Dante’s Weekend Double – Break On Through To The Other Side With The Trippy Tales ‘John Dies At The End’ And ‘Altered States’  

Altered Axe Man
William Hurt in Altered States (1980), Warner Bros. Pictures, & Bret Wagner in John Dies at the End (2012), Magnet Releasing

The first hit of psychedelic suspense is the 2012 Lovecraftian indie horror/comedy John Dies at the End.

John Dies at the End (Magnet Releasing)

From director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm I-V, Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep) comes this adaptation of the 2007 eponymous novel by Jason Pargin (under the pseudonym David Wong) that will have viewers giving weird looks to packaged meat the next time they visit their local grocery store.

Dave and John are two twentysomething slackers who come across a bizarre new drug called “Soy Sauce” which grants the user supernatural knowledge, along with the ability to travel through time, and other dimensions.

What follows next is 90 minutes of surreal mayhem that features meat monsters, demonic insects, malevolent godlike entities, a very good dog named Bark Lee, and one of the weirdest police interrogations ever filmed.

Where the film lacks in coherence, it compensates with gory enthusiasm, as it zips from one crazy moment to the next with enough unpredictable speed to harshen anyone’s buzz. It’s an over-the-top splicing of genres so hilariously unsettling that it leaves a person wondering if they’re laughing from the humor, or because they’ve lost their minds.

Paul Giamatti has a minor role as a reporter who suffers a fate so unique that not even the most astute horror buffs will see it coming. There’s also a special appearance by voice acting legend – and cult cinema hero – Clancy Brown as the great Dr. Albert Marconi.

Soy Boy
Chase Williamson is lost in the sauce in John Dies at the End (2012), Magnet Releasing

It also contains one of the greatest words in the human language – “Arachnicide.” John Dies at the End is a dark treat for anyone looking to escape reality, and quite possibly never come back.

Score yourself a free batch of the Sauce over on Pluto.  

Altered States (Warner Bros.)

This next wave of funky visuals comes courtesy of controversial director Ken Russell and his brilliant Sci-Fi/Horror film Altered States from 1980.

Based on Paddy Chayefsky’s 1978 novel of the same name, it stars William Hurt as Edward Jessup. A psychopathologist who theorizes if other states of human consciousness are just as real as our waking state, Jessup begins testing it out through sensory deprivation chambers, and from there, it becomes an obsession.

Edward travels to Mexico to take part in a spiritual ceremony that involves ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms and roots to evoke old, primal memories. After the mega tribal tripping session, he takes the recipe back home to use in his experiments. That’s when the primitive instincts become more than just a memory, and Edward starts devolving.

Altered States walks the line with the right combination of psychological horror, and body horror. It’s a slow burn that will have viewers pondering deep thoughts while occasionally hitting them with well-placed flashes of disturbing imagery.

The story itself is based off the research of the late physician/psychonaut John C. Lilly, and his experiments with sensory deprivation while under the influence of mind-altering substances.   

Another fun fact is that the “sacred mushroom” used in the film is called Amanita Muscaria. The freaky fungus is known for its big red cap with white spots, and its image has pervaded pop culture. It can be seen in the classic Smurf cartoon, and it’s also the very same mushroom Mario eats to grow bigger in the Super Mario Bros. video games.

Over the decades, there have been cases of children admitted to hospitals after consuming this poisonous mushroom after seeing it on TV. Somewhere, the ghost of Darwin is laughing.   

Unfrozen caveman rampage
William Hurt’s inner caveman is on the loose in Altered States (1980), Warner Bros. Pictures

Rent Russell’s trip of a flick on Prime this weekend, and get in touch with your primordial side.

NEXT: Dante’s Weekend Double – A Dual Dose Of Horror To The Mind And Body In ‘Audition’ And ‘Videodrome’

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