What we see in “Sisters” is the template for what would become the basic mold for most Brian De Palma films. So enamored is he with Hitchcock that he essentially pays tribute to the man’s filmmaking techniques and films consciously and sometimes sub-consciously. “Sisters” is rough around the edges, but an otherwise fascinating thriller about the perversion of voyeurism, and the suppression of sexuality and female independence in an often matriarchal society. De Palma unfolds an interesting murder mystery filled with psycho sexual overtones that almost feel like nods to the Giallos of the decade.
Margot Kidder is great as young Danielle, a woman who meets a young man on a weird candid camera game show called “Peeping Tom.” Although their initial introduction to one another involves him fighting the urge to watch her undress, they hit it off, and spend the night socializing at a bar. Despite a weird confrontation with her ex-husband, Danielle welcomes him to her home, and the two spend the night together. The next morning we meet Grace Colier, a reporter struggling to be taken seriously, who watches from across the street as he’s murdered in Danielle’s apartment. Much of “Sisters” involves Grace trying to desperately convince the authorities of what she’d witnessed, all the while Danielle is more or less the center of a massive plot.
It’s tough to not give away what De Palma offers in the realm of the thriller, even if a lot of the big twists are pretty much telegraphed way before the movie can catch up with the audience. De Palma sucks the audience in well, nevertheless, with a lot of unique camera tricks and engaging camera play. There’s even the arresting split screen he specializes in, as we view not only the murder, but the murder through Grace’s eyes. Every character seems designed in the mold of a Hitchcock antagonist and or protagonist, including Grace who plays the Lila Crane role, working to uncover what happened and why Danielle is being shielded. Along the way De Palma pays visual tribute to “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” and “Rebecca,” while unfolding a lot of the mystery almost like a lost Hitchcock crime thriller.
There’s even a Bernard Hermann score which, you can tell, had De Palma behind the scenes aching to present a composition very much in the vein of the filmmaker’s own films. “Sisters” delves in to schlocky territory in the final half as De Palma drops a humongous exposition focus on the audience. For the most part it’s a twisted and perverse series of circumstances and sexual attraction, while it at least wraps up in a clever manner. As well there’s the ambiguous final scene which indicates that perhaps the mystery has yet to be resolved, and that our characters in store for another turn of events. Jennifer Salt and Margot Kidder are top notch, and while “Sisters” isn’t flawless, it’s definitely worth visiting for the way De Palma attempts to re-invent the murder mystery, while also tipping the hat to his number one cinematic influence.
The Criterion Edition comes packed with interesting new features. There’s a twenty five minute video interview with Jennifer Salt, who recalls her work with Brian De Palma, her friendship with Margot Kidder, the beginning of “Sisters,” the dark sense of humor consistent through De Palma’s work, and more. There’s “The Autopsy” a 2004 archival program focusing on the history of “Sisters.” There are vintage interviews included in the program with Brian De Palma, actors Charles Durning and Bill Finley, editor Paul Hirsch, and producer Edward R. Pressman.
There’s the vintage ninety minute Q&A with Brian De Palma at the AFI in 1973, recorded after a screening of “Sisters.” Finally, there’s a nine minute interview with Margot Kidder on the Dick Cavett Show from 1970, as well as a twelve minute International Poster Gallery for “Sisters,” and a collection of US Radio Spots. The Blu-Ray comes with a collector’s booklet filled with illustrations, and features an essay by critic Carrie Rickey, along with excerpts from an interview with Brian De Palma, and a reprinted article about the director’s professional relationship with composer Bernard Hermann.