Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Sisters: Criterion Collection (1973)
Studio Line: Criterion

Margot Kidder is Danielle, a beautiful model separated from her Siamese twin, Dominique. When a hotshot reporter (Jennifer Salt) suspects Dominique of a brutal murder, she becomes dangerously ensnared in the sisters' insidious sibling bond. A scary and stylish paean to female destructiveness, De Palma's first foray into horror voyeurism is a stunning amalgam of split-screen effects, bloody birthday cakes, and a chilling score by frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann. Criterion is proud to present Sisters in a new Special Edition.

Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, William Finley, Lisle Wilson
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles none; closed-captioned; 18 chapters; rated NR; 92 min.; $29.95; street date 10/3/00.
Supplements: Director Brian De Palma's 1973 Village Voice Essay "Murder by Moog: Scoring the Chill," on Working with Composer Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, Citizen Kane); A 1973 Print Interview with De Palma on the Making Of Sisters; "Rare Study of Siamese Twins In Soviet," the 1966 Life Magazine Article that Inspired De Palma; Excerpts from the Original Press Book, Including Ads and Exploitation; Hundreds Of Production, Publicity, and Behind-the-Scenes Stills.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C-/C-/C

One of these days I'll figure out how Brian De Palma became a respected filmmaker. After all, the guy's career has included many more bombs than hits, and most of the time he's come across as little more than a wannabe; he tends to ape the styles of other directors, most notably that of Hitchcock.

Well, at least in the case of 1973's Sisters, De Palma provides a moderately effective rip-off of Hitchcock, though it doesn't even remotely approach the quality of that legend's better work. Sisters involves Danielle (Margot Kidder), a lovely young model who once was rather attached to her sister Dominique. It appears that they continue to share a close relationship, though Dominique may not be all that "with it". The stuff starts to hit the fan when Grace, an aspiring reporter (Jennifer Salt), seems to witness a nasty attack by one of the sisters on a young man.

And the story goes from there. No one appears to believe Grace but she's tenacious and refuses to give up on her investigation. Eventually she becomes ensnared to greater and greater degrees until she gets in harm's way herself.

The most obvious Hitchcock references in Sisters are from Rear Window and Psycho; in fact, they're so blatant that it seems almost shameless. De Palma never appeared to mind overt theft, however, so I guess it's no surprise to see it here.

Despite the lack of originality inherent in Sisters, it does work relatively well and it creates a moderately creepy and compelling tone. Actually, the movie starts out quite well, as our entrance to the tale comes through a phony TV shows called "Peeping Toms". This "Candid Camera"-style program introduces Danielle and her soon-to-be lover Philip (Lisle Wilson) in a clever and provocative manner.

After that creative opening, the movie continues on a moderately smooth path for a while, but I must admit I started to lose interest once Grace became involved. The character wasn't very appealing, and I thought that the plot's development seemed so obvious that I didn't think things would move along very interestingly.

I will admit that the story took one twist that I didn't expect, but for the most part, Sisters seems pretty predictable. Anyone familiar with Hitchcock should be able to anticipate much of what occurs, as almost all of the "shocking" turns aren't surprising at all, and the execution of the plot is only moderately stylish and compelling. Ultimately, I'd rather watch real Hitchcock than De Palma's imitation, but Sisters made for a modestly entertaining experience nonetheless.

The DVD:

Sisters appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the movie seemed consistently watchable, I thought the picture looked pretty dated and bland most of the time.

Sharpness appeared erratic. At times, the image seemed fairly clear and adequately-defined, but it generally presented a mildly soft and hazy appearance. Moiré effects could be detected on occasion - largely from the sides of buildings - and I saw moderate artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws weren't excessive but they did interfere with the presentation. Mild grain appeared throughout the film, and I also witnessed occasional examples of black grit and white speckles.

Colors tended to be very drab and lifeless. The dominant hue seemed to be orange, which was seen in much of the interior design and looked too heavy and thick. Other colors were blah at best; none of the tones came across as fully-realized. Black levels seemed similarly bland and murky, and contrast appeared fairly weak. Shadow detail was too heavy much of the time, and this made it difficult to discern the action during many low-light sequences. I recognize that Sisters was a low-budget effort from the early Seventies, but so was Frogs, which also came from the same production company but nonetheless looks great on DVD.

The monaural sound of Sisters appeared somewhat weak as well. Dialogue suffered from a lot of rough and edgy qualities; speech usually seemed intelligible but it often could seem mildly distorted. Music was even worse, as the score usually sounded harsh and shrill; check out the first attack scene in the film to hear how bad the music could appear. Effects were generally adequate, but note that they played a minor role in the film; the dialogue and the music were the most prominent elements, and the effects did not seem particularly important. For its era, Sisters appeared fairly average though a bit more flawed than most.

Criterion have included a few text supplements on Sisters. "The Making of Sisters: An Interview With Brian De Palma dates from the September 1973 issue of "Filmmakers Newsletter" and was written by Richard Rubinstein. It's a lengthy and quite interesting piece that discusses in depth De Palma's influences and what he wanted to do with Sisters. Overall, I thought it was a very enjoyable article.

Next up is "Rare Study of Siamese Twins In Soviet", a text from the April 8, 1966 issue of "Life" magazine. De Palma mentions this piece in his interview since it was his inspiration for Sisters. It's a short but fascinating and frankly creepy article about real-life conjoined twins. It' d be very interesting to hear the follow-up on the girls featured to find out what happened to them after 1966.

The "Original 1973 Press Book" includes 42 frames of information. Most of the stills are simply ads for the movie, many of which tout a "special shock recovery period" during which no one would be seated, a concept that steals from Hitchcock's refusal to allow anyone to enter the theater after Psycho started.

The final extra on the disc itself is the archive of publicity and "behind the scenes" stills. In this section, we find 335 shots. Some of these are posed promotional pictures, but the vast majority are taken from the set itself. These provide a nice look at the making of the movie.

Within the DVD's booklet we find two other text pieces. Film professor Bruce Kawin provides a decent essay about Sisters; this article gives us some details about what Kawin sees in the film but lacks much depth. Finally, De Palma himself wrote the last essay we receive, "Murder By Moog: Scoring the Chill". From the October 11, 1973 edition of "The Village Voice", De Palma provides a fun and entertaining piece about his experiences with composer Bernard Herrmann. It's probably the most informative and worthwhile of all the DVD's essays.

Sisters is a moderately chilling and compelling piece of faux Hitchcock. If nothing else, it certainly demonstrated the path down which Brian De Palma would walk for most of his career. The DVD provides watchable but flat and bland picture and sound plus some good text supplements. Fans of De Palma's work may want to give this one a spin, but I'd recommend pretty much any actual Hitchcock film in its stead.

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