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Saturday, March 2, 2019

"Look-alikes, doubles, or doppelgangers are a common trope in horror," Beatrice Loayza writes in an article posted yesterday at Bloody Disgusting. "There’s the Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy, that pits an evil side against a good one, and there’s the appearance of an imposter that threatens to replace by force. In any case, a double implies a tension, and therefore a struggle between two forces that must either find a way to live in harmony or recede, while one side reigns dominant. Decades of excellent horror films have kept the tool fresh, reinventing and adjusting the eerie encounter of the duplicate to resonate with the times — suffice it to say, we’re really excited about what Jordan Peele has up his sleeve.

"To celebrate the upcoming release of Peele’s Us," Loayza continues, "we thought it’d be timely to look back at some of the most iconic uses of doubles in horror, and how the visual and narrative tool is used to convey psychological distress, societal tension, generational anxiety, and the ol’ crippling fear of death."

Along with films such as David Lynch's Lost Highway, Bryan ForbesThe Stepford Wives, David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, Brian De Palma's Sisters is included:

If the patent on doppelgangers could go to only one filmmaker, Brian DePalma might very well have the strongest claim. With a filmography bursting with body doubles, the iconic director has proven he has quite the obsession with dueling manifestations of replicated bodies (see what I did there?). But if I had to pick one representative, the sash would go to DePalma’s phantasmagorical riff on Hitchcock– Sisters. Starring Margot Kidder as both halves of a pair of formerly conjoined twins, this tightly executed slasher has Danielle, the normal or “good” twin, wrestling with the deranged demands of “evil” twin, Dominique — all captured with the disorienting pizzaz of DePalma’s split-screen compositions. A voyeuristic glean activates this 1973 classic with erotic energy and a touch of humor, a tension that moves us forward as we get to the bottom of just how interdependent and fucked up these sisters really are.

Posted by Geoff at 11:29 PM CST
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Monday, January 7, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterstexastheatreposter2.jpg"The movie might not get many midnight showings," Polygon's Jenna Stoeber stated about Brian De Palma's Sisters last month, "but it’s still a cult classic." Well, here we are just a month later, into the new year, and Sisters is in the middle of a two-screening run at The Texas Theatre, and also played tonight at The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA. Last month, Stoeber's article caught the attention of Joyce Carol Oates, who tweeted the headline and link: "Brian De Palma’s Sisters delivers weirdness in a way modern movies don’t."

"Watching Sisters," Stoeber's article begins, "Brian De Palma’s 1973 psychological horror film, is like meeting your best friend’s parents for the first time and suddenly understanding something about your friend that couldn’t have known otherwise — where they came from, and how far they’ve come. A relatively early entry in De Palma’s long and storied career, Sisters features plenty of the style he would become known for, with eyes firmly on Alfred Hitchcock."

After some plot description, Stoeber continues:

Sisters features de Palma at his most Hitchcockian. It’s full of homages, with cheeky nods to the repercussions of voyeurism and the instability of sanity. It even features a piercing score by frequent Hitchcock-composer Bernard Herrmann.

But more than that, the technical skill inherited from Hitchcock can be seen in de Palma’s ability to make even mundane events sinister and captivating. Before the stabbing, when Danielle and Phillip are getting frisky on the couch, we get a careful zoom-in on the wide mound of scar tissue down her hip. A low-angle tracking shot follows Phillip as he brings in a birthday cake — and a knife to cut it with. It brings to mind shots of the house looming over Bates Motel, or Norman Bates surrounded by taxidermied birds. The anticipation of violence heightens the tension long before the knife flashes.

From start to finish, Sisters is weird, but it rarely feels like it’s just for the sake of being weird. Some of the plotting might feel familiar to modern audiences; the idea that one conjoined twin is evil and the other good is borderline cliché at this point. But the story is infused with so many off-kilter details that even when you know what’s going to happen, you can never predict how you’ll get there.

In the scene in which the police investigate of the apartment, you imagine that Danielle is going to charm her way out of the situation. Collier discovers the birthday cake bearing two names, proof Danielle lied about being in the place alone and for a moment it seems like she’s going to be caught. But in her haste to present it to the police, she fumbles and drops it directly on the detective’s shoes.

It’s a shockingly funny moment, and it’s the sort of strong tonal shift that most modern thrillers or horror movies don’t dare attempt. Sisters has a lot of diversions that are almost slap-stick, and it can afford to because de Palma is so deft at creating tension. Even in this early stage in his career, he breaks the mood knowing he can rebuild it later, more than practically any other director, including his contemporary peers or Hitchcock himself.

In an interview published as part of the new Criterion Collection edition, de Palma explains that he was emulating Hitchcock “in order to work out my own problems as a storyteller.” Since then, he’s directed a startling number of movies that have indelibly changed American culture, like Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible. As far as exercises in self-improvement go, I’d say Sisters is a remarkable success.

