Review by Gordon Justesen
Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, Bill Finley, Lisle Wilson, Barnard
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 92 Minutes
Release Date: October 23, 2018
“You want to know all our secrets? Fine, we will share them with you. Watch.”
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 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.
I first saw the movie via Criterion’s initial DVD release which was 17 years ago. I was hugely underwhelmed by the presentation, though I didn’t take the time to acknowledge that they most likely didn’t have the means to craft a mesmerizing transfer, which is definitely the case with their astounding Blu-ray upgrade. Courtesy of a 4K restoration, supervised by De Palma himself, we are treated to a presentation that is hugely alive with a bigger sense of image depth and delivers an all around visual punch, especially in the split screen sequences. Grain is far better handled this time around, as well.
With a new uncompressed Mono mix, the sound quality is also given a tremendous boost for this Blu-ray. That is especially true in regards to Bernard Herrmann’s riveting score, which sounds more intense and potent as ever! Dialogue delivers is terrifically handled as well, as are various aural effects associated with a sequence involving hypnosis.
The DVD offering contained a few extras, all of which were of the read-only type. For this Blu-ray release, Criterion has thankfully included a bunch more supplements to enjoy. We are treated to a new interview with actress Jennifer Salt, as well as a piece from 2004 featuring extensive interviews with De Palma, actors Charles Durning and Bill Finley, editor Paul Hirsch and producer Edward R. Pressman. Also featured is an audio discussion from 1973 with De Palma at the American Film Institute (which serves like a commentary track), as well as a segment from The Dick Cavett Show featuring Margot Kidder. Rounding out the package is a Photo Gallery, Radio Spots for the film and a terrific insert booklet featuring an essay by critic Carrie Rickey, as well as excerpts from a 1973 interview with De Palma and a 1973 article by De Palma on working with Bernard Herrmann.
Sisters was Brian De Palma’s first foray into the genre he would master in the years to come, and serves as a nice warm up piece that would lead to his pure master works later down the road. It had a rough start on DVD, but has now been given the grand and first rate presentation it has long deserved thanks to the wonderful new Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion!