4 Movies Like Altered States (1980)

Staff & contributors

, 1995

Something is wrong with Carol White. She’s a well-off housewife living in the picturesque suburbs of Los Angeles. Her husband’s job is going well, her step-son is pleasant, and her social life consists of boutique lunches, fruit-filled diets, and lavishly pink baby showers—all is well on this side of the white picket fence.

Until Carol starts sneezing. Then she begins coughing, and she experiences a violent asthma attack while driving on the freeway. Afterward, Carol’s nose won’t stop bleeding. She starts having seizures. Struggling to breathe, Carol winds up in the hospital, seeing doctors and psychologists trying to diagnose what’s wrong and whether her mystery illness is physiological or psychological.

Todd Haynes’ Safe is an unnerving examination at our relationship with the environment—and in an increasingly modernized world, how much we can tolerate of what we create: white noise, toxins, busy work, everyday poisons, monotonous obligations. It’s also a complicated reflection on the ways in which women’s pain is disregarded and minimized, and what the loss of invisible agency looks like when it begins to manifest outward.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allan Wasserman, April Grace, Beth Grant, Brandon Cruz, Cassy Friel, Chauncey Leopardi, Dean Norris, Eleanor Graham, Elinor O. Caplan, Francesca P. Roberts, James Le Gros, James Lyons, Janel Moloney, Jean St. James, Jessica Harper, Jodie Markell, John Apicella, Julianne Moore, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Lorna Scott, Martha Velez, Mary Carver, Peter Crombie, Peter Friedman, Rio Hackford, Ronnie Farer, Saachiko, Sarah Scott Davis, Steven Gilborn, Susan Norman, Tim Gardner, Tricia Dong, Wendy Haynes, Xander Berkeley

Director: Todd Haynes

The shiver-inducing talents of Stephen King, David Cronenberg, and Christopher Walken meld to produce this supremely chilly supernatural thriller adaptation. Schoolteacher Johnny’s (Walken) perfect life is overturned when a horrific car accident puts him in a coma that robs him of five years of his life — and with them, his job and girlfriend Sarah (Brooke Adams), who moves on with someone else.

For anyone familiar with Cronenberg’s films, the director’s involvement might lead you to expect results from this premise as idiosyncratic as Crash or Videodrome’s, but The Dead Zone takes a decidedly more mainstream path than those works. In the place of graphic body horror is more palatable — but no less affecting — emotional bleakness, as Johnny contends with losing Sarah and a reality-warping new ability: he now has the power to see into the future of anyone he touches. While being forewarned about house fires and nuclear war might be a blessing for those whose lives he saves, Johnny struggles with the emotional burden of being responsible for preventing these future tragedies. More than any of the chilling setpieces — a frantic hunt for a serial killer, the attempted assassination of a demagogue — it’s Johnny’s grappling with this gift-slash-curse that gives The Dead Zone its fierce intensity.

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Anthony Zerbe, Barry Flatman, Brooke Adams, Chapelle Jaffe, Christopher Walken, Cindy Hinds, Claude Rae, Colleen Dewhurst, David Rigby, Géza Kovács, Hardee T. Lineham, Helene Udy, Herbert Lom, Jackie Burroughs, James Bearden, John Koensgen, Ken Pogue, Leslie Carlson, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Campbell, Peter Dvorsky, Ramon Estevez, Roberta Weiss, Roger Dunn, Sean Sullivan, Tom Skerritt, William B. Davis

Director: David Cronenberg

Rating: R

Esteros revolves around the childhood friends Matías and Jerónimo, who reach adolescence and experience sexual attraction to each other before being separated by circumstance. When they meet again ten years later, they explore their long-repressed feelings for each other. 

This moving and emotionally satisfying love story is shot against the backdrop of the Argentinian countryside whose glories are beautifully captured throughout the movie. The performance of the two leads is excellent and the chemistry between them is almost palpable. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Blas Finardi Niz, Esteban Masturini, Felipe Titto, Ignacio Rogers, Joaquín Parada, Marcelo Subiotto, María Merlino, Mariana Martinez, Renata Calmon

Director: Papu Curotto

Waking Life is composed exclusively of a series of conversations involving the main character, with him sometimes participating and sometimes just as a spectator. The discussions revolve around issues such as metaphysics, free will, social philosophy or the meaning of life. The title refers to a quote from Jorge Santayana: "sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.", and the whole movie wanders around the state of a lucid dream, emphasized by the rotoscoping technique in which it was filmed. Waking Life is not just a movie worth watching, it is a movie worth watching a thousand times, because you will always notice something that you have previously missed out.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Adam Goldberg, Alex Jones, Bill Wise, Caveh Zahedi, Charles Gunning, Ethan Hawke, Glover Gill, Jason Liebrecht, Jeanine Attaway, John Christensen, Julie Delpy, Kelly Rebecca Nichols, Kim Krizan, Lorelei Linklater, Louis Black, Mona Lee Fultz, Nicky Katt, Peter Atherton, Richard Linklater, Steve Brudniak, Steve Fitch, Steven Prince, Steven Soderbergh, Timothy "Speed" Levitch, Trevor Jack Brooks, Wiley Wiggins

Director: Richard Linklater

Rating: R