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Mafu Cage (Special Edition), The
Based on the play by Eric Wesphal and directed by Karen Arthur, The Mafu Cage has had an odd and checkered release history, as the supplements on this excellent disc will relay in some detail. It did well when it played Cannes but then failed to find a theatrical audience before being dumped to VHS in a version running about seven minutes shorter than its theatrical counterpart. Scorpion Releasing brought it to DVD years back and have now seen fit to give the movie a nice high definition upgrade in its proper, full length, one hundred and one minute version.
The film tells the bizarre story of two orphaned sisters, Ellen (Lee Grant) and the younger Cissy (Carol Kane), who live inside a massive mansion decorated in odd African style décor. Since their father has passed away, Ellen has been in charge of Cissy, who has grown up without a proper guiding influence and finds solace more frequently in the arms of the siblings' pet orangutans, each of whom shares the same name… Mafu, than with any people. Ellen, whose beliefs in astronomy are rigid, lets Cissy rub her down with oil and has an unusual attraction to the younger girl but it all starts to come crashing down around them when Cissy's temperament becomes increasingly more violent, resulting in the orangutans being butchered. Eventually a social worker named David (James Olson) enters the picture, though his attraction to Ellen just makes things worse.
Featuring striking cinematography by John Bailey, The Mafu Cage is a dark, twisted, and frequently very melancholy look at mental illness and a certain characters complete breakdown. Heavily influenced by Albert Mayseles Grey Gardens documentary (which explored an eerily similar relationship between mother Edith Bouvier Beale and daughter 'Little Edie' Beale), Arthur's film was retitled a few times - Don't Ring The Doorbell passed if off as a horror picture while My Sister, My Love made it sound more like a taboo softcore picture. The print used for this DVD bares the title Deviation, which isn't much better or any more appropriate. Arthur, best known for her huge body of work in the television industry, directs confidently here and lets Bailey's camerawork really soak in the details of the ramshackle mansion, once proud and now full of decay, where the film plays out. The picture is all the better for it, as the house proves to be the perfect backdrop for the ensuing madness.
As interesting as the film looks, it wouldn't amount to much if the performances weren't where they needed to be. Thankfully both Grant and Kane prove more than capable here, delivering believable and sometimes very sympathetic performances. Kane in particular tends to steal every scene she's in, really letting us get under her skin and going as wild as the script will allow her without breaking character. Unrestrained but never unnecessarily over the top, her work here is remarkable and it really stands out.
Dark and periodically perverse, this is hardly feel good movie of the year material, but The Mafu Cage really is a well-made and underappreciated picture worth of reappraisal. Scorpion's special edition DVD is absolutely the right way to do that...
Scorpion's transfer of The Mafu Cage is offered up in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Taken from a new 2k scan of the interpositive and taking up 29.7GBs of space, it looks quite good, with strong color reproduction and good black levels. There's a lot less visible damage here than there was on the DVD, though some small specks and the odd scratch do pop up here and there. Detail, depth and texture are all quite good here, and the filmic image never shows any noticeable issues with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression problems.
The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono sound mix is pretty solid. Levels are well balanced, the score sounds strong enough and the dialogue is always easy to understand so whatever quirks and qualms may arise throughout, such as some minor hiss here and there, don't really take away from things at all. Some scenes are a bit flat, but this is likely due to the limitations of the source material rather than the disc itself. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
The only new extra on the disc is a six minute interview with composer Roger Kellaway. Here he goes over some of his background and training, how he came to work on the picture, his relationship with Karen Arthur and his thoughts on the movie overall.
The rest of the extras are carried over from the older DVD release, the best of which comes in the form of the two audio commentaries that have been recorded for this release, the first of which features director Karen Arthur who speaks at length about the film's history, distribution, and checkered past. A second commentary features cinematographer John Bailer and editor Carol Littleton and it covers some of the same ground but also touches on the set design, the mood on set, and some basic trivia. Both commentaries are pretty interesting and shed some light on the source that inspired the film and how it wound up being the movie that it is.
If that weren't enough, Scorpion also supplies a load of interviews, the first of which again features director Karen Arthur (44:32). It covers some of the same ground as the commentary but it's interesting enough that you'll want to check it out. Cinematographer John Bailer joins editor Carol Littleton team up again for the second interview (26:58) and again cover a fair bit of the same ground that they cover in their commentary. More interesting are interviews with actress Carol Kane (20:09) and Lee Grant (16:49) that let us in on what it was like getting into character on an odd project like this, how they feel about the film in hindsight and what it was like working with the different cast members on the project.
Rounding out the disc are a still gallery, two alternate opening title sequences, menus and chapter stops.
Much more of a psychological thriller than the horror movie it's sometimes been marketed as, The Mafu Cage is compelling, disturbing, and incredibly well acted to the point where the sometimes rather extreme subject matter because easy enough to accept that the film is able to hold our interest. Scorpion's Blu-ray release offers a very nice upgrade over their previous DVD edition. Twisted, perverse, bizarre, and wholly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.