The Ninth Configuration (1980)


(director/writer: William Peter Blatty; screenwriter: from the novel by William Peter Blatty; cinematographer: Gerry Fisher; editors: T. Battle Davis/Peter Lee-Thompson/Roberto Silvi; music: Barry DeVorzon; cast: Stacy Keach (Colonel Kane), Scott Wilson (Captain Cutshaw), Jason Miller (Lieutenant Reno), Neville Brand (Maj. Marvin Groper), Moses Gunn (Major Nammack), Robert Loggia (Lieutenant Bennish), George DeCenzo (Captain Fairbanks), Joe Spinell (Lt. Spinell), Ed Flanders (Colonel Fell), Steve Sandor (Stanley), Tom Atkins (Sergeant Krebs); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producer: William Peter Blatty; Starmaker ( United Film Distribution Company); 1980)
“Obtuse thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William Peter Blatty(“The Exorcist III“), in his debut as a director, writes the unique surreal screenplay from his own existential 1971 novel. It’s an obtuse thriller, which is mystifying though thoroughly enjoyable. It goes over a mine field littered with religious allegory and offers a fair amount of portentousness before landing somewhere in the other world. The psychological thriller veers between being rapturous and bewildering. It’s considered by many critics as a classic cult film, despite its flaws.

In a secluded New England castle, converted into a top secret psychiatric institution for military officers, Marine Colonel Kane (Stacey Keach) is the new man in charge of treating the mentally disturbed personnel–mostly Nam vets. Kane must decide if the patients have real problems or are shirkers. His most prized patient is Captain Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), an astronaut who is treated by Kane after he had a nervous breakdown just as his space capsule was going to the moon and refused to go. The shrink, hiding a dark secret about a violent twin brother, provides radical therapy.

The puzzling film turns out to be about Post-Vietnam Stress Disorder, a term coined after the book and movie. It’s also about the shock that the bad war brought to the country, as the psychological world can’t figure out why suddenly there’s such a rise in insanity throughout the military service community. The pic is written from a theological view, as it searches for answers if God exists and wonders how there’s any goodness in a world gone stark raving mad.

The public, the studio and many critics were confused about what Blatty was trying to say, and the film never got the praise I believe it deserved.