Thursday, August 27, 2009

Olde Review: Sisters

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the snarky, clueless kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

This is a companion piece to last week's Olde Review of "Purple Noon."

This Saturday's films in 130 Kane at 7:30 pm are thrillers: one sophisticated; the other unsophisticated, but God, it's neat, and they are Rene Clement's "Purple Noon" and Brian DePalma's "Sisters"

"Sisters" (Brian De Palma, 1973) 1976 was a banner year for Brian DePalma. Two of his films, "Obsession" and "Carrie" were released (within five months of each other) and were critically acclaimed. Not only that, they made a lot of bucks. And so, Brian DePalma has achieved financial success. More power to him. I've been a DePalma fan since way back, and from "Sisters" to "Phantom of the Paradise" to "Obsession" and "Carrie," my respect and admiration for his film-making skills has only grown. Last quarter, DePalma's "Phantom of the Paradise" was shown. And from reports of the attendance too many of you blew the chance to see it. Don't miss the chance to see "Sisters"—his first feature film.* I'm not even going to hint at the plot because one of its joys is that the plot turns and twists into a maze of incidents in which the protagonists are lead. **

"Sisters," like "Obsession," borrows very liberally from the films of
Alfred Hitchcock in themes and incidents. In fact, DePalma even borrows Hitchcock's long-time musical accomplice, Bernard Herrmann, for the energetic film score. The ironies, the quirky characters, the quality of the grotesque in humor and incidents make "Sisters" thoroughly entertaining, as is Hitchcock's films, but DePalma leads them on to his own bizarre sense of humor and film-making. ("Sisters") is very much DePalma's film, no matter how many ideas he may have borrowed. And just as Hitchcock holds a fascination with special effects, so, too, does DePalma who has as much love for the devices of split-screen and the like (which he uses brilliantly) as he does in making blood spurt from a murder victim (something he does like no other director—a fact which has led one newspaper reviewer to give it the special category of "DePalmaesque Violence"). This violence, though it has a horrible humor, may upset the more sensitive in the audience. But DePalma gives you all the hints and time in the world to cover your eyes. So I hope you don't miss the brilliance of the film for the violence. At such a low budget, it is such a great movie.

Broadcast February 12, 1977

It is a good movie—but it's not a great one, as the Nervous Nellie I was in college wrote. DePalma would surpass it, and eventually lose the Hitchcock fetish he had going for a long while, and be more of his own cine-man for good or ill. But "Sisters" has a demented sense of humor that is just as sick as a ruptured (or deliberately severed) artery that even Hitchcock would try to staunch. Combined with Herrmann's mad bell-clanging, theremin-stabbing score it is one of the loopiest horror movies to shuffle spasmodically down the mausoleum corridor, with its mad scientist (William Finley), its homicidal maniac (Margot Kidder), as well as a mother-harassed girl detective (Jennifer Salt) with a dogged assistant (the wonderful Charles Durning). DePalma has calmed down quite a bit in his style, and his social conscience (which he displayed in some the features I neglected to mention he made before "Sisters"*) has come back, when he's not making fetishistic erotic thrillers with a "hook." "Sisters" was the initial stab at the movie-market outside of art films, the lowest common denominator to make a name for its film-maker in the mainstream—the same route that so many film-makers, both auspicious and inauspicious, have taken to "break in." "Sisters" is among the most ingeniously devilish of those freshman horrors and one film-maker's affectionate tribute to another.

* Those being "Murder à la Mod," "Greetings," "The Wedding Party," "Dionysus," "Hi, Mom!," and "Get to Know Your Rabbit."

** Well, I'm pretty much spoiling it in my later comments.

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