Posted by Geoff at 11:12 PM CST
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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Several essays and reviews of Brian De Palma's Sisters were posted this past week, as Criterion released its new director-approved edition on Blu-ray and DVD:

Glenn Erickson, Trailers From Hell

The nigh-perfect score is by Bernard Herrmann, who was probably the biggest item in producer Pressman’s budget. Sisters launches with a gripping title sequence consisting of a progression of macro-photographed fetuses set to Herrman’s crashing horns and screaming Moog synthesizers. One could put that music to pictures of baby kittens, and we’d know they were Kittens from Hell. Herrmann’s prestige keeps the Roe-vs-Wade baby monsters from becoming exploitative: the disturbing opening makes the neutral one-word title instantly sinister. We’re prepared for anything.

Out here in Los Angeles, Sisters ‘premiered’ in November 1972’s Los Angeles Film Exposition (FILMEX), and was acquired one month later by American International. I saw parts of it at FILMEX while working as an usher (talk about immediately recognizing music by a specific composer!) and later saw a preview screening in Westwood. Some of the filmmakers were in the lobby afterwards, and I almost walked into a wall when I caught sight of Margot Kidder, who was losing no opportunity for self-promotion.

Variety reviews could usually be relied upon to point out fresh creativity, even in exploitation films. For this show they weren’t as enthusiastic, noting the gory details but minimizing Sisters’ appeal as an ‘okay shocker for the action market.’ The reviewer rather grudgingly noted the filmic references to The Master of Suspense, adding that the ‘Hitchcock-style music’ smooths over the film’s rough edges.

I can’t imagine a 1973 film student not being energized by De Palma’s movie — many of us were in film school because we were inspired by reading about Alfred Hitchcock. As a card-carrying Hitchcock- obsessed film student, I went home and scribbled down a list of Hitchcock allusions, plot points, themes, shots, setups, etc. The only previous movie that I’m aware was consciously constructed of Hitchcock homage material is Riccardo Freda’s L’orribile Segreto del Dr. Hichcock (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock). It wasn’t until much later that I realized Sisters was also a veritable travelogue of witty references to classic horror films that I hadn’t yet seen: Peeping Tom, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc.

Here’s the rundown of what I once rudely called ‘Hitchcock Rip-Offs.’
They’re Big Spoilers, so see the film first if you have an analytical memory:

Rear Window: A murder seen by an ‘amateur’ is doubted by a police professional. Actions are observed and investigated with binoculars between apartment buildings. Durning’s detective Durning waves, ‘ain’t found nothin’ yet’ from afar.

Psycho: The major prop introduction of the butcher knives. The unexpected knife killing of a likeable character in whom we’ve invested our emotions. The murder clean-up shown in detail. A private detective that disappears from the film mid-case. The revelation that ‘Dominique died on the operating table’ (= ‘Who’s that buried up in Greenlawn Cemetary?’). Various subjective/objective walks, especially the walk leading to the mystery asylum. A trucking-zoom into the pupil of an eye. The psychiatrist blurting out essential exposition for uncomprehending audiences. Kidder’s double identity and the entire Norman Bates personality transference theme. ‘Special guest transferences’: one between psycho killer and psychiatrist, and another between killer and investigator.

Spellbound: The Dali-like dream nightmare (granted, in style it is more akin to a Fellini nightmare).

Suspicion: Philip’s walk with the cake mirrors the walk with the poisoned milk.

The Birds: The pastry clerks (including Olympia Dukakis!) argue behind the counter, just like the hardware proprietor in Bodega Bay. The ‘huh’ ending features an innocuous-sinister exterior landscape with telephone poles.

Lots of Hitch films: Grace’s troublesome Mother, arguing with the cops (calling the police always leads nowhere).

Yes, the ‘borrowed’ situations do stack up. But this is not a lifeless copycat movie. De Palma mounts several inspired set piece sequences that are wholly his own, not merely witty or clever. The Life Magazine newsreel story on the twins provides very effective exposition. But Sisters is best remembered for two killer scenes, the asylum nightmare and the split screen murder.

Enthusiastically received and much discussed was De Palma’s split-screen experiment during and after the opening murder sequence. Hitchcock never tried a split-screen sequence. He had tried many gimmicks in his long career — claustrophobic staging, ultra-long takes, subjective flashbacks, 3-D. But by the time the multiscreen movie at the 1966 World’s Fair made big news, Hitchcock was no longer tinkering with such experimentation. At the time we thought De Palma had been inspired by Richard Fleischer’s 1968 The Boston Strangler, but De Palma’s own Murder à la Mod, released first, uses the technique as well; it also featured actor William Finley.

As was also seen in parts of the Fleischer film, De Palma’s split-screen replaces standard parallel cutting: he simultaneously shows both halves of actions that would normally be intercut one with another. The suspense of the murderers cleaning away traces of the crime while investigators dawdle only a few feet away is very effective. Audiences I saw Sisters with applauded the double-vision synchronous hide ‘n seek game near the elevators.

