Altered States (1980)

Directed by Ken Russell


Remember when you were a kid and you saw one of those shampoo commercials where the lady’s boobs were just offscreen? Or you found a racy photo in one of your mom’s Cosmopolitans? Or that one tiny photo of Jan Michael Vincent in the nude in the back of a Playboy? Or that ad with Burt Reynolds in just the top half of a football jersey? That first source of adolescent fantasy that sets the stage for your future adult fantasies? Mine was William Hurt in Altered States. The first time I remember going, “Heeeeyyy… who is thaaat??” Also the movie was pretty neat.

The effects are still largely pretty fantastic. Dated, yes, but not in a way that makes it seem cheap, which is saying a lot considering Ken Russell’s history of subpar visual stunts (ahem… The Lair of the White Worm). I still found myself often thinking, “I wonder how they did that??”

This is William Hurt’s first film (and Drew Barrymore’s!), but he’s a good as he’s ever been, even working with material that could very easily have gone super pretentious and esoteric. And Bob Balaban! I know him mostly for his many appearances in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, but he’s great here as a young scientist.

So while the film is definitely very of its time, it’s still an enjoyable (and incredibly psychedelic) watch. Even better, it would make for a perfect film to play in the background at a party, or as a double feature with The Holy Mountain (1973).

— B

My rating: 7/10

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