One of his very early works, not only is Sisters Brain De Palma’s first thriller but also it pre-empted many of the themes and stylistic flourishes he would go on to delve deeper into in later classics such as Blow Out, Obsession and many other movies. All of which where heavily influenced by the master of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock.
Sisters’ story, which was penned by De Palma and Louisa Rose, is far from simple. It follows Canadian model Danielle Breton (the original Lois Lane, Margot Kidder) who after starring as a victim in a TV quiz show ends up having dinner with her fellow contestant Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson).
Getting on instantly the pair end up back at Danielle’s apartment after Phillip saves her from a run in with a strange stalker. Danielle explains that it’s her ex-husband who constantly follows and pesters her.
Phillip spends the night there and the next morning he overhears a raging argument in French between Danielle and her sister Dominique. She says that the pair are twins and that today is their birthday and feeling unwell she asks Phillip to head out to get her some more of the pills she is taking.
Picking up the prescription and a birthday cake for the sisters Phillip returns to the flat. However, who and what awaits him is a horrific and brutal surprise which is also witnessed by a neighbour, reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), who lives across from the fated flat.
Distressed and disturbed, Grace calls the police. But when they fail to help her she mounts her own investigation into Danielle and her sister, an investigation that uncovers many dark and strange secrets whilst also placing her in danger of losing her mind and her life.
Sharing elements found in other ‘twin’ horrors from Basket Case to Dead Ringers, Sisters is full of twists and turns and has a cracking storyline worthy of Hitchcock. De Palma keeps up a level of fear throughout the film, placing our nerves firmly on edge delivering some nasty murderous moments alongside the insightful investigation.
Although the nods are obvious in several set pieces which evoke Rope, Rear Window and Repulsion as well as other of Hitch’s famous films – even down to the use of longtime soundtrack collaborator Bernard Herrmann – De Palma as ever manages to make it all his own, putting a new slant on the scenes while still evoking and honoring what has gone before.
Also present is the De Palma trademark split screen which is deviously deployed at a critical point when Grace is on the verge of discovering the truth, the two screens separating her and us from the real events and toying with us all.
Sisters seems to constantly play with the audience from the strange reality TV show opening, Peeping Toms (surely a nod to Michael Powell’s psycho masterpiece) and the surreal black and white flashback Grace endures while under hypnosis, which blends reality and fiction into a nightmarish sequence as freaky as it is frightening.
Carrying the film are two very strong female leads with Jennifer Salt playing Grace as a plucky determined investigator, far more resourceful and insightful than the real private investigator her newspaper hire to help her.
Alongside Salt is Margot Kidder, as beguiling as she is beautiful as the French Canadian actress-slash-model caught up in a web of lies and murder. Although at first she appears innocent and unwitting we soon see another side to Danielle and realise that she is far tougher and controlling than the other characters expect.
Sisters is a psychedelic psychological murder mystery drenched in slick style and terrifying tension. And even though it was at the start of his long running career it proves De Palma’s status as a true auteur and a master film maker.