Grace’s witnessing of the actual murder is equally effective, but brings up a glaring inconsistency, a big Hitchcock no-no cheat. Grace is shown calmly walking to her window perhaps thirty seconds after the actual murder takes place. Seeing a bloody hand writing ‘help’ on a window, she recoils in alarm, indicating that she was unaware of any problem before. And what can she (we) see? She can barely tell that the man is black. The rest of her view, which we see on one half of the split screen, is obstructed by the reflection of a brick wall on the glass. Yet Grace tells the cops she witnessed a murder, knows it was a stabbing, even describes the assailant, who never came anywhere near the window to be identified. It’s a very cute confusion – on first viewing the murder is so shocking and the events so riveting that Savant just took Grace at her word. Maybe it’s another Hitchcock reference — to the ‘lying flashback’ in Stage Fright.

Brian De Palma’s second bravura sequence is the B&W nightmare, an almost perfect horror vision visually unlike anything in Hitchcock. Assembled as a master tracking shot through a fantastic horror scene, it’s stylistically more akin to Federico Fellini. It also has a purpose, to impress on Grace’s mind a traumatic false reality, ‘Manchurian Candidate-style.’ The zoom into the eye of the drugged Grace was probably inspired by Repulsion; it also has the ‘diamond bullet to the brain’ effect of 2001. Inside the mind’s eye is a convincingly warped B&W Dali-scape of elements and characters we’ve seen earlier on, plus a menagerie of grotesques.

Our ability to take the scene literally vanishes as we recognize people that ‘don’t belong’: Grace’s mother and the famous journalist (Barnard Hughes) are among the creepy inhabitants of this asylum. The fisheye nightmare is too theatrical to be one of Polanski’s quietly disturbing dreams in Rosemary’s Baby, and is much more ‘felt’ than the remote creepshows in Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf. Of course, the spectacle is greatly enhanced by Bernard Herrmann sledgehammer music scoring. When Charles Durning is suddenly revealed holding a meatcleaver, the irrational reigns supreme. It’s the director’s doing: nothing in De Palma’s later horrors matches this moment.

Chuck Bowen, Slant

Though Brian De Palma had directed several accomplished features before it, Sisters feels in many ways like a debut film. It’s certainly De Palma’s first attempt to marry the edgy satirical textures of his earlier work with a recognizable genre narrative. Or, more bluntly, Sisters is De Palma’s first horror thriller, which is the genre that has allowed him to express himself fully. Like many debut films, Sisters is self-conscious and intellectually guarded, lacking the emotional vibrancy of its creator’s future productions, but it’s also a stunning work of style that erupts into ferocious madness.

Sisters opens on what was already then a classically auto-critical kind of De Palma joke. A blind woman, Danielle (Margot Kidder), strolls into a dressing room where a man, Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson), is changing. Unaware that anyone else is in the room, Danielle begins to disrobe. Until this point, the sequence plays as a perfectly conventional opening for a thriller, or maybe a comedy, until it’s revealed to be part of a Candid Camera-style show within the film called Peeping Toms, with Phillip as the mark. Danielle isn’t blind and works for the show, which follows contestants as they bet on whether Phillip will watch her undress, turn his head, or alert her to his presence. A polite man, Phillip turns his head, causing the contestants to lose points.

Most obviously, this scene functions as one of De Palma’s references to Alfred Hitchcock, acknowledging the voyeuristic functions, and interrogations, of much of the latter’s filmography. And the title of the game show within the film references Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, which was also concerned with the dehumanizing qualities of media. These references are clever, relatively easy to parse, and safe—representing the sort of violations of a viewer’s trust that ironically broker an audience’s greater complicity in the post-Psycho age, as such rug-pulling encourages us to gleefully anticipate the next trick.

Yet De Palma laces all this potentially smug cleverness with an uncomfortable detail that echoes the social satire of the “Be Black, Baby” sequence from Hi Mom!, and that reveals a major element of his own distinctive voice: his scalding humor and distrust of conventional surfaces. Phillip is African-American, and the game show’s audience and contestants are all white. Which is to say that we’re watching a scene in which white people try to lure a black man into sexually harassing a white woman for their own amusement.

Phillip weathers this offense the way people of color have been conditioned to, with a resigned restraint that’s intended to prevent further accosting. De Palma dramatizes the racial savagery of the game show with an off-handedness that’s amusing and disturbing. In case we miss the point, Phillip is given two tickets to a restaurant called The Africa Room for being a good sport, and Danielle is given a set of knives. These prizes epitomize De Palma’s brutal cleverness, as each play a role in Phillip’s destruction.

This racial satire continues to inform Sisters even as the film morphs into a delirious fusion of Psycho, Rear Window, and Rope that retrospectively suggests a test run for Dressed to Kill. Phillip is this film’s Marion Crane, a subjugated person, initially assumed to be the protagonist, who must die so as to satisfy the whims of a white establishment that’s spinning out of control. De Palma plays with our awareness of Hitchcock’s films, deriving suspense not from the pulling of the narrative rug but from the timing of the pulling.

