It all started in 1979, when director Arthur Penn walked off Altered States (1980) for reasons that were never fully revealed. It didn’t immediately transpire that British filmmaker Ken Russell would take over the production. In fact, the producers went through 25 other choices before offering the film to Russell—which Russell considered apt since 27 was his lucky number. It’s not surprising he was so low down on their list. After the double whammy of Lisztomania (1975) and Valentino (1977)—especially the latter because it was so expensive—Russell was considered virtually unbankable. The filming soon proved anything but smooth, as Russell and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (on whose novel the script was based) clashed on nearly every aspect of shooting. This continued until the producers, fed up with Chayefsky’s demands, finally sided with Russell, prompting Chayefsky to have his name taken off the screenplay and to go back to New York. In the end, Altered States became an interesting dovetailing of two very different sensibilities in that it contained all of Chayefsky’s story and dialogue, while being pure Russell in terms of style and scope. It also became on of the best sci-fi horror pictures of the modern era. Its story of a scientist (William Hurt) trying to de-evolve himself to the beginning of time was intense, thematically dense, visually mind-blowing and occasionally terrifying.
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