The Mafu Cage. 1978. USA. Directed by Karen Arthur. Written by Don Chastain, based on the novel by Eric Westphal. With Carol Kane, Lee Grant. 35mm. 104 min.
Karen Arthur’s The Mafu Cage, one of the first horror films directed by a woman, is an exploration of madness and sexuality in the tight-knit world of two sisters: Ellen, a burgeoning astronomer, and Cissy, her unstable sister. Sharing a house after the death of their beloved father, an African primatologist, the walls close in on their increasingly claustrophobic abode as Cissy punishes anything or anyone who tries to come between them. Intimations of incest permeate the film as Cissy takes over her father’s “mafu” cage—a primate cage in the middle of the living room—and Ellen enables her sister’s violent behavior toward her pets. The performances wildy vibrate and swing, reflecting the instability of this family unit. While not as well known as many of its late-1970s counterparts, The Mafu Cage is rightfully reemerging as the horror classic it truly is.