Sisters (1972)

Directed by Brian De Palma; Written by Louisa Rose and Brian De Palma

Murder and voyeurism goes hand in hand in De Palma’s Sisters, the story of a newspaper columnist (Jennifer Salt) who catches a glimpse of a  bloody scene in one of the apartments across the way and becomes obsessed with the woman who lives there. De Palma’s been stealing more than a few glances at contemporary Dario Argento as he tells his story of gore, sex, and mania. Knives go places where they shouldn’t, men’s eyes do the same, and throughout there’s a strong sense of the ick, making for genre-tastic excellence. 

The center of attention is Danielle Brenton, played by Margot Kidder. An innocent, she’s new in town trying to be a model. Precocious, nymph-like, she makes for an unlikely murder suspect. But when the columnist, Grace Collier, puts on her intrepid reporter hat and digs into Danielle’s past, she unearths more than a few mysteries involving siamese twins, shadowy scientists and nefarious dealings in spooky spooky Quebec. 

An icy score by Bernard Herrmann makes Sisters feel like late-night television, and there’s plenty of salacious content to go with it, be it flesh, manipulation of women, and the sexual obsession they inspire. Hermann’s music is almost a little overzealous at times, lunging into outright frenzy while the action on screen still doesn’t have the energy to match, but it almost feels right in this seedy genre exploration. 

More technically dextrous, however, is De Palma’s storytelling and his Hitchcock suspense homage. An early split-screen sequence sees Collier desperately urging cops to go check out Brenton’s apartment, and the sight of them dragging their feet while we’re privy to what’s going on inside Brenton’s pad is a particular thrill. He later explores dreamscapes and mental fugues with claustrophobic conjuring with similar prowess, elevating what’s otherwise B-movie content.   

De Palma’s cast shows out too. Salt’s attempt at a fledgling hard-nosed reporter is vulnerable enough for us to root for her, and her insistence grants her some gumption. Opposite her, Kidder’s every bit the nymphet fatale, even if her supposed Quebecois accent veers eastern European at times. Creepiest of all is William Finley as the strange figure who hover in Brenton’s periphery. With his pencil mustache, turtle-esque neck, and bug eyes staring out at you from behind thick glasses, he’s pure nightmare fuel. 

Sisters is not De Palma’s finest hour (and a half) but it’s a great example of what made him great: a penchant for the icky, the salacious, the grotesque and the skills to lift the material out of B-movie doldrums into genuine genre cinema art. 

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