Altered States (1980): Ken Russell’s Bizarre Psycho-Horror Starring William Hurt in Screen Debut

Ken Russell’s bizarre psycho-horror film, which deviated substantially from Paddy Chayefsky’s script, is best-known as the movie that featured the screen debut of stage actor William Hurt.
Hurt plays a scientist, a psycho-physiologist, investigating human evolution and human consciousness, who decides to use himself as an experimental subject, leading to unanticipated and disastrous results. He becomes obsessed with performing these auto-sensory deprivation experiments until he actually changes form physically, ending up as a gorilla at a zoo.
He returns to his normal state, at which point he also involves his wife (played by the graceful Blair Brown) in the experimentation.
Paddy Chayefsky (“Network”), who also wrote the novel, was so disappointed with Russell’s picture that he decided to get billing under the fictitious as Sidney Aaron.
The cast also includes Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid, and Drew Barrymore (just before she made “E.T.”).
William Hurt would become a major screen actor in a few years, with Oscar-nominated and winning performances in “The Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Children of a Lesser God,” and “Broadcast News.”
Oscar Nominations: 2
Sound: Arthur Piantadosi, Les Fresholtz, Michael Minkler, Willie D. Burton
Original Score: John Corigliano
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Sound Oscar was “The Empire Strikes Back,” and Michael Gore won the Original Score for “Fame.”