By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Her sister is psycho.
Ellen and Cissy (Lee Grant, Carol Kane) are two sisters living together in a dilapidated mansion, where they keep a pet ape named Mafu locked in a cage that sits in their living room. One day Ellen finds that Mafu has died so at the insistence of Cissy, who says she will kill herself unless they get another one, she goes to a local zoologist (Will Geer) and buys another. Things go well at first, but Cissy’s behavior becomes increasingly more erratic and she takes her frustrations and anger out on the new ape in abusive ways.
The film was directed by actress-turned-director Karen Arthur by a script written by Don Chastian who was another actor and based on a play by Eric Wesphal. I really wasn’t sure what these characters or this bizarre story was supposed to mean. I thought being the ‘70s and a female director that it would have symbolic connections to feminism or even lesbianism, which does get alluded to briefly, but overall the message is confusing and unfocused. The pacing is poor and about 10 minutes in I was already quite bored with it.
The only real saving grace is Kane’s presence who gives a startling performance as a psychotic woman. I had always admired her talent, but became even more impressed with her after seeing this. Her most amazing/bizarre moment is when she dresses up as an African warrior complete with red body paint and then later soaks in a tub filled with blood red water while carrying on an impromptu phone conversion with herself.
I had mixed feelings in regards to Grant whose age difference between Kane is 25 years making her look more like a mother figure than a sister. It was also hard to sympathize with her character as she refuses to have Cissy institutionalized or even examined by a mental health professional even though her behavior is dangerously erratic and only a completely irrational person would choose to ignore it or think that it will somehow ‘magically’ improve, which of course it doesn’t
The ape was the one performer that I enjoyed the most and fortunately a real one was used. The way the chimp responds to things and interacts with Kane are genuinely fascinating to watch and makes him a natural scene stealer without even trying. However, the part where she beats him with a metal chain is quite disturbing supposedly he was never actually hit and the credits do list an animal agency was present during filming and monitored it, but it’s difficult to watch nonetheless.
Patient viewers may find certain segments and imagery to be interesting and the film does improve a bit as it progresses, but overall it’s a weird curio that will leave most people indifferent and confused.
Alternate Title: Don’t Ring the Doorbell
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: December 1, 1978
Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes
Director: Karen Arthur
Available: VHS, DVD