Phillip has sex with Danielle, who’s being stalked by her ex-husband, Emile (William Finley). Phillip overhears Danielle arguing with her twin sister, the pointedly unseen Dominique, who’s enraged that Danielle has a man over at the apartment. Then, Phillip goes to sleep and gets up and buys the sisters a birthday cake—a poignantly thoughtful gesture that seals his doom. Though we empathize with the character, we’re conditioned to become impatient for Phillip’s death so that we may begin to recover from it.

Dying a death as painful and lonely as the one that Marion Crane suffered before him in Psycho, Phillip crawls across the floor of Danielle’s apartment—his blood perversely echoing the color and texture of the icing on the birthday cake—and hands the film’s narrative baton off to Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt). Grace sees Phillip’s hand pressed against Danielle’s window from the neighboring angle of her own apartment and calls the police, whom she’s often criticized in her liberal-minded journalism. And the indifference of the police to Grace’s sensational story of a potential hate crime is visually expressed by one of the greatest split-screen sequences in De Palma’s career: two simultaneous nine-minute shots that contrast Emil’s efforts to conceal the murder with Grace’s efforts to expose it. In an astonishing flourish, we see Grace and Emil just miss each other in a blood-red hallway, suggesting desperate mice in an elaborate labyrinth. And this struggle, to become aware of social atrocity and to expose it, is capped off at the end of Sisters with a galvanizing punchline: Grace, the film’s social crusader, is willed into amnesia.

In prolonged bits and pieces, Sisters shows De Palma to be on the cusp of achieving the mastery that he would display in full by the early 1980s. What the film lacks is the seemingly intuitive sense of emotional escalation that sustains Dressed to Kill and Blow Out, which are so fluid that they almost feel as if they’re composed of a single, breathless shot. Though it climaxes with a mind-fucking in an insane asylum that’s classic in its own right, Sisters is also freighted with tongue-in-cheek exposition that occasionally stops it dead in its tracks, putting unnecessary quotation marks on a grimy, starkly sophisticated fusion of social satire and body horror.

Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

Even though “Sisters” was De Palma’s first full-out attempt at the suspense genre, one would never be able to discern that thanks to the sheer filmmaking skill that he demonstrates here. After lulling viewers into a state of complacency during the long opening sequence, De Palma begins turning the screws on them with his ability to generate tension thanks to his detailed visual approach. The scene in which Grace’s argument with the cops is juxtaposed with Emil and Danielle trying to clean up Dominique’s mess before anyone else arrives is a virtual master class in filmmaking all by itself in the way that it effortlessly supplies a wealth of information regarding the relationship of Emil and Danielle and the mutual antipathy between Grace and the cops while simultaneously generating equal levels of tension on both fronts. It is a bravura moment that still stands as one of the greatest set pieces in De Palma’s filmography and while nothing else in the film can quite match it, a darker and moodier feel begins to dominate the proceedings—aided in no small part by the spectacularly moody score by the legendary Bernard Herrmann—and the nightmarish final sequence in the asylum, featuring key flashbacks shot in 16mm by De Palma in a manner designed to resemble “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), is a knockout.

One aspect of “Sisters” that makes it a pure product of De Palma is in the usage of voyeurism, a theme that the director would return to time and again throughout his career. In this film, everyone is watching each other, it seems, but from skewed perspectives that prevent them from actually seeing what is right before their eyes. The game show where both Philip and the audience are seeing two different things that are not quite as they seem. Philip sees Emil but can only look at him as a jealous ex-lover of Danielle’s and not as a potential warning sign. Grace witnesses the murder but cannot actually prove anything that she saw and when she does find proof, her inability to watch where she is going ends up destroying it. It is only at the end of the film that people like Grace and Larch are able to see the truth head-on but due to circumstances, neither one is able to communicate the truths that they have seen to anyone, a notion that is perfectly articulated in the haunting shot that brings the story to a close on a deeply ambiguous note.

Even De Palma’s most devoted fans will admit that narrative logic and structure is not always of interest to him and that some of his stories do not exactly stand up to rigorous analysis when all is said and done. Therefore, watching “Sisters” proves to be a bit of a shock because the screenplay that he and Rose have conjured up is actually pretty strong and sound in the way that it provides a sturdy dramatic structure for him to build upon with his weirdo humor and elaborately designed suspense sequences. The opening 20 minutes or so are interesting in the sense that nothing really happens—none of the sex or violence that viewers might be expecting—but the characters of Danielle and Philip are so likable and engaging that it is easy to get lulled into a false sense of complacency that only makes Philip’s murder at the hands of Dominique all the more horrifying. (By employing this kind of slow burn opening, De Palma is utilizing the same approach that he would later deploy in his original version of “Raising Cain” (1992) before restructuring it into the eventual theatrical version.) With all of that going on, he manages to deftly introduce another winning and appealing character in Grace, a contemporary version of the kind of hard-driving crusading female journalist that Glenda Farrell used to play back in the day—the kind who is all about the work and becomes exasperated when her mother (Mary Davenport, Jennifer Salt’s real-life mother) keeps noodging her about when she is going to give up her hobby and finally settle down and get married. As the story progresses, things become increasingly strange and outlandish but De Palma never departs from the logic that he has established early on and indeed, one of the pleasures of watching the film again, once the surprises have been revealed, is to observe just how intricately the elements come together.

