one point. And not to be a weirdophobe, but yuck.
Having Kane play a mentally ill and/or handicapped character is insensitive enough, but that's nothing compared to when her character dons blackface:
It's a head-scratcher -- is Cissy fucking mad, or is it this entire production? Does parsing this out even matter, as one was bound to be if the other was, anyway, right? (This should be especially true if the movie is to take itself seriously, which I believe it does.)
The blackface scene, by the way, doesn't read as hateful, despite whatever history-neglecting insensitivity is there. Cissy and Ellen grew up amongst tribes in Africa with their scientist father, and she is wrapped up in nostalgia and dresses accordingly. She also listens to reel-to-reel tapes of jungle sounds constantly. If anything, she's trying way too hard to be down.
Way too hard.
But oh, the costumes are really something!
And the film is gorgeous most of the time (if always through the murky filter of a '70s production).
The acting is over-the-top (“You wish I was dead!”) to the point of hysteria.
I don't know whose idea it was to have Cissy say, "Dumb shit! Dumb shit!" as a verbal tic when she's triggered, but it is safe to say that it was a real life dumb shit. Really, though, I can't imagine this movie being anything than what it is, basically because I never would have imagined this movie in the first place. I came across it by chance, never having heard of it (not even via its other even more ridiculous alias titles Deviation and Don't Ring the Doorbell). It's as hard to qualify the performances in this movie as it would be hard to qualify the performances of a child's playtime. The sounds of both are eerily similar, given the jungle soundtrack and Carol Kane's mellifluous voice (she talks like a sock puppet with a sock stuffed in its mouth). It's strange to imagine a movie that defies categorization to the point of refusing to be placed in the realm of good or bad, but then The Mafu Cage is unimaginable in every way.