Altered States (1980)

R  |   |  Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller  |  25 December 1980 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 22,660 users  
Reviews: 127 user | 80 critic

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



(written for the screen by) (as Sidney Aaron) , (novel)
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Miguel Godreau ...
Primal Man
Dori Brenner ...
Peter Brandon ...
Charles White-Eagle ...
Megan Jeffers ...
Grace Jessup
Jack Murdock ...
Hector Orteco
Obispo (as Frank McCarthy)
Deborah Baltzell ...
Schizophrenic Patient
Young Rosenberg


It's the late 1960's. Just for a lark, graduate student Eddie Jessup, known for being unconventional, brilliant and slightly mad, conducts experiments with an isolation chamber, using himself as the subject. His experiences in the chamber cause him to hallucinate, much of the imagery being religious-based despite he not being a religious man. Seven years later, he is a respected full professor in the Harvard Medical School. Believing he has lost his edge and has fallen into an unwanted state of respectability, Eddie decides to resume his work with sensory deprivation, this time using hallucinogens, specifically untested ones used in mystical Mexican rituals, to enhance the experience of being in the isolation tank. After initial tests, he claims he entered an alternate physical and mental state. Although unbelieving of Eddie's claims, his colleagues Arthur Rosenberg and Mason Parrish, as well as Eddie's wife, Emily, who is in her own right a respected academic, are concerned for ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

drugs | science | caveman | ritual | drug | See All (260) »


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


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

25 December 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Estados alterados  »

Box Office


$25,000,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| (MegaSound encoding)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


This film was an early user of primitive CGI. The final transformation segments scanned in footage of William Hurt wearing Dick Smith's distorted bodysuits and added in the granular energy effect by computer. This film was also one of the first movies to use computer assistance to make rotoscope mattes (needed for both Hurt's and Blair Blown's transformation in the final sequence). See more »


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


Eddie Jessup: Memory is energy! It doesn't disappear - it's still in there. There's a physiological pathway to our earlier consciousnesses. There has to be; and I'm telling you it's in the goddamned limbic system.
Mason Parrish: You're a whacko!
Eddie Jessup: What's whacko about it, Mason? I'm a man in search of his true self. How archetypically American can you get? We're all trying to fulfill ourselves, understand ourselves, get in touch with ourselves, face the reality of ourselves, explore ourselves, expand ourselves. Ever since we ...
See more »


Referenced in We Bought a Zoo (2011) See more »


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User Reviews

Altered States is a REALLY cool movie!!!
21 January 1999 | by (Stereling Hts., Michigan) – See all my reviews

If there is any reason to like a film as meaningless or pointless as this, it's that it is a "Cedar Point" of a special visual effects ride! I still haven't figured out how or why the things in Altered States happened the way they did. But I think that this is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made. Who cares if the plot or characters worked or not? When you are watching the mesmerizing images and special effects (which are only slightly dated), then you will understand why this is such a great movie! I still don't know how Ken Russell got these images on film. And the very intricately constructed images fly by so fast in the quick cuts, that it's like a dream that we can barely remember. It's a dream that you can't define or put your finger on. And that is the real reason why I like this movie. I just purchased the Dolby Digital reissue on LD, and I hope more special editions of this film come soon!

21 of 32 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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