Karen Arthur worked with screenwriter Don Chastain to loosely adapt Eric Westphal’s play Toi et Tes Nuages, which she had seen in Paris in 1975, to create this movie that even today, nearly fifty years after it was made, seems unhinged.
Ellen Carpenter (Lee Grant, Valley of the Dolls) is an astronomer who shares her home — a ramshackle house in the Hollywood Hills that they inherited from their anthropologist father — with her sister Cissy (Carole Kane), an adult child devoted to her mafus, which are pet monkeys which she keeps in a cage in the living room. There’s a problem though. The mafus never last long as Cissy tends to kill them. And oh yeah — Ellen is in love, real love, incestual love, with her sister.
Now, Cissy wants another monkey and Ellen refuses. There’s been enough death. But then their godfather Zom (Will Geer, The Waltons) gets Cissy an orangutan from his zoo. And at the same time, Ellen is finally finding love — she’s as emotionally stunted as her sister is developmentally — with David, a fellow astronomer (James Olson, Amityville II: The Possession). She’s not ready to let him into her life, as when Cissy finds out, she beats the orangutan into oblivion.
When Ellen goes away on a work trip, David comes to visit. As she’s not there, Cissy lets him in and tells him how the mafu cage was brought into the house and used by her father to keep doing his research when he wasn’t in the jungle. She locks David in the cage and begins to study him as her subject, finally flying into a rage and beating him into the next life too. She buries him in the garden, but keeps painting him, which leads to Ellen locking herself in the bathroom and Cissy finally having a nervous breakdown.
I don’t want to ruin any more of this movie, which is surprising at nearly every turn. Arthur, unfortunately, dealt with some bad luck making films — Lady Beware is one example — and The Jerry Gross Organization tried to sell this an exploitation movie, changing the name to Don’t Ring the Doorbell.
Carole Kane is absolutely the greatest in this movie, playing a character quite unlike anything else she’d ever do in her career. Lee Grant is, as always, perfect. This movie is really something else, one I’d been waiting to watch and I was rewarded for my patience.
Kino Lorber’s blu ray release — along with Scorpion Releasing — of this film is a must-have. It has a 2K scan of the interpositive, supervised and approved by cinematographer John Bailey (who appears on a commentary track with editor Carol Littleton) and commentary with Arthur. There are also interviews with Kane, Grant, Arthur, Bailey, Littleton and composer Roger Kellaway. Plus, you get trailers and an image gallery. Grab it now from Kino Lorber.