Paul (Peter Fonda) is a director of television commercials who feels the need to go on a journey of self-discovery now that his marriage to his highly critical wife (Susan Strasberg) is over. He meets up with John (Bruce Dern) and they go to a party so that Paul can try LSD for the first time, with John as his guide to ensure the experience remains as safe as possible. Paul relaxes as the drug takes hold, but is unprepared for the barrage of images that he sees, and ends up wandering the streets, utterly stoned...
This famous attempt to put the full LSD experience onto film was written by Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson), before he penned the script for the not-druggily-dissimilar Monkees' movie Head the following year. As Roger Corman and American International Pictures moved further into the sixties, they realised they had to cash in on the growing counterculture - sending up the beatniks in a Bucket of Blood style wasn't going to work with the hippies. So we are offered this testament to dropping acid, complete with sober disclaimer at the start warning us of this problem - they couldn't be seen to be endorsing it, after all, even if Corman was keen to present a balanced view.
The Trip looks like a quaint relic of the times now, which is why it's strangely appealling to see Fonda undergo his consciousness expansion. We know when he's hallucinating because he is no longer wearing slacks and a V-neck jumper, now he is wearing a shirt with puffy sleeves, sandals and a medallion instead. The visions range from Tolkien-esque black riders and a hobbit played by Angelo Rossitto, of course, (the reference is surely an oblique one to early psychedelic exponent Tom Bombadil) to Edgar Allen Poe Gothic castles, with some colourful sex romps in between. The projection of abstract images works quite well, especially on faces, and may remind you of the Stargate sequence of the then in progress 2001 on a low budget.
As a guide, John proves to be largely unhelpful, because after he has talked Paul through the first half of the trip, he proceeds to menace him with a chair and then accidentally let him escape into the night, since his subject erroneously believes he has shot the man after hiding in a wardrobe. Once outside, Paul breaks into a house to watch Vietnam news on TV accompanied by a little girl, visits a launderette to gaze lovingly at the washing machines and tumble dryers (and frighten Barboura Morris in a fairly effective scene of worlds colliding), then ends up at a club where much dancing, body-painted naked women and bongo playing is going on, though when the Fuzz arrives looking for him thanks to his out of it antics, it increases his paranoia to greater levels.
Although Paul has to stand trial in his own mind (with Dennis Hopper as the judge!) as to the merits of his commercials, the apparent accusations of being part of selfish consumer culture ring hollow, considering he's the one who's being self-centred enough to seek his own inner truth, otherwise known as getting off your face, no matter what Timothy Leary was telling you at the time. And the music is undistinguished, vaguely psychedelic rock played by Electric Flag, when what you would rather hear is Piper at the Gates of Dawn or whatever. Watching The Trip is a bit like being told someone else's dreams for over an hour - interesting for them, but you feel a little excluded, and actual LSD fans would seriously quibble that this depicted a trip with any great accuracy, since there was a need for some form of drama and peril to play out. Still, it's experimental cinema by Roger Corman, and on that basis, entertaining enough, and now it can be seen in its original form, without the studio meddling that warily tried not to be too positive. Also with: a cheeky monkey.