Label: Arrow Video (buy from them here)
Release date: 28th April 2014
Format: Blu-ray + DVD (only former sent for review)
Video format: 1080p (DVD is PAL)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Soundtracks: LPCM 2.0 Mono: English (DVD is DD 2.0 mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Runtime: 93 mins
No. of discs: 1 x BD-50 + 1 x DVD-9
Packaging: 1 x standard 2-disc amaray
Region Coding: Region B
Rating: BBFC 18
WHAT THE DEVIL HATH JOINED TOGETHER LET NO MAN CUT ASUNDER!
Before 1973, Brian De Palma was impossible to pigeonhole: he made comedies, political satires and openly experimental pieces. But with Sisters (originally released as Blood Sisters in the UK) he turned to the suspense thriller and discovered his natural home – and a style that would lead directly to later masterpieces like (Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out).
When Danielle (Margot Kidder) meets potential boyfriend Philip (Lisle Wilson) after appearing on the TV show Peeping Toms (a nod to the Michael Powell shocker), she invites him home, only to attract the ire of her twin sister Dominique. From across the courtyard, Rear Window style, reporter Grace (Jennifer Salt) witnesses Philip being murdered by one of the twins – but the police find no body or any physical evidence. Naturally, Grace takes things into her own hands, and discovers more about the sisters relationship than she bargained for…
Strongly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski, and with a score by the great Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, Psycho), Sisters was the first true Brian De Palma film.
For those only familiar with later DePalma films, it’s something of a shock to see all his skill and power so readily on display so early on in his career, yet leavened with humour and a political sense rarely ascribed to him other than for his pair of war films later on. Suddenly, it’s a lot easier to perceive what drew him years later to his most notorious failure, the big-screen adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities as well as the anger and state-of-the-nation commentart of Oliver Stone‘s script for Scarface.
Still, this is a Hitchcock/Polanski-style thriller first and foremost, although pushed much further into the horror arena. With a script from a woman writer, then tailored for the two lead actresses, it is also far more clearly feminist than discussion of the director’s later films would lead you to believe. The tale is lurid enough in keeping with the influences, but DePalma also creates a sense of weirdness behind the everyday, contrasting the daylit streets of New York with the strange nighttime goings-on embodied by William Finlay’s textbook weirdo. The fun of watching Finlay act like a character from a much earlier era of film and literature is matched by the assorted techniques DePalma plays with (including split screens, b/w film-within-a-film and more), using them to both tell the story and wrong-foot the viewer, constantly revea(ling a world filled with multiple levels of voyeurism.
It’s a real joy here on the Blog to experience again a lower-budgeted film with a director so in control, but working with clear intent beyond simply a commercial vehicle or rendering their version of something seen last week. DePalma sets out a personal stamp recognisable now to viewers of his later films, building on his influences masterfully, getting terrific performances out of the relatively inexperienced members of the cast as well as rock-solid work from the more experienced ones. His repertory company begins here with the late great Finlay and Charles Durning, as well as Mary Davenport. Jennifer Salt, now EP on American Horror Story, is terrific as the reporter on the trail of a story as well as a truth, but acting honours, however, go to her then-roommate Margot Kidder, grabbing hold of the lead role with both hands and using it to make her career. She’s riveting as the French-Canadian model twin with a dark and sinister past that won’t let go, and is the icing on a cake then decorated with a first-class score by Bernard Herrmann, a crucial part of giving the film the feel of a larger production than it actually is.
Video & Audio
It’s hard to come up with new superlatives for the work done on Arrow’s restored releases. Suffice it to say that the work done here is so good, not only does it banish previous versions of the film however familiar to the bin, it feels like time travel back to 1973 New York, Staten Island and New Jersey. Once again, a blu-ray of a film provides the viewer with the best possible visual and auditory experience, making it seem like the first ever print off the negative run through a brand new first-class projector with a fresh bulb and lens. Absolutely deserves to be on end-of-year best-of lists for the video and audio alone.
As always, Arrow contextualise the film exceedingly well, although compared to previous releases some of the wonderful interviews feel cut short, for whatever reason that might be. We get two excellent video essays voiced by critics Justin Humphreys on Sisters and Mike Sutton on DePalma’s career, five interviews with actress Jennifer Salt, writer Louisa Rose, editor Paul Hirsch, unit manager Jeffrey Hayes, and actor William Finlay (via an audio-only interview), a trailer and promotional material gallery. While the interviews reveal much and the interviewees are forthright, it does feel like the interviews are just about to get into meatier material when they end, in particular with Rose’s comments on the treatment of female characters in the horror genre. The visual essays prove to be almost as good as a commentary, however, with excellent points made by both Humphreys and Sutton.
Yet another first-class release from Arrow of a Brian DePalma film, permitting one of his earlier films to assume its rightful place in his oeuvre for those not already familiar with it. While a good watch for those still encountering 70s horrific thrillers for the first time, this edition is essential for fans of the director or cast.