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Case Number 20149

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The Mafu Cage

Scorpion Releasing // 1977 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Carlton (Retired) // November 19th, 2010

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All Rise...

Nobody puts Judge Daniel Carlton in a cage.

The Charge

A terrifying love story

Opening Statement

I watch a boatload of films, but rarely do I find a film that makes hernia surgery seem like a more pleasing alternative. Possibly I'm exaggerating, but at least with surgery, patients are unconscious for most of the experience. The Mafu Cage is evidently treasured by some, but I found the film to be poorly acted with elements that were more aggravating than disturbing.

Facts of the Case

After a three year trip to the Congo, sisters Cissy and Ellen return to California where Ellen has promised to take care of her mentally ill sister since the passing of their father. The house contains an oversized cage, a cage in which their father would keep and study wild animals. Cissy (Carol Kane), who is no longer in touch with reality, insists on their getting another animal for the house even though she is in no state to take care of a large animal. To make matters worse, Ellen is in a relationship with co-worker David (James Olson), much to the disliking of Cissy, whose personality is already extremely volatile and capable of much violence. While Ellen is away, David comes to the house for a visit and Cissy's emotions spin out of control.

The Evidence

The Mafu Cage is a film that many, including myself, will find excruciating to view. Carol Kane is a superb actor who has been in undeniable film classics (Annie Hall, The Princess Bride), but unfortunately missed the mark with this one. Whether the choice to channel a spoiled four year old into the character of Cissy was Carol Kane's or director Karen Arthur's, it was an annoying choice nonetheless. She whines like a child and threatens to hurt herself if she doesn't get her way. In this instance, the demand is for another pet orangutan, a mafu, to replace the recently deceased one. This new pet is to live in the giant cage built into an entire wall of the living room, which is already filled with trees and various plant life to recreate their previous jungle surroundings.

It is true that I found Cissy's character especially annoying in the film, but that is only one of the many aspects to the film that made this so painfully bad. We learn that there is a sexual history between Ellen and Cissy, which is the root of Cissy's jealousy toward Ellen and David's relationship. On top of that, there is a line later in the film that alludes to sexual relations between Cissy and the ape. All of this sexual tension is supposed to amount to something, but it came off as nothing more than an attempt to be extra artsy. Cissy's mental instability was more than enough to drive the plot points in the story, but the sexual tension was simply written in for some sort of shock factor. Needless to say, these contrivances induced more eye-rolling on my part than any form of shock.

In the same way as the main character and the various sexual tensions became tiresome in the film, the music was equally agitating. Much of the soundtrack reflected African music, with various drums, flutes and whatnot. At several points in the film, the music consisted of nothing more than wild drums beating out of time with high energy in a cacophony of noise, resembling that of four year olds beating on pots and pans. I get it. The drums are patterning Cissy's eratic emotions at the time and reflect the inner turmoil of her fractured soul.


I had a tough time finding anything to like about The Mafu Cage and an even tougher time keeping my finger from the glorious fast forward button. What freedom that would have been! However, seeing as how I am taking on in the role of critic, that would have been a disservice to our readers. The transfer of the film is nothing to be heralded as the picture is muted and lacks any crispness. It is the usual picture that we see on standard DVDs of many long lost 70s films, but it a reminder of why the far superior format of Blu-ray now exists. The audio boasts a 2.0 Dolby track.

For those who did enjoy The Mafu Cage, they will be pleased to know that the disc contains supplements galore, close to five hours of extras to be exact. Present are two full-length commentaries, one with director Karen Arthur and another by the director of photography and the editor. Also included are four cast and crew interviews: VISIONS OF CLOUDS: an interview with Karen Arthur (46m), SHOT AND SLICE: an interview with John Bailey and Carol Littleton (27m), CISSY AND HER CLOUDS: an interview with Carol Kane (20m), and SOLAR FLARE: an interview with Lee Grant (17m). Lastly, the disc contains a deleted scene, alternate title cards and a photo gallery.

Closing Statement

I didn't care for this film in the least, but those who do appreciate it will more than likely be pleased with the amount of bonus features. The picture quality is nothing special, but it is safe to assume that lovers of The Mafu Cage will be happy to simply have this film on DVD.

The Verdict

Please lock this DVD into a cage for eternity. GUILTY!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 60
Audio: 70
Extras: 90
Acting: 60
Story: 50
Judgment: 50

Perp Profile

Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama
• Horror
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentaries
• Alternate Titles
• Deleted Scene
• Interviews
• Image Gallery


• IMDb

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