A 1973 effort by Brian DePalma that adequately showcases both his
good and bad qualities as a filmmaker. It’s highly derivative and
overwrought, in other words, but also visually dazzling and often
SISTERS was Brian DePalma’s seventh feature and his
first success, being a stylish Alfred Hitchcock-inspired chiller that
thematically informed much of De Palma’s subsequent filmography (notably
OBSESSION, DRESSED TO KILL, BLOW OUT,
BODY DOUBLE and RAISING CAIN).
The film’s stars Margot Kidder (who’s never been better
in a movie) and Jennifer Salt were roommates at the time, and close
friends of DePalma, while co-star William Finley was a college pal of
the director who starred in quite a few of his films, including
DePalma’s very first feature MURDER A LA MOD in 1968.
Danielle Breton, an attractive young model, meets a
dashing young man on a game show. The aggressive Danielle lures the man
back to her apartment where the two have a tryst. But the following
morning the guy is stabbed to death, apparently by Danielle’s deranged
twin sister Dominique. The killing is witnessed by Grace Collier, a
muckraking reporter, from her apartment window.
Grace alerts the police and Danielle’s apartment is
investigated. Nothing is found and Grace is reprimanded by the cops, who
are already upset with her for exposing incidents of police brutality.
Grace continues investigating the murder on her own, together with a
private detective. The two conclude--correctly--that the murdered man’s
body was hidden in a fold-up couch, which they spy loaded into a truck.
The P.D. follows the truck, determined to track the couch to its
Grace for her part delves into Danielle’s past, and
discovers that the latter is one of two conjoined twins separated as
teenagers. The other twin, Dominique, has apparently dedicated herself
to evil…the only problem is that Dominique has been dead for some time!
It all comes to a head in a secluded sanitarium where
Danielle is being treated by her depraved handler/husband. Grace turns
up to investigate and winds up captured and drugged, in which state
Grace hallucinates that she’s Danielle’s twin!
In many respects SISTERS is a dry run for Brian
DePalma’s DRESSED TO KILL (1980), which closely replicates its overall
structure. That structure, of course, is borrowed from Alfred
with its early insinuation that we’ll be following the fortunes of a
character who is shockingly killed off in the opening 20 minutes. Other
Hitchcock films referenced in SISTERS include REAR WINDOW (in the
overall emphasis on voyeurism) and SPELLBOUND (in the themes of
Yet DePalma was particularly inspired here, and adds a
wealth of bizarre and imaginative touches. The voyeuristic game show of
the opening scene begins the film on a psychologically unsettling note
entirely appropriate to the subject matter, while the red and white
color scheme of the protagonist’s apartment building is arrestingly
weird (and recalls the décor of Ingmar Bergman’s CRIES AND WHISPERS,
released in the U.S. the same year as SISTERS).
The film is largely free of the gimmicky visuals of
DePalma’s later efforts, yet does contain one highly recognizable
DePalma trademark: an early split screen sequence simultaneously
depicting the murder that sets the narrative in motion and Grace
witnessing it from her apartment window. It’s one of the finest-ever
uses of a split-screen, at once a startling cinematic innovation and an
example of narrative ingenuity that (unlike so many of DePalma’s other
tricks) doesn’t feel gratuitous or show-offy.
Then there’s the climax, wherein the proceedings go
from a slick and stylish thriller to something altogether stranger and
more distinct. The story’s PSYCHO-esque twist isn’t at all difficult to
foresee, and DePalma seems aware of this in the way he reveals said
twist long before the climax, delivering an irresistible hallucinatory
joyride in place of the standard horrific reveal.
American International Pictures
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Edward R. Pressman
Screenplay: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Cinematography: Gregory Sandor
Editing: Paul Hirsch
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, Bill Finley, Lisle
Wilson, Barnard Hughes, Mary Davenport, Dolph Sweet, Justine Johnston,