The Ninth Configuration (1979)

Director: William Peter Blatty

Writer: William Peter Blatty based on his novel Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane

Score: Barry De Vorzon

Cast Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Moses Gunn, Richard Lynch

Year: 1979

Country: USA

Where to begin writing a review of this movie… This is something I have been thinking about before I even put fingers to the keyboard. To start with this film has been mis-catergorised as a horror film, which it is not, though horrible scenarios do take place, they are not the supernatural, blood letting or any traditional interpretation of horror. As an addition, I did find the BluRay hidden in the horror section of @fopphcharingcross instead of being on display as a stand along, multi genre piece that it should be seen as. So I have given you my first scenario, how do you define The Ninth Configuration in genre terms. I would say that it is a religious, metaphysical, social commentary anylais of mans constant struggle with the existence of God, his place on the planet and the fragile mental state of ones personality. Throw in that the titular character Colonel Kane played by Stacy Keach is may be slightly a un-hinged murderer, you may begin to garner an idea of what this film is about.

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The story takes us toward the end of the war in Vietnam, a large castle in a remote forest is used by the US Government as an insane asylum for high ranking military personnel. We are introduced to the inmates via a roll-call on the forecourt of the castle as a stern sergeant-major tries to get some semblance of order from the patients, Among the many patients there is a former astronaut, Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), who aborted a moon launch and was dragged screaming from the capsule, suffering from an apparent mental breakdown. Colonel Kane, a former member of a United States Marine Corps special psychiatric unit, arrives at the castle to take over the treatment of the patients. He meets Colonel Fell (Ed Flanders), who helps Kane acclimate himself to the eccentricities of the patients, introducing each one and their unique mental states. Kane pays special attention to Cutshaw, repeatedly asking him why he did not want to go to the moon. Cutshaw refuses to answer but instead gives him a St. Christopher medal.

They continue discussions about the existence of God, self-sacrifice and why would one man help another un-selflessly,. Kane is convinced that God has a divine path that all men follow, Cutshaw wants proof of this. In the meantime, Kane has requested that all the patients are allowed to act out their inner fantasies in the safety of the castle walls. The next scenes are then filled with a DeVinci painter, Moses Gunn as Superman, an assortment of Nazi soldiers and William Peter Blatty himself as a deranged doctor, and Jason Miller as a playwright staging a Shakespearean play with dogs! This makes to jobs of the warders and doctors even more stressful. Kane is trying to break the metal blocks on all his patient to see if he can ‘reach out’ to them.

In the meantime, Cutshaw escapes the castle and visits a bar. A biker gang recognises Cutshaw from news reports and tortures him. A waitress at the bar contacts the hospital, and Kane arrives to retrieve him. Kane humbles himself to the bikers, taking insults upon insults to extricate Cutshaw, but the bikers are disgusted by his behaviour. The gang attempt to torture Cutshaw once again. this time Kane snaps and kills most of the bikers with his bare hands. including Richard Lynch in a small role. Kane and Cutshaw return to the castle, and the police arrive to arrest Kane for the murders at the bar. Cutshaw visits Kane in his office, who is tired and  has wrapped himself in a blanket to rest on a chair. Dreamy and distant, Kane mumbles to Cutshaw about God and proof of human goodness before falling unconscious. As Cutshaw leaves the office, Kane’s hand emerges from his blanket and drops a bloody knife. Outside Kane’s room, Cutshaw notices a spot of blood on his shoe. Rushing back in, Cutshaw discovers that Kane committed suicide to provide proof of human goodness. This makes Cutshaw ‘snap back’ into reality as Kane has proved that an act of self-sacrifice can help and heal.

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The end of the film sees Cutshaw  return to the castle in full military uniform apparently well, where he decides to visit the rooms in the building, now abandoned by the Governmnet. Holding a letter written by Kane, Cutshaw now fully understands what Kane was trying to implie, that Kanes selfless sacrifice allowed Cutshaw to regain his mental balance and maybe find ‘God”

The BluRay release of the film in the UK actually passed me by, it as only by chance that a visit to @fopphcharingcross and a look through their horror section I found it. What did strike me as odd is that the film was hard to place in any category. But this is how it goes sometimes in the land of film collecting.

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The UK Quad Poster at the time depicted Stacy Keach in a prone scared posed with the lead biker holding a knife in a gloved hand, giving the first impression that this film was a violent thriller. The artwork seems to have borrowed heavily form Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange artwork, especially the warning triangle surrounding the biker, which was either a stroke of genius or the usual lazy graphic designers rip-off. Though thinking about it, both films were distributed by Warner Bros. so I guess the advertising department at Warners were feeling lazy at the time..

To sum up, The Ninth Configuration is a film that should be seen as I found it a challenging film to watch and understand.  As Blatty’s  background was as a Jusuit priest in training, his religious musings were easily enough to grasp and the collection of inmates at the asylum were well thought out and fantastically performed. The direction by Blatty himself is competently done all in all a very original movie. I am glad I finally watched The Ninth Configuratin and I am pleased that I managed to write a few words about this quite extraordinary feature film.

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