NOVEMBER 25, 2007
Well, after Gothic, I was certainly not clamoring for more Ken Russell movies, but I always heard good things about Altered States, and any movie with William Hurt AND Bob Balaban can’t be altogether bad, so I gave it a shot. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved it, it was certainly enjoyable for the most part, if totally fucked up and at times just utterly baffling.
The film reminded me of old school Cronenberg (The Brood and Videodrome in particular) in which a ridiculous concept was taken deadly serious and paced very deliberately, favoring dialogue and a cerebral tone over typical action and horror. There’s also a lot of religious imagery (particularly in the first half hour or so, thankfully weeded out as the film progressed in favor of just discussing God rather than show dream sequences of blood pouring on a Bible), so crazy Catholics be wary.
The effects work is pretty phenomenal (then again, it’s Dick Smith, so that’s sort of a given), most of it holding up even today. The utterly baffling finale features a lot of truly horrible greenscreen/matte compositing, but the “ApeMan” suit as well as the frequent bulging muscles on Hurt’s arms and head are just as good as anything we see nowadays. I’m not sure if it’s really Hurt inside the ape getup, but the extended sequence is the most exciting in the film, and features the rare sight of a guy punching an elephant in the face.
I must admit I was pretty bummed that a good chunk of the film is supposedly set in Boston, yet they don’t even bother using an establishing shot to “prove” they were there (according to the IMDb they really did film there, but damned if I recognize any of it). Christ, there’s not even a shot of some rowers on the Charles, a Boston movie staple! I would love to see a full blown, legit horror movie in my beloved home capital, but until then, stuff like this and the Concord set House By The Cemetery will have to suffice.
And if you’re a Blair Brown fan, she gets frequently nude in this film. Keep in mind that the film was made in 1980, so it’s a lot more appealing than you might think if you only know her from her appearances on Law and Order or CSI. Also, Drew Barrymore pops up (not nude) as one of their daughters.
This movie came out on Christmas Day. I go the movies every Christmas, and even though one year’s movie was the roller coaster thrill ride that is Munich, I can’t imagine how this talky, brainy, strange film played to a crowd on such a festive day (especially considering that one character is described as wanting to fuck God). Fun for the whole family!
What say you?