Let’s be real, here: Ken Russell isn’t exactly known for being comprehensible. Take a look at Lair of the White Worm or Gothic, and tell me you don’t agree. He works in the bizarre, the fantastic; the outré, if you will. His films deal in symbolism and religious allegory and sexual expression, and often times challenge the notion of good taste. But comprehensible? No.
And why should Altered States be any different? Hovering uncomfortably above the intersection of science fiction, fantasy and horror, States, based on a novel by Paddy Chayefsky, employs the “kitchen sink” theory, which says that every device, image, shot, angle, color, sound or texture must be gathered up, shaken vigorously, and thrown back at the screen with force. Unfortunately, in some cases it doesn’t matter if any of it makes sense. This film is a mess, moving from one concept to the next without care for continuity or context; that it’s mildly redeemed by a trio of good performances–by William Hurt, Bob Balaban and Charles Haid–isn’t saying much.