Friday, 15 April 2016

The Ninth Configuration (1980)

Now here’s a very strange film indeed, one that’s getting a Blu-ray and DVD re-release courtesy of Second Sight. 
At an isolated gothic castle somewhere in the Pacific North West of America (although it looks more as if we’re in Germany), American soldiers who have developed a very specific type of psychosis are kept as inmates / patients. One of their number, Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson) went mad just as he was about to man a mission to the moon. To the asylum comes Colonel Kane (Stacy Keach), a ‘top psychiatrist’ according to Major Marvin Groper (Neville Brand from Tobe Hooper’s DEATH TRAP but without the crocodile this time), who is going to attempt to rehabilitate them by allowing them to live out their fantasies. As the environment within the castle becomes increasingly eccentric, it turns out Colonel Kane may have some suppressed madness of his own that he needs to deal with.

Yes this actually happens in this film
THE NINTH CONFIGURATION is written, directed and produced by William Peter Blatty from his source novel. Interestingly, even his book is somewhat schizophrenic, split into two different versions, one going by the movie title, the other being known as Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane. By handling three of the major jobs in moviemaking himself, this truly is a case of Blatty being the movie’s auteur, and what an odd picture it is.

…as does this
The first hour or so feels like an attempt to create a modern American version of Hogarth’s paintings for Bedlam in his Rake’s Progress. There’s plenty of sheer lunacy on display here, much of it as comic as it is disorientating, and hopefully some of the stills reproduced here will give you a sense of the film’s madness.

Castle in the air?
In the second half the film switches gears, becoming darker and much more violent, finally culminating in a climax that feels a little bit of a mis-step and an epilogue that’s not entirely satisfying. THE NINTH CONFIGURATION still makes for fascinating viewing, however. There’s nothing out there quite like it and if you fancy watching something a bit different this might well be for you.

This still alone would have made me want to see the film
Second Sight’s disc comes packed with extras, including a Blatty commentary, interviews with Blatty, Keach, composer Barry DeVorzon, and actors Jason Miller, Tom Atkins, Richard Lynch and Stephen Powers. There’s also an archival introduction from Mark Kermode, and a number of deleted scenes and outtakes. These are especially worth watching as they’re all bits Blatty was loathe to excise and would have added even more to the weird, creakingly insane ambience he was trying to achieve. 

The insanity of violence erupts in the second half
Ambitious, disorientating, violent and different, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION is by no means 100 percent successful, but it is the kind of thing you won’t have seen before, at least not quite like this.

William Peter Blatty's THE NINTH CONFIGURATION is out from Second Sight on Blu-ray and DVD on 25th April 2016

1 comment:

  1. Shot in Budapest, hence why two UK-based "North American" stalwarts appear, Bruce "I want a Waldorf salad!" Boa and David Healy.