Ken Russell exceeds all expectations with this the first of his two American films, the second being Crimes of Passion (1984), a fantastic science fiction horror film adapted from a novel of the same name by New Yorker Paddy Chayefsky based on John C Lily’s sensory deprivation research conducted in isolation tanks under the influence of psychoactive drugs like ketamine and LSD. Altered States (1980) was the directors only sci-fi movie and quite a departure for him, although the film does include religious and sexual imagery normally found in Ken’s work.
‘Research scientist Eddie Jessup (William Hurt in his debut feature film) believes other states of consciousness are as real as everyday reality. Using sensory deprivation, then adding powerful hallucinogenic drugs, he explores these altered states and endures experiences that make madness seem a blessing’.
As well as Hurt the film stars Blair Brown (Dogville 2003) as Jessup’s long suffering wife and fellow scientist, Charles Haid (best known for his role as Andy Renko in Hill Street Blues) as Doctor Mason Parrish and a fleeting appearance of Drew Barrymore in her first feature film two years before her break through role in ET the Extra Terrestrial (1982).
The special effects need to be seen to be believed; its soundtrack, composed by classical composer John Corigliano, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score also the film was nominated for Best Sound. It was said that Ken Russell fell out with Chayefsky during filming which did not help Russell’s reputation in America, but something that’s not so well known is that he was not the first director, Arthur Penn, the films original director, resigned because, its alleged, he also could not get on with the author! This is a very underrated genre film and has, over the years, been ignored but I can honestly convey that this is one of the best science fiction movies I have seen and well worth a look for anyone interested in good imaginative cinema even if your not a Russell fan.