The most untamed hallucinogenic freakout ever funded by a Hollywood studio, Ken Russell’s Altered States is an undiluted arthouse trip that still delivers crazed grindhouse thrills. Research scientist Eddie Jessup (an intense William Hurt, in his film debut) seeks ultimate truth in an obsessive study that combines sensory deprivation and powerful psychotropic drugs. But will he push too far when the subject is himself? Pushing himself in a singular direction unseen in his body of work either before or after, Russell fuses a dense screenplay by Paddy Chayevsky (Network) and his trademark visual style of dazzling excess with 2001: A Space Odyssey’s sound-and-light extravaganza and a Jodorowsky-esque mystical sheen, exploring both spirituality and the common bond of man as psychosexual body horror. Far from being mere pseudo-intellectual beard-stroking (although co-star Bob Balaban sports a forest’s worth of impressive facial hair here), Altered States is bizarre, exhilarating and waaaaay far out.
Dir. Ken Russell, 1980, 102 min.