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Altered States (1980)

R  |   |  Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller  |  25 December 1980 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 22,409 users  
Reviews: 127 user | 78 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 & 4 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) »


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 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
See  »

Did You Know?


The picture was part of a 1980s cycle of prehistoric man movies. The films included Caveman (1981), Cavegirl (1985), Hundra (1983), Iceman (1984), Ghost Warrior (1984), Missing Link (1988), Altered States (1980), Luggage of the Gods! (1983), Quest for Fire (1981) and The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986). See more »


While Arthur takes Eddie's blood and Mason is yelling at him, the position of the bloody rag used to wipe Eddie's face clean as well as the EEG wiring changes positions between shots. See more »


Eddie Jessup: What dignifies the Yogic practices is that the belief system itself is not truly religious. There is no Buddhist God per se. It is the Self, the individual Mind, that contains immortality and ultimate truth.
Emily Jessup: What the hell is not religious about that? You've simply replaced God with the Original Self.
Eddie Jessup: Yes, but we've localized it. Now I know where the Self is. It's in our own minds. It's a form of human energy. Our atoms are six billion years old. We've got six billion years of memory in our ...
See more »


Voile d'Orphee
by Pierre Henry
See more »

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Above all, a love story
18 January 2006 | by (The Man-Cave) – See all my reviews

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 Evangelical 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.

85 of 98 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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