Few films are really unclassifiable in terms of genre but The Ninth Configuration is one of those. It is a black comedy? is it a metaphysical thriller? is it a film about post-Vietnam experience? It’s all those and then some. It was written and directed by William Peter Blatty based on his earlier novel Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane written a few years before he embarked on writing the novel and screenplay of The Exorcist. Due to the humongous success of The Exorcist he was considered a horror writer but almost everything else he had written before was comedy such as A Shot in the Dark.
The Ninth Configuration is set in a large castle somewhere in the Pacific Northwest of North America (in reality it was shot in Bulgaria) which is a mental institution for the military. They aren’t sure if they faking their illnesses so they bring in Colonel Kane (Stacy Keach) to figure out what’s going on with the patients. One of the patients is a former astronaut who freaked out before he was about to be blasted off to space. They film is set mostly in the castle where the patients act strangely, there is a guy who is teaching Shakespeare to dogs (yes really), somebody does Al Jonson in black face, a soldier in Nun drag and a lot of deep conversations about god and the nature of good and evil.
The film is hallucinatory mindfuck from the opening with the usage of Denny Brooks’ San Antone to the very last moments. It’s a daring piece of cinema and naturally was a complete commercial failure when it was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 1980. Curiously it did win a Golden Globe for best screenplay and it does have a great script but you wonder what the that normally MOR awards saw in it. The film is full of phantasmagoric imagery with christ on the cross on the moon in a dream sequence being a standout so much so it has been used for some of the film’s old dvd covers. The barroom fight sequence near the end of the picture also goes down in cinema history as one of the great fight scenes.
The Ninth Configuration remains an enigma in cinema history, its a film which will unravel it’s mysteries the more you watch no doubt. The performance from Stacy Keach is a career best along with Fat City and the supporting cast are fantastically offbeat as well and The Exorcist alumni Jason Miller is especially oft-kilter. The disc includes tons of newly filmed interviews with Blatty and other cast and crew, deleted scenes, an old featurette with uber fan Mark Kermode who also does a commentary track with Blatty.