Posted by Geoff at 10:36 PM CDT
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Monday, October 29, 2018

Earlier today, Criterion posted a video clip from a new interview with Jennifer Salt. The full interview is one of the extra features on Criterion's new edition of Sisters, released last week. In the clip, Salt describes Brian De Palma on the set:
So, on the set, when we were shooting, Brian was... kind of grumpy-- didn't love being on a set, didn't like being asked all these questions, didn't like the amount of time that everything took. He was impatient. He didn't like sitting around. So, he was never in the best of humor, and so he wasn't like somebody who said let's talk about this and let's rehearse it and let's go deeper. He never said anything like that. He just would say, "A little more of this," or some-- you know, it was minimal, what he was giving us, in terms of direction. He picked people he enjoyed working with, and kind of let them go their way and, you know, hope that they would do their thing. And it was easy to do that, because you were getting so much respect from him. You know, I found it very easy. I was never nervous on the set, or, I just, like I said, I just wanted to make him laugh.

Posted by Geoff at 9:50 PM CDT
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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Carrie Rickey's essay for the new Criterion edition of Brian De Palma's Sisters (released yesterday) has been posted on the Criterion website. Here's how it starts:
In 1973, the arrival of Sisters, the first film by Brian De Palma that is recognizably his, almost concurrently with the release of Frenzy, the penultimate feature by Alfred Hitchcock, incited heretical talk among cinephiles. Many argued that the former was superior to—and, curiously, more Hitchcockian than—the latter. At the time, I thought those movie geeks were being provocative and/or blasphemous. With distance, I’ve come around to their way of thinking. That U-turn was, for me, a first brush with George Bernard Shaw’s insight that all truths begin as blasphemies.

Posted by Geoff at 7:57 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 8:01 AM CDT
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Thursday, October 11, 2018

The capture above comes from DVD Beaver's review of the new Criterion Blu-ray edition of Brian De Palma's Sisters, which will be released October 23rd. This Friday, however, the new 4K restoration of the film will premiere at The Quad Cinema in New York. Reviews have been popping up this week-- here are some links/excerpts:

J. Hoberman, New York Times

The 1973 slasher film “Sisters,” digitally restored and playing at the Quad Cinema, as well as streaming on services like FilmStruck, was Brian De Palma’s first homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Shamelessly lurid, it’s also his best.

Sisters” boasts an angsty score by Bernard Herrmann, who wrote the music for a number of Hitchcock films including “Psycho,” from which “Sisters” borrows much of its plot. De Palma also drew on Hitchcock’s brilliant use of editing to generate suspense, augmenting conventional crosscutting with his taste for split-screen action.

Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” is another source, bolstered by De Palma’s own interest in voyeurism. Indeed, “Sisters” opens with an episode from a mock quiz show called “Peeping Tom,” which allows a meet-cute between Danielle (Margot Kidder), a model hired for the show, and a winning contestant, the advertising salesman Philip (Lisle Wilson, best remembered for his regular role on the mid-1970s sitcom “That’s My Mama”).

That “Peeping Tom” awards Philip, who is African-American, dinner for two at a tacky theme restaurant called the African Room suggests that, like De Palma’s early independent films, “Sisters” will have elements of social satire; that Philip invites Danielle to dine with him raises the ante, not least by introducing her creepy “ex-husband” (the frequent De Palma collaborator William Finley); that Danielle turns out to have a twin complicates everything.

Although some mistakenly credited a “rave” review of “Sisters” by The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael with launching Mr. De Palma’s Hollywood career, her notice was actually an unequivocal pan: “‘Sisters,’” she wrote, “is a long way from being the brilliant thriller the ads say it is, but its limp technique doesn’t seem to matter to the people who want their gratuitous gore.”

It was actually Vincent Canby who wrote a strongly positive review in The New York Times, calling De Palma, hitherto known for his anarchic comedies, “a first-rate director” and noting, with regard to “Sisters,” that “an intelligent horror film is very rare these days.” (Kael boarded the De Palma bus a year later with his rock extravaganza “Phantom of the Paradise.”)

