DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

SISTERS (aka BLOOD SISTERS) (director/writer: Brian De Palma; screenwriters: Louisa Rose/based on a story by Mr. De Palma; cinematographer: Gregory Sandor; editor:  Paul Hirsch; music:  Bernard Herrmann; cast:  Margot Kidder (Danielle Breton/Dominique Blanchion), Jennifer Salt (Grace Collier), Mary Davenport (Mrs. Collier), Charles Durning (Joseph Larch), William Finley (Emil Breton), Lisle Wilson (Phillip Woode), Barnard Hughes (Arthur McLennen), Dolph Sweet (Detective Kelly), Olympia Dukakis (Louise Wilanski, bakery lady), Justine Johnson (Elaine, bakery lady); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Edward Pressman; Criterion; 1973)

"It's one of the best films of the 1970s."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The first pic of Brian De Palma ("Carlito's Way"/"Obsession"/"Dressed to Kill"), the son of a doctor, to make critics take notice, and his first venture into Hitchcock turf (think Rear Window and Psycho). The chilling horror pic is co-written by De Palma and Louisa Rose, and is based on a Life Magazine story by De Palma. It's one of the best films of the 1970s. Intelligently and stylishly made (innovatively explores using split-screens). It's also pre-occupied with the director's usual themes of voyeurism and using doubles, and is eerily maddening. The graphically violent shocker drips with sarcastic humor and is bloody good as an entertaining slasher pic. It ably set the tone for De Palma's future films.

The pic opens with a 'Peeping Toms' television game show, something like Candid Camera via Michael Powell, where black contestant Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson) peers over a wall into a women's dressing room while the blind girl Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) undresses and two panelists guess if he will continue looking or walk away. Danielle tells the host she's a divorced French-Canadian, who is not blind but aspires to be a model/actress. For their efforts, the contestants win the following gifts: Danielle a cutlery set and Phillip a free dinner for two at The African Room, where Danielle gets him to take her to dinner. When her creepy divorced hubby, Emil Breton (William Finley), who follows her, comes to take her home at the club and she refuses, Phillip has the bouncers kick him out and as a reward she invites him to her Staten Island hi-rise building apartment for a bedtime romp. In the morning, after revealing her separation scar, Danielle tells Phillip that her Siamese twin sister Dominique is in a mental hospital because of her psychotic condition and they have been separated a year, but the twin has been given permission today to visit to celebrate their birthday. Phillip, always the gentleman, buys a birthday cake at the nearby bakery, and asks Danielle to blow out the candles and make a wish. That summons up Dominique's maniacal killing instincts and she merges into her twin's head to brutally slash him a number of times with her gift of the large carving knife. This is witnessed by Danielle's nosy across the way neighbor, Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), an ambitious single female reporter for the small-time civic-minded Staten Island newspaper, who spots the vic at the window crying for help and calls the police. But they're unfriendly because of her articles on police brutality, and are in no rush to check-out the apartment. When they reluctantly search the apartment they don't find the body or any evidence of a murder, as moments before the corpse was stuffed inside a Murphy-bed and the blood stains all over the apartment were cleaned-up by Emil. Not satisfied that Danielle is innocent and wanting to get a career boost with a big crime story, Grace convinces her editor to let her further investigate and is teamed with the by-the-book private detective Joe Larch (Charles Durning).

It ends on a spooky humorous note, as Emil somehow (no need to use spoilers to show how he achieved this feat) manages to inject the truth-telling journalist, Grace, with a sedative, and brainwashes her to now believe no murder took place and the feminist reporter, fighting for independence in a man's world, is left in a zombie-like state to be under her nagging mom's (Mary Davenport) care, while the PI follows the couch to a dead-end destination in rural Canada and in one of cinema's greatest fadeout shots he's dressed as a telephone lineman and hanging from a telephone pole waiting for an expected call that will never come. It ironically concludes with the murderess getting away with murdering Phillip, but charged with murdering her love-stricken manipulative husband shrink.

Hitchcock's music man Bernard Herrmann provides a score that would make the Master proud, while De Palma should be lauded for his masterful mise-en-scene and inspired homage to Hitchcock.

