Sheffield Film IndEx

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Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1973) Arrow Films Blu-Ray

"I know more than those idiot police. I know karate!" - Grace Collier

A young man and woman meet on the set of a game show, and go out for a drink together afterwards. Everything seems to be going well, until her sister wakes up...

Brian De Palma's first thriller is a glorious homage to Hitchcock that throws together elements of Rear Window and Psycho to create a thrilling, funny and suspenseful horror film that is far more than just a collection of references.

De Palma is now known primarily for his suspense thrillers, but prior to Sisters he had mainly made low-budget counter-cultural comedy films. Sisters was an attempt to make his name more 'bankable' by making a more mainstream film, so it would be understandable if it had not aged too well. However, there's no feeling of cynicism to the plot - it's a pulpy thriller that is heavily rooted in exploitation, but even within that fairly rigid framework, De Palma can't help experimenting. The ways in which Sisters stands out from the pack make it a real treat that holds up to anything else in the director's filmography. 

Nearly every major scene throws in references to De Palma's influences. There's a ton of Hitchcock - the voyeurism of Rear Window and the slasher thrills of Psycho are the main touching points but there are also nods to Vertigo and Rope. Polanski's Rosemary's Baby is also referenced as the film starts to drift into madness in its final third. Spotting these references adds an extra layer of fun, but never detracts from the story, which cleverly subverts tropes even as it references them.  

Sisters isn't afraid to deploy some tricks of its own, however. The most striking and ambitious trick is a couple of scenes that play out in split-screen, with simultaneous action cleverly deployed to create some excellent and very clever suspense scenes. Bernard Herrmann's wonderful score also helps out with the suspense, adding moog synthesizer and spiralling glockenspiel to his trademark uneasy strings.

The cast is great, especially Jennifer Salt as a reporter who witnesses a murder and begins to investigate. Her fractious relationship with the police is especially amusing - her character has written several critical articles about them, which makes them reluctant to help her, which only goes to lower her opinion of them further. Charles Durning is also great as the private detective she hires to help her track down the body.


De Palma's thriller formula, which can be basically boiled down to "two thirds suspense, one third complete insanity", is in full evidence, and there's little evidence of the low budget or relative inexperience of the director or cast - it's a fantastic thriller that maintains the ability to shock and enthrall.

Film: 4/5

Disc Details

  • Brand new High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)

Supplements

In the absence of a commentary, the main feature is a fantastic (albeit spoiler-heavy) 45-minute essay on the film, recorded specially for Arrow, which tallies up the references as well as providing a wealth of information on the creation of the film, how De Palma's later films build on his experiences, and any number of other interesting facts and anecdotes. Supplementary material includes a selection of interviews with cast and crew, of which Jennifer Salt's is particularly interesting. There's also a breathless half-hour summary of De Palma's career that made me want to watch everything he's ever made, and the hilarious original trailer, which makes the film look about ten times trashier than it actually is.

Disc: 5/5

Sisters is released by Arrow Films in the UK on April 28th.