Time to tune in, turn on, and drop out here at the Wop with tonight's review, a sometimes dazzlingly perceptive inward journey into man's baser self through the abuse of heavy hallucinogenic drugs and sensory deprivation tanks, as documented through the artful lens of Ken Russell, no stranger himself to bizarre visuals. I walked down to the American Theater for this one, upon release in 1980, and though I was expecting something more from the production, the one sheet still ended up on display in my room for years, as the black sheep of my collection ( long since been replaced by 'Student Bodies' and 'Poliziotto superpiu', if you're keeping score at home).FX god Dick Smith provides some unforgettable work, as usual, in supplying amorphous face-trippers, cracked bodysuit bitches, schitzy proto-humans, and more, for a game cast headed by William Hurt and Blair Brown, . "...now cue that copy of "Burnt Weenie Sandwich", maaan, I'm peaking balls!"
Ed Jessup (Hurt) is the local college's Abnormal Psych professor extraordinaire, and as such he's the envy of his colleagues, Arthur and Mason (Bob Balaban, Charles Haid) and the love object of fellow brainiac, Emily (Brown), who somehow convinces him to marry her amid his exhausting studies on schizophrenia and much sweaty couch sex. While grooving his days away in a sensory deprivation tank he surmises that even sleep states of consciousness can be brought to the surface, and pisses off to Mexico to partake in a hallucinogenic Indio mushroom party to prove his point. After tripping his face off in the middle of the jungle (hard, bro), the violent fungal roller coaster ride awakens a sudden desire to devolve into a naked, howling caveman in the prof. His desire quickly becomes obsession, as he ignores the pleas of reason from his assistants, and his now ex-wife and kids in favor of a canning jar fulla the stuff the tribe's medicine man must've let him bring home(!).
I'm not exactly sure what she's doing here, but I like it a lot.
Before too long, Eddie's running around, screeching like a monkey on bath salts, clobbering campus guards to near-death (Ohhh, that explains how Jessup and Co. are allowed back into the campus lab afterwards, he only nearly killed people in a drugged-out haze, gotcha.) and biting antelopes at the zoo, which naturally leads his wife and assistants to 180° their positions on the potentially deadly experiments, now enthusiastically supporting his decision to go ahead and fuck with his inner chemistry like a mad Russian Roulette player. He begins to lose control of his transformations, leading to a knock down, drag out orgy for the eyes as he becomes a shapeless lump of humanity, while his ex-wife naturally realizes that stripping nude and becoming a neon lightning-being is the only way she can rescue him from the mental abyss...
There's something you don't see every day...
A wee Drew Barrymore briefly appears as Hurt's daughter, and since we've never mentioned her before here and she's clearly too hot for such an injustice to continue, I threw that in. Schizophrenic as Syd Barrett in a cellar full o' psilocybin, States never seems certain of its own identity, mixing appropriately trippy imagery and lengthy moral tirades about the dangers of undertaking such a reflective journey, with mixed results in the end. Normally, reporting on Russell's usual level of artistic flair in the director's chair plus solid performances from Hurt and Brown and the Kafkaesque Smith effects work would merit a higher ratings scale score than the pedestrian deuce, but the meh feeling I'm left with afterwards, even after repeated viewings over the years, demands that I give it such. That said, I'll still watch it again sometime in the future, and you should probably give it a look, as well, if any of what I've just discussed grabs you.
Three decades later, we finally see the devastating long term effects of repeated exposure to Lipps, Inc.