REVIEWED ON 1/15/2014       GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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PLOT-CRUNCH
Danielle (Kidder) brings some dude home and he winds up dead. Did her twin sister (Siamese who were separated) kill the horny bastard? Did she do it? Her nosy neighbor (who’s also a reporter) claims she saw the killing and when the cops don’t buy her story she launches her own investigation. She should’ve stayed home and baked cookies…
THE LOWDOWN
DePalma showing off his Hitchcock hard on. This is basically a mish mash of "Psycho" and "Rear Window" served with more gore and Margot Kidder. DePalma even uses Bernard Herrmann for the score. He’s the same dude that did the Psycho tune.

The main theme of this film is voyeurism. The film starts off with a TV game show called: Peeping Tom" (quite amusing) and quickly announces what this hour and a half is gonna be about. We get lots of peeping and spying through windows.

My main pet peeve about this film: The movie starts off, introduces a character (Danielle), you get attached to her. Then 20 minute in they change the focus from that person to a new lead character (Grace). "Psycho" does the same thing when it wastes Marion early on and focuses on Norman instead. It went down well with Psycho cause Norman is a fascinating character. Here Grace (Salt) is far from fascinating and to be honest I couldn’t care less about her adventures. I will admit I have a thing against nosy characters in movies, they get on my freakin' nerves. Grace is a reporter and you can imagine how damn curious she is. Why don’t you stay home? Get laid! It’s only murder…

Once I got over the disappointment of Kidder’s transition from main character to second banana, I got to enjoy this psychological thriller that loves screwing with your head. It does get a bit convoluted in the end, and having Grace make a few dumb choices in order to serve the plot felt a bit cheap, but when all is said and done, this is an interesting flick that plays on the audiences expectations and doesn’t go the way you think it’s gonna go.

I have to give merit to DePalma for milking that split screen thing for all its worth. I mean we get to see a crime being covered up and a person trying to convince the police to check it out at the same time. I never thought DePalma did good use of the split screen in Carrie, it felt like a gimmick. Here its used creatively and gives you many POV to the story. I loved it.

You’re in the mood for some DePalma cross dressing as Hitchcock? Sisters is the place.
GORE
DePalma loves the red stuff, yes here it looks more like strawberry jam then blood but the good intentions are there. A few bloody knife attacks, one of them redefines the expression "Happy Birthday".
ACTING
Margot Kidder (Danielle) is great as the Quebec born nut. Her accent is dead on and she’s all charm…a pleasant surprise. Jennifer Salt (Grace) does good too but unfortunately for me, these kinds of characters annoy me. I didn’t feel one ounce of sympathy for her. Charles Durning (Larch) is amazing as the Private Eye and steals every scene he’s in…solid actor. William Finley (Emile) is just plain creepy…
T & A
Margot shows us her Kidders.
DIRECTING
DePalma sure knows how to set up suspense sequences. I love the way this flick is edited. DePalma gives us another very stylish exercise in Hitchcock wannabe. The crazy dream/flashback sequence near the end is worth the price of rental alone. It’s filmed in black and white 16mm and will blow your top. The split screen is very well used and gives the film another dimension. Nice….
SOUNDTRACK
Bernard Herrmann gives us another effective score.
BOTTOM LINE
This sneaky little movie keeps you on your toes and doesn’t fail to entertain. I was a bit disappointed by the direction it took. I would have liked it if the focus was more on Kidder and her sister problem. But in the end this Hitchock rip-off/homage/whatever goes down like a hooker on a Monday night…damn well…
BULL'S EYE
Margot Kidder (April 24, 1996) was found by the Police in a distressed state, hiding in someone's garden claiming she'd been stalked and attacked. Had apparently cut her hair off with a razor blade. Placed in psychiatric care. Police said there was nothing so support her story.

Margot Kidder is best known as Superman's favorite person--Lois Lane. Her much publicized behavior in 1996 was due to manic depression. She was living in a state of paranoia, convinced that her first husband was trying to kill her. Kidder soon lived as one of the homeless. She narrowly escaped being raped, and wandered about the streets of Los Angeles (barely recognizable after cutting her hair off and removing some of her dental work) before hiding underneath a family's porch which was located near the studio where "Superman" was filmed. Fortunately, her life is back on track after having faced the "demons" of her condition.
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