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SISTERS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, Lisle Wilson, Bill Finley, Barnard Hughes
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 92 Minutes
Release Date: October 3, 2000

Film ***

Brian De Palma had actually been making films nearly thirteen years before the release of Sisters, the movie that would put the genius director on the map. The films De Palma had made prior to this one, like the barely seen 1972 comedy Get to Know Your Rabbit, were mostly of very light fare, and what Sisters proved to be was nothing short of a purely remarkable revelation in the director, who from this point on would go on to be compared to no less than the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. It proved that his sharp eye, and directing talent would pay off way more in the suspense thriller genre than anything else, although De Palma has made a certain variety of different genre movies. Sisters, a very low budget independent release, is something of a remarkable first step from a totally genius American filmmaker.

The film really displays a sense of brilliance in its opening moments. Even though the opening credits, along with a remarkably chilling score by the late, great Bernard Herrmann, let us know this is indeed a film of a suspenseful nature; the way De Palma lets the movie unfold is something of a treasure. It opens with a tricky scene involving a voyeuristic encounter that turns out to be part of a shameless game show entitled “Peeping Toms”. One of the guest contestants is a pretty young model named Danielle (Margot Kidder). Following her appearance on the game show, she agrees to a dinner date with her game opponent, Philip (Lisle Wilson). After dinner, the two engage in an intimate evening together, even as the two noticed that the woman’s ex-husband, Emil (Bill Finley), is apparently stalking them.

The next morning, Philip is woken up by an argument between Danielle and her twin sister, Dominique, who is in town on the occasion of their birthday. He then goes out to purchase a cake for the both of them, hoping to make matters a lot better. I won’t go into much detail about what happens later, except to say that a murder occurs in what I easily consider to be one of the most frightening murder scenes for its time, which has been compared to the shock level of the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

From this point on, Sisters turns into more of a detective story with sort of a welcome B feel to it, but it remains intriguing nonetheless to the last minute. The movie follows investigative reporter Grace (Jennifer Salt) who’s determined at all costs to solve the brutal crime. What she gets later on in the film is a shocking, visual explanation of where the twins came from, in a sequence which is given an extra effect by De Palma’s use of black and white, 16 mm photography, in a scene that could probably surprise even those who were shocked by a similar sequence in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

I wouldn’t exactly classify Sisters as one of De Palma’s “greatest” films, even though it’s an impressively good one, but I will always have a huge amount of admiration for its existence. What it gave us was a taste of the genius of Brian De Palma, and what he could do as a filmmaker of suspense, introducing such filming gimmicks as the split-screen and the black and white photography used in the asylum sequence. In comparison, though, to some of De Palma’s later films, such as Blow Out and Dressed to Kill, this film like many breakthrough of first time directed movies, appears more as an experimental movie, but an expertly crafted one nonetheless.

Video *1/2

First off, I compliment the folks at Criterion for getting this film out to the DVD market to begin with, and I can’t say that the turnout on the video quality is at their fault. A lot of the director’s early work, such as Obsession and Carrie, haven’t turned up that incredibly well on DVD, either. The reason this is, I feel, is the age of the film stock, which for all I know, may be somewhat difficult to turnout to an impressive level even in this kind of high quality format. As for the look of the disc, it periodically will display instances of clearness and sharpness, but the presentation for the most part, especially in its last half, is very much soft and grainy.

Audio **1/2

Criterion does what it can with the movie’s original Mono sound mix. What does impress, though, is Bernard Herrmann’s thunderous music score, both in the opening credits and in certain parts of the movie. All in all, it’s perhaps the best result you can get with a Mono track.

Features **

There are actually a number of features, but they’re pretty much of a read-only nature, and coming from Criterion, I expected a little bit more. Included is a “Village Voice” essay, written by De Palma in 1973 that focuses mainly on the collaboration with Bernard Hermann. Also featured is a “Life” magazine article titled “Rare Study of Siamese Twins In Soviet”, which inspired De Palma to make the movie. There are also publicity ads, promotional materials, and many behind the scenes photographs.

Summary:

It’s as simple as this, if you’re as much a treasurer of the work of Brian De Palma as I am; you owe it to yourself to experience Sisters, which is a perfect introduction to the brilliant work of a masterful director.