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Review by Blake Kunisch | posted April 24, 2001 | E-mail the Author

The Movie: Sisters, one of Brian De Palma's earlier forays into the filmmaking business, is horror and suspense at it's finest (De Palma has gone on to direct such blockbusters as Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible). A tightly woven story, Sisters follows Danielle (Margot Kidder), a model who has been separated from her siamese twin. An obvious homage to Hitchcock in many ways, Sisters makes extensive use of tight quarters, long tracking shots, and only three main characters. To further enhance suspense throughout, De Palma brilliantly uses a split screen at a couple of points to illustrate the careful timing necessary to cover up a murder.

The murder, witnessed by investigative reporter (Jennifer Salt), occurs in Danielle's apartment, across the street from Grace's (Salt) apartment. After frantically calling up the police, who give Grace the run-around because of her unflattering stories on the police of New York, they finally arrive, head up to Danielle's apartment and find no evidence of a murder, since it has been cleaned up by Danielle's ex-husband - eerily played by William Finley. Convinced she's got a story on her hands, Grace delves further into the murder-mystery and slowly uncovers various pieces of the puzzle throughout the film.

From start to finish, Sisters is a tightly woven story - done purposefully by De Palma - coupled with a chilling score by Bernard Herrmann - who also is responsible for the Psycho score - a film which has obvious influences on this De Palma film. There is not one moment in the film where the suspense drops, excepting for the comic relief in the form of the detectives, another purposeful move by De Palma - which can be read about in his 1973 interview with De Palma. Through the magnificent use of split-screens, about 1/2 way through the film, the audience's main identifyable character switches from Danielle to Grace, and from there, the film really picks up the pace and effortlessly culminates with a great ending to top off this top-notch horror/suspense thriller.

The Picture: The newly digitized transfer, while showing some signs of age, is remarkably clean throughout. Except for some shots of the TV in the film where a grainy mask was applied, the rest of the film only suffers from a few minute scratches and flecks, which hardly distract from an otherwise clean print. (Note that most of the film does have a bit of a grainy look to it, but as the transfer was made from the original print, it can be concluded that this is the way De Palma wanted the film to look).

The Sound: The sound, presented in Dolby Mono sounds crisp and clear throughout with the voices easily understandable and the eerie score accomplishing its task.

The Extras: The extras, while not anything spectacular, are interesting in their own way. The first extra is an essay written by De Palma for The Village Voice, entitled, "Murder by Moog: Scoring the Chill." This essay is reprinted on the insert (liner notes) and focuses on De Palma's working with composer Bernard Herrmann. The essay is 5 short pages long and is quite interesting and gives some insight into Herrmann's workings along with his interactions with De Palma.

Also included on the DVD in print form are a 1973 print interview with De Palma and an article from Life entitled, "Rare Study of Siamese Twins in Soviet." The 1973 print interview with De Palma is especially interesting as it gives some insight into his making of this film and how he emulated Hitchcock and was able to make the film on such a small budget. One interesting piece of the interview focuses on the scene that was cut from the film because of problems shooting the long tracking shot. It would have been especially great if Criterion could have gotten a hold of this cut shot, as it is the only piece of the film that was actually cut, as we learn later in the interview. The Life article is what inspired De Palma to write this story, which was later adapted for the screen. This article is discussed more in-depth in his print interview.

Another interesting extra is the original press book including the ads and exploitation - different ways to promote the film in (and out of) the theater. These including parnering with local cutlery shops (as the murder weapon is a kinfe), along with having contests for twins to enter. They also promote the "Special Shock Recovery Period," a 15 minute portion of the film where no one will be seated so that the audience can recover from what they just saw. Also included in the extras are hundreds of production, publicity, and behind-the-scenes black and white still photos.

Conclusion: Sisters is a highly suspenseful and beautifully shot film. Receiving a new digital transfer, the film looks better now than it probably ever did on the big screen and coupled with the extras, this disc is a fine addition to most DVD collections. The extras, while not extraordinarily expansive, featuring a few articles and pictures, are still quite interesting and it can be seen that Criterion took it's time when selecting what to include. While it would have been nice to have an audio commentary by De Palma or to have located the deleted scene, the film iteself makes up for these oversights as it is an important film in not only De Palma's career, but also in filmmaking history. The score is top-notch and the pace of the film is exceptional. I would highly recommend this great Criterion Company release.

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Highly Recommended

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