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Altered States (1980)

2:04 | Trailer
A psycho-physiologist experiments with drugs and a sensory-deprivation tank and has visions he believes are genetic memories.


Ken Russell


Paddy Chayefsky (written for the screen by) (as Sidney Aaron), Paddy Chayefsky (novel)
4,627 ( 306)
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
William Hurt ... Eddie Jessup
Blair Brown ... Emily Jessup
Bob Balaban ... Arthur Rosenberg
Charles Haid ... Mason Parrish
Thaao Penghlis ... Eccheverria
Miguel Godreau Miguel Godreau ... Primal Man
Dori Brenner Dori Brenner ... Sylvia Rosenberg
Peter Brandon Peter Brandon ... Hobart
Charles White-Eagle ... The Brujo
Drew Barrymore ... Margaret Jessup
Megan Jeffers Megan Jeffers ... Grace Jessup
Jack Murdock ... Hector Orteco
Francis X. McCarthy ... Obispo (as Frank McCarthy)
Deborah Baltzell Deborah Baltzell ... Schizophrenic Patient
Evan Richards ... 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 his 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


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


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Ken Russell alleged in interviews that he was the 27th choice for director, stating that Warner Bros. only hired him after 26 other directors had passed on the project. See more »


When Eddie is in the isolation tank and Arthur monitors him, a printer periodically produces Eddie's EEG in a paper strip that grows every second, with a characteristic noise repeating. When the shot changes, the noise is still heard; thus, when the printer is seen again, the strip should have grown a lot. However, the strip is approximately the same length. See more »


Eddie Jessup: You saved me. You redeemed me from the pit. I was in it, Emily. I was *in* that ultimate moment of terror that is the beginning of life. It is nothing. Simple, hideous nothing. The final truth of all things is that there is no final Truth. Truth is what's transitory. It's human life that is real. I don't want to frighten you, Emily, but what I'm trying to tell you is that moment of terror is a real and living horror, living and growing within me now, and the only thing that keeps it from ...
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Alternate Versions

ABC edited 7 minutes from this film for its 1983 network television premiere. See more »


Referenced in Psych: Any Given Friday Night at 10PM, 9PM Central (2009) See more »


Light My Fire
Written by Robby Krieger, Jim Morrison, John Densmore and Ray Manzarek
Performed by The Doors
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User Reviews

Intelligent and original...not for everyone though,
10 August 2005 | by willywantsSee all my reviews

During a series of sensory-deprivation experiments, a professor devolves into a prehistoric form of life. This bizarre yet intriguing sci-fi offering comes from Ken Russell, a genre filmmaker who's made a handful of weak films, including The Lair of the White Worm (1988) and Gothic (1986). The script comes from Paddy Chayefsky, who also wrote the book upon which the film is based. Though Chayefsky disowned the film and Russell's direction, it remains among the best films in both they're careers. The best thing about the film is easily the script, which is intelligent and thought-provoking. Russell's direction is quite good as well; the editing on this film is truly top-notch. The actors gave great performances, especially a very young-looking William Hurt as the lead. In my opinion, Blair Brown's performance was at times a little uneven, but that never hurt the movie. The make-up effects, from Dick Smith, were terrific. The imagery—including visions of hell, a seven-eyed goat-man (how cool is that?), hideously mutated human bodies and a truly trippy vision of the creation of life—are startling. There's some decent gore too, included a nasty gutted lizard (which looks suspiciously realistic if you ask me…) and other goodies I won't spoil for you. Also worth mentioning is a great score from John Corigliano, which is unsettling and very suspenseful.

This film is NOT for everyone—some viewers might be lost by the scientific aspects of the film and the hallucinogenic scenes. If you like everything explained to you and you're afraid of a little ambiguity, this isn't for you. If you want a different, intelligent sci-fi film…see this.


Just one complaint though—I'm no scientist, but wouldn't it be impossible for a human being to survive the physical and metabolic changes of a transformation like the one seen in the film? (I know, I know, it's just a movie…).

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Official Sites:

Official site




English | Spanish

Release Date:

25 December 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Altered States See more »

Filming Locations:

Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$174,650, 28 December 1980

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo | 70 mm 6-Track (MegaSound encoding)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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