Saturn Will Not Sleep - Discovery (Official Video)

Sisters   B+

The Criterion Collection

Year Released: 1973
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, Bill Finley, Lisle Wilson, Barnard Hughes, Mary Davenport, Dolph Sweet.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Brian De Palma's 1973 shocker Sisters opens and closes with images of voyeurism, and throughout the film De Palma reminds us that, as movie watchers, we're really voyeurs ourselves. Most people see movies as passive entertainment, but De Palma doesn't let us off the hook that easily. He wants us to be aware of our position as voyeurs and make us think about our creepy advantage over the characters we're watching on-screen. De Palma also makes us wonder -- Who's watching us?

The first thing we see in Sisters is a black man in a locker room. A pretty blind girl enters, feeling her way around with a cane, then starts to undress in front of him. The camera zooms in on the man's face, the corny game-show music rises up, and we realize that this is merely a segment on a game show called "Peeping Toms." De Palma certainly isn't beating around the bush as to what the real subject of this movie is. After the show is over, the black man and the girl go out together, then wind up at the girl's apartment for some after-dinner sex.

The girl, of course, isn't really blind. Danielle (Margot Kidder) is actually a French-Canadian model/actress with a creepy ex-husband (Bill Finley) who enjoys stalking her. The black man, Philip (Lisle Wilson), is an advertising manager for a newspaper. What Philip doesn't know about Danielle is that she was recently separated from her Siamese twin, Dominique, and that tomorrow is their birthday.

A gruesome murder eventually sets the plot in motion, and the focus is turned onto the reporter who sees it happen from the window of her building across the street (ala Hitchcock's Rear Window). The police are no help, so the reporter hires a private detective (Charles Durning) to help find out the truth.

Sisters is vintage De Palma. It's a macabre shocker with a touch of morbid humor, and De Palma doesn't hide the fact he borrows heavily from Alfred Hitchcock here -- most notably Psycho and Rear Window. And since voyeurism is one of the main themes in Sisters, we get lots of stylish shots peering in through windows and curtains. He also makes good use of the split-screen here, enhancing the suspense by simultaneously showing us the frenzied cleanup after the murder and the reporter struggling to convince the police to check it out. There's even a sharp, chilling score by Bernard Hermann.

In a brilliant performance as Danille, Margot Kidder radiates a childlike yet seductive innocence -- and she really nails that French-Canadian accent. Jennifer Salt as Grace, the pesky reporter, doesn't fare quite as well, nor is her character quite as interesting as she should be. When the focus of the film switches over to Grace, it's rather disappointing because we were just becoming fascinated with Danielle. That little gripe aside, Sisters is still one hell of a thriller. It builds up to a haunting dream sequence that is truly the stuff of nightmares.

While Sisters has been tough to find on video in recent years, the good folks at the Criterion Collection and Home Vision Cinema have released a sparkling new print of the film on DVD (and even VHS). The film looks great on the Criterion DVD, presented in a new widescreen digital transfer with lush, vivid colors, even if it's a bit grainy (Sisters was pretty low-budget, after all). It sounds wonderful, too, doing great justice to Hermann's magnificent score.

The DVD also includes the 1973 Village Voice essay De Palma wrote about working with Hermann, a print interview with the director on the making of the film (sorry, no audio commentary -- I heard De Palma doesn't do those), and -- the thing I found most interesting -- the 1996 Life magazine article about Siamese twins that was a major inspiration for the film. Just looking at that real-life photo of the Siamese twins that inspired De Palma to make this film made chills run down my spine. To top it all off, there are literally hundreds of production, publicity, and behind-the-scenes photographs (it'll take you a good hour or two just to browse through all those).

The Criterion Collection has done it again. De Palma fans should be especially thankful that they're making this eerie gem widely available again -- with some intriguing extras to boot. Just be sure to drawn the curtains before settling down to watch Sisters, because you never know who's out there watching you.

Review published 12.15.2000.

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