Hitchcock was a master of dark humor. De Palma’s wit is more facetious and, one might say, lacerating. Presupposing the viewer’s knowledge of “Psycho,” “Sisters” is something like a jaded, politicized remake, reflecting post-1960s disillusionment. The film scholar Chris Dumas points out that De Palma’s substitutions are crucial. His psychotic killer is a white woman and, rather than the ambivalent adulteress of “Psycho,” the victim is a black man (a role De Palma optimistically hoped might attract Sidney Poitier). The only witness to the murder is a 25-year-old would-be muckraking reporter for a neighborhood weekly (Jennifer Salt), widely disbelieved by investigators because of her articles on police brutality.

Once this allegorical setup is grasped, the journalist’s fate, the disposition of the corpse and the movie’s final shot make for a thriller that, while lesser than Hitchcock’s, is more brutally cynical and despairing.

Brad Gullickson, Film School Rejects
Herrmann’s score screams with the intensity of the emotions being savaged by the characters. There are no lows, only apocalyptic heights of ecstasy and revulsion. Yes, the restoration offers a classy, natural picture, but the uncompressed monaural soundtrack is enough to demand your dollars. Herrmann blares with the recognizable fervor of his Vertigo, but the New Hollywood aesthetic allows him to unleash whatever last drops of good taste he might be holding onto. The composer hits you with one fist while De Palma slaps you with another. Thank you, sirs, may I have another?

While De Palma had directed six films prior to Sisters, this is the first in his canon to be infused with a genuine sense of danger. It’s a risk that oozes from his twisted sensibilities, and the fear is that its toxicity is infectious. An inability to resist his deviant delights might transform you into a lifelong acolyte of the depraved. Commit or join the safety of the AFI approved films he’s riffing against.

You want to look away, but his camera robs you of the option. There is no flight from the scene of the crime. When the plot demands the intrusion of another character, De Palma relinquishes only half of the screen. Jennifer Salt is running to the rescue on the left, but the split-screen gives no respite from the horrors on the right. You can’t turn away. It’s a trick he would later get lost within, but in his earlier efforts, the effect is just one of many sharp instruments in his toolbox.

Sisters relates like a kinky rendition of a Popular Science puff piece. An anecdote overheard by Hitchcock chewed on by Georges Franju and regurgitated by De Palma. Those that lap it up deserve the poisoning that results. Whatever demented gorgers that remain hungry afterward should seek out Carrie, Dressed to Kill, and Body Double.

Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

Given his command of the craft and the trademark flourishes that define his oeuvre, including split-screen and split diopter shots, it’s easy to forget that Brian De Palma made a half-dozen pictures before “Sisters” would cement the style that would define his career. It’s unfathomable given the mechanics of today’s industry to imagine any filmmaker would be able to test out their talents on six features before finally scoring the hit that would propel them forward. However, the late ‘60s and ‘70s afforded filmmakers that luxury, and while all the aforementioned details are fascinating, the greatest pleasure in watching the new 4K restoration of “Sisters” is feeling like you’re in the hands of a master from the very first frame.

Borrowing liberally from the pages of Alfred Hitchcock — who was still very much alive at the time, with “Frenzy” and “Sisters” released the same year — you can already sense the torch being passed. Not only did De Palma manage to snare the scoring talents of frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann, but the film openly lifts from “Psycho,” “Rope,” and “Rear Window.” However, De Palma was no mere imitator. While you might see the faint fingerprints of Hitchcock on the scotch tape, De Palma’s approach moved beyond homage to transformation. Even more than 40 years after its release, “Sisters” feels thrillingly modern, and shaped with a sense of confidence that is simply awe-inspiring.

Sporting a ludicrous French accent that is nonetheless perfectly pitched for the film’s sensationalist storyline, Margot Kidder leads the picture as Danielle, a Quebecois model and aspiring actress trying to make it in the Big Apple. A chance meeting on a completely bonkers game show has her crossing paths with the handsome and kind Phillip (Lisle Wilson), and the pair goes out for dinner and winds up back at her place. However, the efficiently lean script by De Palma and Louisa Rose starts pulling the strings early. Danielle’s ex-husband Emil (William Finley) can’t stop hovering around the couple, and Danielle’s twin sister Dominique (also played by Kidder) arrives unexpectedly. Fast-forward a little bit and soon the cops and an investigative reporter, Grace (Jennifer Salt), are thrown into the mix and if you haven’t seen the picture, it’s best to experience the rest cold.

What’s most striking about De Palma’s film four decades later is its stunning composition. The director’s ability to frame and stage lengthy sequences — particularly when utilizing split-screen perspectives to ratchet up the tension — can still leave many contemporary filmmakers and audiences stunned. Of course, De Palma would employ this technique throughout his career with increasing complexity, and while on some later occasions the style tends to be a crutch for a screenplay that isn’t cutting it, with “Sisters” it’s all part of a seamless whole. The director clearly knows the material is tabloid level trash, but his audacity matches his accomplishment. “Sisters” never carries any feeling that De Palma is showing off or flexing his cinematic chops because he can, or is above the material. The film is utterly transfixing because it plays its schlock straight, and paired with Hermann’s hair-raising throwback score, the effect is giddy. The result is pure entertainment, and even though the film’s big twist can be seen coming with its first twenty minutes, you want to see how it gets there anyway. It’s worth the journey and it’s a helluva ride to take.

