THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

The Ninth Configuration

1980, USA

Starring: Stacy Keach (Col. Vincent Kane), Scott Wilson (Capt. Billy Cutshaw), Jason Miller (Lt. Frankie Reno), Neville Brand (Maj. Marvin Groper), Moses Gunn (Maj. Nammack), Joe Spinell (Lt. Spinell)

Director: William Peter Blatty

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Excellent

MV5BMmVkOGM1NGMtZDRjNC00MGNlLWE0MGQtMzVkNjY4ODI3MDQwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjI4MjA5MzA@._V1_UY1200_CR77,0,630,1200_AL_

This is one of the strangest and most unsettling films I’ve seen in a long time, and it totally caught me off guard…I mean with Keach in the lead I was hardly expecting anything cerebral, and the awesome poster art suggested some kind of sci-fi, action/adventure, horror crossover. It wasn’t until the opening credits were rolling that I realized this was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist. Quick pause and a Google search later and I understood that Blatty imagined the novel this was based off of, Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane, to be the sequel to The Exorcist.

Admittedly, l spent the first 10 minutes of this with mallet in hand just waiting to ring the gong and be done with it, but The Ninth Configuration really grew on me, proving itself to be extremely interesting and unpredictable. In many ways the movie reminded me of other deep and quirky self-aware black comedies…like Catch 22 or Dr. Strangelove.

Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 10.37.07 PM

The film opens with Col. Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach), a military psychiatrist, arriving at an army mental facility located in an old castle in the Pacific Northwest. Some of the inmates seem to be there for legitimate reasons, but it’s hinted at that some might just be taking the piss out of the establishment to get a pass on service. Kane is there to sort this all out, however, we soon learn that his method to remedy their ills is to indulge the inmates’ every whim.

As Kane interacts with the patients, he gravitates toward troubled astronaut Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson). Though not explicitly mentioned in the film, it turns out that Cutshaw is the connection to The Exorcist, as it was his brief encounter with Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) in full possession mode that drove him to the existential meltdown that caused him to abort his space mission and landed him in the castle of chaos. Through the interplay of Kane’s cool and certain insistence on a higher power and Cutshaw’s utter nihilism, the film becomes a thought experiment testing the limitations of each notion.

Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 10.42.52 PM

I was quite blown away by all of the performances in the film, with the standouts being the duo of Jason Miller (The Exorcist) as Lt. Frankie Reno and his sidekick Lt. Spinell (of course, played by Joe Spinell of Godfather and Maniac fame) who spend the film working on a production of Hamlet for dogs. Apparently Spinell hounded (no pun intended) Blatty so much that he created a character for him in the screenplay that didn’t exist in the original novel. But it’s Keach who gives the performance of a lifetime here, sometimes seeming to channel HAL 9000 in his calm unwavering reactions to the exploits of the inmates, but harnessing a palpable and jarring rage in the bar fight scene.

Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 10.41.59 PM

My only real critique of the film is that it should have been about 30 seconds shorter. For me, the trite reveal in the final scene sacrificed all of the heavy lifting that Blatty did throughout this pretty masterfully directed debut for the simplicity of a Hallmark card ending.

I’ll try to forget that last few seconds ever happened.

(DC)

__________________________________________________

Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

PROJECT: KILL (1976)

PROJECT: KILL (1976)
Director: William Girdler
Starring: Leslie Nielsen (John Trevor), Gary Lockwood (Frank Lassiter), Nancy Kwan (Lee Su), Vic Diaz (Alok Lee), Pamela Parsons (Lynn Walker)
Music: Robert O. Ragland
Country: USA
Viewed: Streaming
Transfer Quality: Miserable

PROJECTKILL

Mr. Lassiter: Stand! What’s your project?!?

Troops (in unison): Kill!

Mr. Lassiter: Again!

Troops (in unison): Kill!

A film that is truly as brilliant as its title!

I was in a rush downloading stuff to watch on a long flight, and I was lucky that this one got snared in the net. Actually, I almost turned this off a couple minutes in because it opens with a nighttime fight scene made practically invisible by the terrible transfer… just lots of white cuffs and collars flying around in the dark. However, the over-the-top hand-to-hand combat and man in flames emerging from an exploding jeep convinced me that I needed to tough this one out…and It was so worth it! Although William Girdler (The Manitou, Three on a Meathook) and cast really phone it in here while on vacation in the Philippines, they accidentally stumble into a masterpiece in the process.

The basic story is that the US military has developed an elite force of super-assassin bodyguards to counter political threats from abroad under the code name, Project: Kill. A surprisingly ripped Leslie Nielsen (Forbidden Planet, Naked Gun), plays it straight here as John Trevor, the commander of the operation, who has grown jaded because of the Project’s increased reliance on drugs and mind control in its quest to develop progressively super-human soldiers. Trevor…that’s Mr. Trevor to you…busts out of the base and makes his way to the Philippines to reunite with two former Kill members who are also, presumably, on the lam. Of course Trevor’s former second-in-command, Gary Lockwood’s Frank Lassiter (2001, Earth II)…that’s Mr. Lassiter to you…and Asian mob kingpin Alok Lee, played by legend of shlock Filipino cinema Vic Diaz (Beast of the Yellow Night, The Big Bird Cage), are in hot pursuit…the former to protect the secrets of the Project and the latter to exploit them. In the meantime, Trevor falls in love with bad transfer-defying beauty Nancy Kwan’s (Flower Drum Song, Wild Affair) Lee Su who must deal with his progressively violent withdrawal from Project: Kill’s drugs and mind control.

Although there are so many happy accidents and details to obsess over in this film: the wooden acting, the cartoonish bad guys, Pamela Parsons’ maladroit Lynn Walker, the sublime performance of Lonely World by Pilita Corrales–it’s the fight scenes that keep you coming back for more. You’ll never see someone overthrow a punch like Gary Lockwood! I kept pausing and replaying them because they were just too good to be believed.

In the end, I’m convinced that the low quality transfer actually adds to the experience of watching Project: Kill. You really have to earn it, but the payoff is big.
(DC)

________________________________________________________________________

Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Heath Row: HR  Matt Average: MA