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Altered States

Still of William Hurt in Altered States


A Harvard scientist conducts experiments on himself with a hallucinatory drug and an isolation chamber that may be causing him to regress genetically.

Release Year: 1980

Rating: 6.7/10 (12,265 voted)

Ken Russell

Stars: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban

An American researching different states of consciousness with the aid of mind altering drugs and an isolation chamber begins to experience disturbing physical changes in his body that point toward an evolutionary regression.

Writers: Paddy Chayefsky, Paddy Chayefsky


William Hurt

Eddie Jessup

Blair Brown

Emily Jessup

Bob Balaban

Arthur Rosenberg

Charles Haid

Mason Parrish

Thaao Penghlis


Miguel Godreau

Primal Man

Dori Brenner

Sylvia Rosenberg

Peter Brandon


Charles White-Eagle

The Brujo

Drew Barrymore

Margaret Jessup

Megan Jeffers

Grace Jessup

Jack Murdock

Hector Orteco

Francis X. McCarthy


(as Frank McCarthy)

Deborah Baltzell

Schizophrenic Patient

Evan Richards

Young Rosenberg

In the basement of a university medical school Dr . Jessup floats naked in total darkness. The most terrifying experiment in the history of science is out of control… and the subject is himself

Release Date: 25 December 1980

Filming Locations: 168th St. Broadway, New York City, New York, USA

Opening Weekend: $174,650
(28 December 1980)
(3 Screens)

Gross: $19,853,892

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


One of the few films to be released theatrically with the "Megasound" sound system format. Megasound was a movie theater sound system created by Warner Bros in the early 1980s. It was used to enhance the premiere engagements of a handful of Warner features. Theaters equipped for Megasound had additional speakers mounted on the left, right and rear walls of the auditorium. Selected soundtrack events with lots of low-frequency content (thuds, crashes, explosions, etc) were directed to these speakers at very high volume, creating a visceral effect intended to thrill the audience.


The introductory story is set in 1967, but exterior shots of the streets shows a VW Rabbit and a Plymouth Volare, both 1970s cars.


[First line]

Arthur Rosenberg:
The tank itself was unusual in that it was vertical, and looked like an old boiler.

User Review

Above all, a love story


It's been a quarter century since I first experienced Altered States,
Ken Russell's take on Paddy Chayevsky's novel of the search for a
common bond between all of us, the ability to love. I personally don't
care if Chayevsky disowned the movie or if Russell resented him for it
or how many angels you can set on the head of a pin, for that matter.
Altered States is a harshly beautiful and intellectual movie based on a
book with the same adjectives.

I'm not going to praise the fine performances, the dazzling special
effects, or the painful, emotional epiphany that the lead character,
Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) experiences as he fights his way past the
roadblock of pure intellect. I want to praise Altered States for its
emotional and intellectual message of the power of love to embrace us
all and heal our wounds.

Altered States is not for the weak of stomach or the easily offended.
The imagery is disturbing and, at times, repulsive. There are scenes of
blasphemy that I know have put off Christian friends of mine. But the
central idea of a commonality, a kinship that humans have with one
another and the danger of setting oneself apart to avoid the pain of
interacting and loving is, I believe, supremely satisfying at both an
intellectual and emotional level.

Altered States isn't one of the very best films I've seen, but it
surely has been a source of joy for me. And if it doesn't turn your
crank–or turns it the wrong way–then find your joy in another film or
other media . . . and remember to love.