Particularly early on, De Palma’s films tended to orbit around freaks and outsiders — “Phantom Of The Paradise” and “Carrie” would be two of the next three pictures he would make following “Sisters” — but the sympathy he feels for these characters, even as they commit horrific acts, has always been notable. In “Sisters,” even as the blood starts to run, the filmmaker feels keenly for Danielle’s inability to cope with the rest of the world. With a background that forever marked her socially out of step, De Palma understands how that might motivate madness, but at the same time, refuses to allow that fact to forgive the choices Danielle makes.

It’s a surprising sensitivity to be found within the ingredients of a high-grade B-movie. However, De Palma has spent his lifetime pushing past and, at his best, transcending the limits of genre pictures. “Sisters” shows the director at a formative point in his career, taking the tools and experiments from his early work, and refining it into his first bonafide classic. However, you’ll probably be having too much fun to even think about that.

Posted by Geoff at 12:30 AM CDT
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Friday, September 14, 2018
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sistersarrowcriterionblu.jpg"I am getting used to the new colors and appreciate the vibrancy and texture," states Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver. Tooze has captures from the upcoming Criterion Blu-ray edition of Brian De Palma's Sisters, and the comment above, regarding the tendency of recent Criterion releases to have a sort of teal tint, comes from Tooze's review of the upcoming release (October 23rd). You can visit the link above to see comparisons between the previous Criterion DVD release, Arrow's Blu-ray edition from 2014, and the new Criterion Blu-ray. Meanwhile, here's what Tooze writes about the new edition at DVD Beaver:
Criterion - Region 'A' Blu-ray - September 2018 - The Criterion is advertised as a "New 4K digital restoration, approved by director Brian De Palma". The differences with the 2014 Arrow 1080P are, surprisingly, extensive. The Criterion is in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (as opposed to opened-up 1.78:1 of the UK rendering), showing more information on the sides and less on the top and bottom. It also shows much more grain and has some unpleasant teal/green infiltration that some may not appreciate. Colors do shift - jackets/suits that were blue on the Arrow shift to a more grey palette. Colors, like reds, are generally deeper and richer - flesh tones are warmer with a tinge of orange. It, likewise, has a max'ed out bitrate and I was expecting both to offer a similar presentation. I like the appearance because of the advanced texture and on the 65" OLED it diffuses the teal/green cast... but every system may be different. I am getting used to the new colors and appreciate the vibrancy and texture.

Also a linear PCM mono (24-bit) track. The lossless easily handles the effects and the typical powerfulc score by the great Bernard Herrmann (Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, Cape Fear, The Magnificent Ambersons, Taxi Driver, The Wrong Man, etc. etc.). It sounds the same as the Arrow according to my crusty ears. There are, also, optional English (SDH) subtitles on the Region 'A' Blu-ray disc.

Criterion add new supplements from their own 2000 DVD. There is a new, 24-minute, interview with actor Jennifer Salt (intrepid Grace Collier in Sisters) and she talks about being at school, meeting De Palma and how she got the role in the film etc. There are 27-minutes worth of interviews from 2004 with De Palma, actors Bill Finley and Charles Durning, editor Paul Hirsch, and producer Edward R. Pressman and the director is always thoughtful and attentive. You can watch the film with 1.5 hours worth of an audio discussion from a 1973 with De Palma at the American Film Institute. It can be a shade hushed but the director's fans will appreciate its inclusion and his observations. We get a 9-minute appearance from 1970 by actor Margot Kidder on The Dick Cavett Show, a length slideshow photo gallery and 3.5 minutes of radio spots. The package has an essay by critic Carrie Rickey, excerpts from a 1973 interview with De Palma on the making of the film, and a 1973 article by the director on working with composer Bernard Herrmann.

We always are in favor of different packages - it's great to have choices. The Criterion Blu-ray promotes reflection on their director-approved image and offers rewarding new extras. This film gets better each time I see it. Recommended!

Posted by Geoff at 8:19 AM CDT
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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Posted by Geoff at 11:48 PM CDT
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Monday, July 16, 2018
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterscriterion2018.jpgThe Criterion Collection today announced that it will release a new edition (on Blu-ray and DVD) of Brian De Palma's Sisters on October 23, 2018. Criterion had previously released Sisters on DVD in 2000. The new release features a cover by Jay Shaw. Not all of the special features that will be included have been worked out yet (the list, presented below, states, "More!"), but here is what Criterion lists for now:
Special Features

New 4K digital restoration, approved by director Brian De Palma, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray

New interview with actor Jennifer Salt

Interviews from 2004 with De Palma, actors William Finley and Charles Durning, and producer Edward R. Pressman

