Altered Space is something of a horror film that isn’t quite a horror film. In a way, it’s difficult to describe – this is my first time watching a film by Ken Russell, but his reputation has preceded him. Specifically, his reputation for psychedelic, religious, and psychosexual imagery. All of those things are present in Altered Space in spades – with subject matter that is fundamentally horrific but is never presented in that manner.
The film follows Dr. Edward Jessup (William Hurt in his debut role), an abnormal psychologist who has been working on studying altered states of consciousness as an offshoot of his research into schizophrenia using a sensory deprivation tank. After a trip to Mexico where he partakes of the hallucinogens that a native tribe uses in a ritual ceremony, he returns with some of the drugs and begins experimenting with it under controlled situations, before moving on to using it in the sensory deprivation tank.
However, the hallucinations begin to manifest in the real world, causing Jessup’s body to begin to change and mutate outside of his control, leading his colleagues – Arthur Rosenberg (Bob Balaban) and Mason Parrish (Charles Haid) – and his wife Emily (Blair Brown) to attempt to bring him out of these – for lack of a better term – altered states.
So, this is a film that should, theoretically, be up to its neck in Cronenberg-level body horror, and it steps into that territory on a few occasions, but it never quite dives in. Instead, while the subject matter, a person completely losing control of their body, is body horror at its most basic level the focus of the film is instead on the psychedelic imagery. The score of the film heightens the psychedelic sequences of the film, instead of working to build a sense of tension or dread in the body horror sequences.
Consequently, this film feels like one that got misshelved in the video store or library – that they read the back of the box and got the impression that the body horror is the focus, instead of the psychedelia.
That said, the score of the film is really good and augments the “trip” sequences very well. The acting performances are also very well done – I’m a sucker for Bob Balaban’s work, and Hurt’s performance is tremendously animated.
That said, while I’m reviewing this for my October horror films, if you go into this film expecting horror, you’re going to be kind of disappointed.
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