"The movie that made a monkey out of William Hurt!"
I said that I disagreed with the notion that "The Devils is the only Ken Russell movie you need to see" and I meant it! (#1)Synopsis: William Hurt stars as a spiritually shakey anthropologist experimenting with isolation tanks, genetic memories, and psychotropic drugs. When he starts experimenting with the mother of all psychedelics, a powerful drug fashioned after a neurotoxic hallucinogen used in the rituals of primitive tribes, things start to get crazy as Hurt reaches the dawn of human consciousness and beyond, while alienating his wife (Blair Brown) and comrades (Bob Balaban and Charles Haid, that grumpy guy from Hill Street Blues). Based on Paddy Chayefsky's novel of the same name.
This film is one of the best metaphorical arguments for drug use, and against EXCESSIVE drug use that I've ever seen. It explores the notion that it's more than possible to go too far in your search for the truth or inner balance. Some knowledge is best left unknown, especially that little 'secret of life'. PI and other films have explored it further, but Altered States was one of the first with the chutzpah to go where no film had gone before.
Ken Russell earned my respect once again with his approach to directing the actors. Tension and confusion are built by having actors talk and/or argue at the same time as another. This made my head swim, and displayed the conflict between each character's lifestyle and belief system. Much like Kubrick, Russell prefers to set a mood around a stationary and neutral camera, letting the actors pull you in slowly with their interaction. That's not to say that Russell is half-asleep during filming. The over-the-top visuals that this rather flamboyant director is famous for using are present throughout. The scenes involving the South American indians and their ritualistic communion are incredibly haunting. The regression and transformation scenes are some of the most vividly twisted and horrifying ever captured. Russell layers on the tension and foreboding with every psychologically disturbing dream and hallucination scene. That's not to say that the film is flawless, indeed one or two parts seem tacked on merely for the special fx factor. But the sheer craft by which Russell draws one into the story, the excellent performances by Hurt, Brown, Balaban, and Haid, along with the eerie and dissonant soundtrack by John Corigliano (Revolution) are more than enough to distract from the film's very minor editing flaws.
I also challenge you to squint your eyes and see if you can spot Drew Barrymore's first film role. Let's hope she didn't get ahold of too many of those psychotropics!To understand the universe, is to understand chaos, and to understand chaos, is to understand INSANITY. I highly recommend this, an unsung horror/sci-fi classic if ever there was one.