Audio from a 1973 discussion with De Palma at the AFI

Appearance from 1970 by actor Margot Kidder on The Dick Cavett Show


PLUS: An essay by critic Carrie Rickey, excerpts from a 1973 interview with De Palma on the making of the film, and a 1973 article by De Palma on working with composer Bernard Hermann

New cover by Jay Shaw

FLASHBACK: Carrie Rickey's Philly "Flickgrrl" column on De Palma from 2009

In 2009, Tony Dayoub at Cinema Viewfinder hosted a Brian De Palma Blog-A-Thon, which Carrie Rickey wrote about in her "Flickgrrl" column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here's her brief summary of De Palma's career up to that point:

Few filmmakers polarize filmlovers like De Palma, whose love-'em-or-hate'em features include the marrow-chilling Sisters (1972) and the definitive high-school horror flick Carrie (1976). The director, a bearded barrel of a man, grew up near Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square (his father was the head of surgery at Jefferson Hospital) and attended Friends Central. De Palma directed Blow Out (1981), one of the best movies made in Philly, the addictively enjoyable Scarface (1983), the provocative peeping-Tomcat Body Double (1984), that slickly entertaining The Untouchables (1987) one of the most compelling among Vietnam films, Casualties of War (1989) and the stylish Mission: Impossible (1996). Though he hasn't scored a maintream hit since then, Femme Fatale (2002) is one of my guilty pleasures, an impossibly sexy dreamscape with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Antonio Banderas.

De Palma does not so much explore as present the connection between sex and power (and vice-versa), which in his films is often linked by an umbilicus of blood. (As Tony Montana, hero of the Oliver Stone-scripted Scarface, put it: First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women.") Another persistent theme is that of a man unable to save a woman in jeopardy.

The naked violence and sexuality of De Palma's films have made him a controversy magnet. During the 1980s some social critic observed that every time he made a movie he lowered the national IQ by 10 points. Since there are so few filmmakers with such swoony style, I'm inclined to forgive him for a lack of substance. You will not, however, hear me defending the indefensible The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) or Mission to Mars (2000), ravishing, but indecipherable.

Posted by Geoff at 7:44 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, July 16, 2018 8:35 PM CDT
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Thursday, June 28, 2018
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/castrosisters2018.jpgTonight's double feature at The Castro Theatre in San Francisco has Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (at 7pm) followed by Brian De Palma's Sisters (at 9pm). San Francisco Chronicle's G. Allen Johnson says the latter screening allows viewers to glimpse the then-seemingly unlimited potential of Margot Kidder, who passed away last month:
No offense to Amy Adams, Teri Hatcher or the great Noel Neill, but Margot Kidder will always be my Lois Lane.

With her death last month — too soon at age 69 — another piece of my childhood was consigned to history.

The truth is, the Canadian-born Kidder’s career was both elevated and burdened by Lois Lane. She became famous, and the four “Superman” films she made with Christopher Reeve were her biggest, yet at the same time her promising career hit a speed bump (Karen Allen had a similar experience after “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).

Her potential is obvious in 1972’s “Sisters,” Brian De Palma’s early foray into Alfred Hitchcock’s turf, which plays — along with Hitchcock’s “Psycho” — at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Thursday, June [28].

Kidder plays Danielle Breton, a French-Canadian fashion model who has a night of drinking and passion with Philip (Lisle Wilson), whom she met on a “Candid Camera”-like game show. They are harassed on their date by her ex-husband, Emil (the creepy William Finley), but end up spending the night together at her place on Staten Island.

In the morning, however, things take a shocking turn when Philip is stabbed to death by Danielle’s separated Siamese twin sister, Dominique (also Kidder).

The murder is witnessed through a window by a neighbor, newspaper reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt). But after a quick clean-up of the crime scene by Emil, Grace has trouble convincing detectives that she saw a murder. She hires a private eye (Charles Durning) to prove it.

Although Salt, who appeared with Kidder in De Palma’s earlier “Hi Mom!” (1970), has more screen time, it is Kidder who makes the big impression, with a complicated performance (or performances, if you like) that calls for both vulnerability and ferociousness, sanity and full-out bat-crazy.

With a score by Hitchcock regular Bernard Hermann and elements of “Psycho,” “Rear Window” and “Vertigo,” “Sisters” is a film buff’s delight.

Kidder would go on to make another cult horror film in Canada, Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas,” an IRA drama “A Quiet Day in Belfast” that won Kidder best actress at the Canadian film awards, and a nice turn as Robert Redford’s on-again, off-again girlfriend in “The Great Waldo Pepper,” her first role in a big Hollywood film.

Kidder’s biggest non-“Superman” box-office success was the 1979 supernatural thriller “The Amityville Horror,” and there were also quality performances in films such as “Willie & Phil,” “Heartaches” and “Trenchcoat,” but she never achieved A-list status and quality offers dried up even before her last turn as Lois Lane in 1987’s “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.”

Sisters,” though, provides a glimpse of a talent and potential that then seemed unlimited.

Posted by Geoff at 7:23 PM CDT
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