THE NINTH CONFIGURATION ***** USA 1980 Dir: William Peter Blatty. 118 mins

A genre-defying, bold one-of-a-kind movie written, produced and directed by William Peter Blatty, who adapted his novel “Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane” into an uncommercial, distributor-panicking feature film. A towering Gothic castle in North America has become home to a group of American marines who exhibited signs of insanity that ensured their exit from the Vietnam draft; a suspicious government has backed the unconventional research facility to figure out if their mental state is genuine.
Psychiatrist Stacy Keach sets out to “reach” the patients, including an ex-astronaut (Scott Wilson) who refused to go to the moon because it was bad for his skin, and Jason Miller as a patient with lofty ambitions to produce Shakespeare’s plays enacted entirely by dogs (“It’s a fuckin’ headache but someone’s gotta do it!”). Although the ultimate plot twist is heavily telegraphed, Blatty brilliantly juggles the tonal shifts, as the film veers from social satire and outright black comedy to sombre reflections on mortality and faith. Uniquely funny, touching and oppressive, it is full of quotable, witty dialogue (“I believe in the Devil because the prick keeps doing commercials”), clever performances and stand-out set pieces: none more so than the protracted climactic confrontation in a seedy bar between Keach, Wilson and a pair of camp bikers. In a peculiar way, it makes for a wonderfully diverse double bill with the screen version of Blatty’s THE EXORCIST. Remarkable cast also features small roles for Richard Lynch, Tom Atkins and Joe Spinnell.

Review by Steven West

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