An insane asylum located in the North West region of the United States attempts an experimental test to root out Vietnam soldiers faking signs of psychosis. A new commanding officer, a military psychiatrist named Colonel Kane, will take the lead of the experiment. But Kane’s methods are unorthodox and Kane himself seems distant from what’s expected from him, leaving the military patients, and even some of the personnel, wondering about his state of mind. Kane lets the committed soldiers live out their most outrageous fantasies and the further his practice plays out, the more that there might actually be something terribly wrong with the new commanding colonel.
“The Ninth Configuration” is the big screen adapted version of William Peter Blatty’s novel entitled “Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane.” Blatty, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, dives back into motion pictures once again after the success of another previous adapted novel; a little piece of work you may be familiar with called “The Exorcist.” In the span of seven years, Blatty was able to cast again the versatile Jason Miller, who had portrayed a much more serious Father Karras in “The Exorcist,” as one of the leading asylum inmates in “The Night Configuration.” From then on, the hired case was forming into a formidable force of method actors including Stacy Keach (“Slave of the Cannibal God”), Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead), Ed Flanders (“The Exorcist III”), Robert Loggia (“Scarface”), Neville Brand (“Eaten Alive”), George DiCenzo (“The Exorcist III”), Moses Gunn (“Rollerball”), Joe Spinell (“Maniac”), Tom Atkins (“The Fog”), Richard Lynch (“Invasion U.S.A.”), and Steve Sander (“Stryker”). This cast is a wet dream of talent.
What’s unique about Blatty’s direction of this film is the non-displaying of action and dialogue off screen. Whether it’s character narration, dialogue track overlay, or slightly off camera view, the spectator, for more about half the film or perhaps even more, isn’t being directed to focus on the current action or dialogue and this creates the illusion of hearing bodiless voices or activities, as if you’re part of the ranks in the mentally insane roster. Only until the truth or catalyst is reveal is when more traditional means of camera focus is applied.
To make this technique work and to make it not become tiresome to the viewer, Blatty had to write some amazing dialogue and with him being a novelist and all, the dialogue was absolutely, 100 percent brilliant. Lets not also neglect to mention that with unrivaled dialogue, out of this world thespians must be accompanied to breathe life into the black printed words that are simply laying upon white pages. Scott Wilson’s and Jason Miller’s craziness is unparalleled while, on the other side of the spectrum, Stacy Keach delivers a melancholic performance that balances out the tone of the film from what could have been considered an anti-Vietnam war comedy at first glance that spun quickly with an unforeseen morph into a suspenseful thriller about the consequences of war PTSD and the affect it has on those surrounding.
Gerry Fisher’s cinematography encompasses the Gothicism of the remote Germanic castle to where every ghastly statue and crypt-like stone comes alive like in a horror movie. The setting couldn’t be any of an antonym for a loony-bin set. Even though the film is suppose to be set in North West America, the location used was actually in Wierschem, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany at the medieval Castle Eltz and the story subtly explains how the castle came to be in “America.” To the opposition of such a barbarically beautiful castle, the score by Barry De Vorzon (The Warriors) in the first act into the second is playful, lighthearted, and childish in an appropriate story tone, but turns quickly sinister and angry during progression, building upon the revealing climax.
Classic film and TV distributor Second Sight brings this cult classic onto DVD and Blu-ray in the UK. Since this was a screener copy of the DVD, I’m unable to provide any audio or video technical comments, but the screener did include the generous amount of bonus material including interviews with writer-director William Peter Blatty, and individual interviews with Stacy Keach, Tom Atkins and Stephen Powers, composer Barry De Vorzon, production designer William Malley and art director J. Dennis Washington. There are also deleted scenes and outtakes and a Mark Kermode introduction. A substantial release for Second Sight and a fine film for any collection so make sure you pick up or order this Second Sight release today!