The Ninth Configuration (1979)

April 5th, 2016
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director.: William Peter Blatty

Cast: Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders

USA 1979 | Fantasy Drama | 117 min.

“I’ve been a lot of places but I think I’ve always known, that I’ll always come back to San Antone”: thus starts author turned filmmaker William Peter Blatty’s THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. Mainly renowned for three novels turned into mainstream movies: Twinkle, twinkle ‘Killer’ Kane (filmed as The Ninth Configuration directed, written and produced by the author); The Exorcist, filmed under the same title by William Friedkin and ‘Legion’, directed for the screen by Blatty himself as Exorcist III. This strange and quirky horror drama, has some ‘laugh out loud’ moments and is so weird it’s certainly worth a watch as a cult outing of the most bizarre (it includes such choice lines as “far too numerous to enumerate”; “the Man in the Moon tried to fuck my sister” and “You wouldn’t know the Devil from Bette Davis”).

Situated in a Gothic castle in the Pacific North West of the USA (along the lines of the one in Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers with the same kind of zany humour), Center 18, a Military Psychiatric Establishment, is run by Hudson Kane (Keach), who delivers his lines with deadpan nonchalence. He is tasked with to finding out if the inmates are simulating their illnesses or are truly insane. Capt. Cutshaw (a brilliantly perverse Scott Wilson) has adapted the whole works of Shakespeare for dogs (he has a Hungarian Vizsla), and Lt. Frankie Reno (Miller) is an astronaut, who is obsessed with the existence of God, asking Kane to show him a single act of self-sacrifice, to prove His existence. The medical office, Col. Richard Fell (Ed Flanders) finds out that Kane has murderous phantasies and declares him insane.

When a new inmate Gilman arrives, he points out that Hudson Kane is in fact the notorious Marine Killer Kane. Dr. Fell admits that he is Kane’s brother Hudson and that the killer, Vincent, has taken his personality to make up for his crimes, becoming a healer like his brother. All this was known to the authorities who treated Killer Kane like a laboratory rat in an experiment, leaving Dr. Fell in charge. Soon afterward Cutshaw escapes and in a fight with bikers Kane saves his life giving him the example of self-sacrifice and the proof of the existence of God.

Any film with lines like “You remind me of Vincent van Gogh – either that or a lark in wheat field” (Fell to Kane), is asking for a comparison to a Max Brothers comedy, but there are also strains of Blazing Saddles here. This impression is underlined by the long discussion between Cutshaw and Reno about Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Fuller’s Shock Corridor and Lynch’s Twin Peaks are also in the mix: Blatty directs as if he’s piecing together excerpts from the most outrageous films in history. His religious beliefs are no obstacle to him: he creates Hell on Earth, and gives the most unrewarding character a chance in order to show the astronaut a way to God.

British D0P Gerry Fisher (Highlander) is adept at mixing all genres in stunning images – while the ‘plot’ is more of a hindrance to the enjoyment of script; his is an “all or nothing” approach to filmmaking and the audience will either love it or hate it. A true Marmite film; in spirit and in humour. AS


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