Altered States (1980 film)

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A protoplasmic form of man from Altered States (1980 film)....


"When they heard his cry for help, it wasn't human." A Harvard scientist conducts experiments on himself with a hallucinatory drug and an isolation chamber that may be causing him to regress genetically.


  • Release Date: 1980
  • Country/Language: US, English
  • Genres/Technical: Science Fiction, Horror, Thriller
  • Runtime: 1 hr 42 min
  • Starring: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban
  • Director: Ken Russell
  • Writer: Paddy Chayefsky (as Sidney Aaron)
  • Producer/Production Co: Warner Bros.
  • View Trailer: (link)
  • TVTropes: (link)
  • Wikipedia Page: (link)
  • IMDB Page: (link)


MPAA Ratings

  • Rated: R (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations, Adult Content)

Tentacle Ratings

A rough measure of how "Lovecraftian" the work is:

  • Ss___ (One and a Half Tentacles: Barely Lovecraftian)

The content isn't very Lovecraftian, though the various hallucinations, mostly charged with bizarre, primeval religious and sexual imagery, may strike a vaguely "Lovecraftian" note in some viewers; the hallucinogenic experiences in the isolation chamber apparently allow the main character to regress along his genetic lines, allowing him to transform into an ape-thing and a shapeless protoplasmic mass, a theme that would require little effort to rewrite into a more Lovecraftian adaptation as a Call of Cthulhu RPG scenario.

Note: This rating is not intended as a measure of quality, merely of how closely related to Lovecraftian "Weird" fiction the work is.


Review Links:

  • Review by Graeme Clark at The Spinning Image (6/10) (link) - "Although basically a traditional mad scientist tale decked out with delirious visuals, the film ends up taking the loyal Emily's side, which can't help but feel like a let down after all we've seen; the engaging cast keep us interested, but as entertainingly pretentious as Altered States is you wish for a more intellectual conclusion than "love conquers all"."
  • Review by Roger Ebert at RogerEbertdotcom (3 Stars) (link) - "Altered States is one hell of a movie -- literally. ... I can tell myself intellectually that this movie is a fiendishly constructed visual and verbal roller coaster, a movie deliberately intended to overwhelm its audiences with sensual excess. I know all that, and yet I was overwhelmed, I was caught up in its headlong energy. ... Altered States is a superbly silly movie, a magnificent entertainment, and a clever and brilliant machine for making us feel awe, fear, and humor. That is enough. It's pure movie and very little meaning. Did I like it? Yeah, I guess I did, but I wouldn't advise trying to think about it very deeply."
  • Review by Mark Hodgson at Black Hole Reviews (link) - "Altered States is still a fascinating story, little known now beyond being visually quoted in the massively successful A-ha video 'Take On Me'."
  • Review by Mitch Lovell at The Video Vacuum (3.5 Stars) (link) - "Much like the way Hurt’s character morphs in appearance, so does the movie. It goes from being a 50’s mad scientist movie to a 60’s drug trip movie to an 80’s werewolf movie. The way Russell cheerfully hops from one genre to another is inspired and none of the switches in tone feel forced."
  • Review by Richard Scheib (4/5 Stars) (link) - "Ken Russell’s films far too often give into a campy silliness but Altered States, for all its patent nonsense as serious science, gains a transcendental cosmological grandeur that stretches the mind. This is a film that dares to grapple with ultimate meaning and no matter the straight-faced silliness of it all, it does have the same religiose magic that 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) had. Many condemn Ken Russell for his pretentiousness and overt silliness here, but to my mind it is the film’s inspired advantage."
  • Review by Richard Winters at Scopophilia Movies of the 60's, 70's, 80's (5/10) (link) - "It was directed by Ken Russell and if you are familiar with his work you realize that means the presence of lots and lots and lots of strange visuals that come at you in quick and unannounced ways. They are confusing, cluttered, and often times make no sense."


 Spoiler Section (Highlight to Read)

Respected scientist and psychology professor Edward Jessup decides to combine his experiments in sensory deprivation tanks with powerful hallucinogenic drugs, convinced that it may help him unlock different states of consciousness. The experiments are a success at first, but as Jessup continues his work, he begins to experience altered mental and also physical states. As he spends more time in sensory deprivation, his grip on reality begins to slip away.


Comments, Trivia, Dedication

Associated Mythos Elements

  • TO DO

Keeper Notes

  • A bizarre experiment (in hallucinogenics, sleep deprivation, hypnotism, isolation, etc.) sparks bizarre religious hallucinations in some of the subjects. Perhaps unknown to the scientists conducting the experiment, one of the subjects is not completely human, in the strictest Lovecraftian sense of the word, and begins to revert into a monstrous form (a savage Ape-Thing, Deep One, Ghoul, Faerie, Serpent Folk...)