(Brian De Palma, USA, 1973)


Sisters was not the first time that Brian De Palma exercised his fascination for Alfred Hitchcock – the scrappier Murder à la Mod (1967) has that distinction – but it inaugurated his attempt to make slicker, tighter, more cohesive narratives in a generic horror-thriller mode.


In the event (and as De Palma himself has suggested), the result is both gripping entertainment and a quasi-Brechtian “display of the formal parameters” – especially whenever the screen splits in two.


In the 4K digital restoration released on Blu-ray by Criterion in 2018, this twisted, blackly comic tale of separated Siamese twins (both played by Margot Kidder) has never looked or sounded so good.


As the brilliantly expressionistic actor William Finley (an ever-enjoyable fixture of this auteur’s cinema from its very beginnings) suggests in a 2004 French featurette included on the Blu-ray, Roman Polanski’s forays into the hallucinatory and grotesque (as in Repulsion, 1965) constitute an influence just as decisive as Hitchcock on De Palma’s burgeoning sensibility.


Carrie Rickey’s excellent booklet essay for Criterion (although it displaces an earlier, equally good print piece by Bruce Kawin now only available online) helpfully resituates Sisters in its time, when the politics of “Women’s Lib” – as dramatised in both the family and work life of a crusading but ultimately doomed journalist (Jennifer Salt) – were far more overtly a concern of the left-leaning director than his later works let on.


The audiovisual extras on the Criterion release are fairly sparse and scarcely analytical, but there’s an informative reminiscence from Salt (now a celebrated screenwriter), a wacky clip of Kidder (alongside Gloria Swanson and Janis Joplin!) on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970, and a string of radio promotions promising all paying customers a “special shock recovery period” at the end of each theatrical session.


Avoid the awful 2006 remake (why is producer Ed Pressman desecrating his masterpieces like this and Bad Lieutenant?) – worth noting only for the extent to which it reveals that certain suspense-narrative tropes simply do not survive the invention of the mobile phone!

MORE De Palma: Blow Out, Carlito's Way, Carrie, Casualties of War, Mission to Mars, Mission: Impossible, Raising Cain, Scarface, Snake Eyes

© Adrian Martin 13 December 2018

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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