Newest Reviews:

New Movies -  

The Tunnel


The Tall Man

Mama Africa





Brownian Movement

Last Ride

[Rec]³: Genesis

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Indie Game: The Movie

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Old Movies -

Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena

Drums Along the Mohawk

The Chase

The Heiress

Show People

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry



Miracle Mile

The Great Flamarion

Dark Habits

Archives -

Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012

All reviews alphabetically

All reviews by star rating

All reviews by release year


Screening Log



E-mail me




Sisters (Brian De Palma) 1973

   Sisters is the first Hitchcock homage that Brian De Palma directed, and it’s a doozy. There are scenes in any horror film that put the viewer on edge. Right before the slasher slashes his victim or before the monster eats his prey, a good director will rile us up. Sisters takes Hitchcock’s famous comment that he plays his audience like a fiddle to heart, and De Palma makes the first forty-five minutes of the film feel like anyone on screen is about to get hacked up, if only the bogeyman would jump out of the shadows. While there are films, like 1994’s Mute Witness, that offer a similarly distilled horror show, what’s amazing is that De Palma manages to create the sense of a threat without actually revealing the film as a horror film or showing us much action that’s in any way dangerous. He’s obsessing on details and using his camerawork to underline certain dialogue so that we know there must be a point to it all. Obviously, this narrative device has been lifted from Psycho, but it’s almost one-upped here since Sisters relies on fewer red herrings and is more up-front that we’re being teased, turning the passing of time without incident into a game instead of a frustration. The events that actually happen in the first half of the movie are so mundane that the suspense feels illogical even as it mounts, and as a result, it has a giddying effect. You know that the director is setting things up, and you can’t wait for the punch line to rear its head. It’s almost a shame that it has to end and launch the film’s plot properly.

    Once De Palma’s initial game ends, the film doesn’t lose much. Sisters becomes an energetic reference to the great scenes and themes of Hitchcock’s work. Beyond Psycho’s plot structure, we get Norman Bates’ motivation. Vertigo’s psychological premise (the obsessive seeker creates the object of obsession in its absence), a body hidden in an apartment (taken from Rope), a Bernard Herrmann score, and Rear Window’s crime solving via voyeurism also turn up here. Even if the abundance of such themes don’t manage to make Sisters better than the combined work of Hitchcock, they all integrate well into the tale that the director tells. Certainly, Sisters feels less constrained by the indebtedness caused by creating homage than De Palma’s later works like Dressed to Kill or Obsession. De Palma’s constantly winking eye and his juxtapositions of horror and humor keep us interested as the film slides into logical implausibility. Though the performances are solid, the director is clearly the star of this show. As such, Sisters is the first De Palma film that I’ve seen that I would deem great, and the first one that makes me feel Pauline Kael’s famously rapturous praise of the director was completely founded*.  

* Ironically, I looked up Kael's review of Sisters after posting this and noticed that she actually gave it a negative notice! How funny that I appreciate the things here that she loved in his more recent films, and I found a lot of the same stuff tiresome in those later works... Oh well...

* * * *


Jeremy Heilman