Altered States

When he heard his cry for help it wasn't human

Horror Science Fiction Thriller
102 min     6.7     1980     USA


A research scientist explores the boundaries and frontiers of consciousness. Using sensory deprivation and hallucinogenic mixtures from native American shamans, he explores these altered states of consciousness and finds that memory, time, and perhaps reality itself are states of mind.


Wuchak wrote:
***“Night of the Apeman” mixed with some pretty heady material*** In the late 60s and mid-70s, a psychopathologist (William Hurt) from the New York/New England area honestly seeks ultimate truth and the origins of humanity through dubious experiments with sensory deprivation mixed with drugs, including a potent mixture used in ceremonies by Mexican AmerIndians. This leads to altered states of consciousness and amazing primordial revelations. Blair Brown is on hand as his romantic interest while Bob Balaban and Charles Haid appear as his colleagues, the latter a scientific version of a Pharisee. Directed by Ken Russell, “Altered States” (198o) is a mature sci-fi drama with elements of mystery/horror. It comes across as a meshing of movies like “Wolfen” (1981), “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), Russell’s later “The Lair of the White Worm” (1988) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). One of the fascinating things about the movie is that it shows how a person can reach other realms while in an isolated location through the power of the mind/spirit, albeit in this case with the assistance of drugs. I can relate to a degree. For instance, eleven years ago I was sleeping in bed (during the day) having an intense dream when my wife burst into the room to wake me up. The smoke alarm outside the door was blaring like crazy, but there was no smoke or fire (or heat). The intense energy evoked by my dream obviously set it off because, as soon as I woke, it suddenly stopped. This happened again the next week. What can explain this except the untapped power of the mind and focused energy? Anyway, the apeman sequence is one of the best parts of the movie and recalls those werewolf flicks noted above (of course “Wolfen” isn’t really a werewolf picture). But “Altered States” is so much more than a standard creature feature or nature-runs-amok flick. The apeman make-up is great and the bizarre imaginings are similar to the same in “The Lair of the White Worm.” While I disagree with the evolutionary nonsense (humans didn’t evolve from apes, rolling my eyes), this is a fantasy about finding the truth by Ken Russell and so I don’t expect those kinds of details to be accurate anyway. Blair is winsome in a girl-next-door kind of way and Russell doesn’t fail to capture her beauty (and I’m not tawkin about the top nudity), although that’s there too, if you’re interested. I suggest using the subtitles since a lot of the jargon is pretty technical. It helps the viewer to stay with the story if you can understand what the characters are saying and discussing. The movie runs 1 hour, 42 minutes and was shot in New York City (including the Bronx Zoo); Boston; Sierra Tarahumara, Chihuahua, Mexico (the rock formations); Burbank Studios and a VA hospital in Los Angeles. GRADE: B