Review Date: October 4, 2000
Released by: Criterion
Release date: 10/3/2000
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Criterion has released director Brian De Palma's (Carrie, The Fury) Sisters onto DVD, complete with a new anamorphic (16x9) widescreen transfer. While it's not all that heavy on the extras, there are a few worth checking out. Lets take a look at the DVD.
The film opens quite amusingly. It begins in a game show titled "Peeping Toms". On the game show you view a scene with a blind woman undressing while a man watches in the background. The game how participants and home viewers must decide what the man will do. Will he:
* Silence is Golden
* This Way Out
As it turns out the woman, who we find out is named Danielle (Margot Kidder), isn't really blind. She's a decoy participating in the game show. The contestants make their choices and the show begins drawing to an end. Both Danielle and the potential "peeping tom", who we find out is named Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson), are brought out onto the stage and given prizes for participating. Danielle is given a complete set of cutlery and Philip is given a free dinner for two at the "African Room".
Danielle and Philip meet up outside and agree to go out to dinner using Philip's certificate to the African Room. While eating their dinner the two are interrupted by Emil Breton (William Finley), Danielle's ex-husband. He tries to drag Danielle out of the restaurant to bring her home, but Philip quickly puts an end to that. With Emil out of the way, the two head back to Danielle's place for a night of romance. The next morning Philip awakes to the sound of arguing coming from the other room. When Danielle meets him in the bathroom she explains that she was arguing with Dominique, her twin sister, and that today is their birthday. Philip, being the nice guy he is, agrees to run a quick errand for Danielle. Proving himself even nicer of a guy, Philip brings back a cake that has "Happy Birthday Danielle & Dominique" written on it.
Philip returns with the cake, only to find one of the twins sleeping on a pullout bed. He lights the cake and brings it over to her, hands her a knife and tells her to blow out the candles and make a wish. Instead, she takes the knife in a fit of rage and attacks Philip. Philip, still alive, begins to crawl towards the knife that the twin has thrown several feet away. Before he can make it the crazed twin grabs the knife and attacks Philip again. Using his remaining strength and life, Philip crawls towards a window - a window where he saw a neighbor across the way the previous night. He writes HELP on the window with his own blood, hoping that the same neighbor will see it. The neighbor, Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), does indeed see it and immediately calls the police to report the murder. Grace meets the police at the building next door. The police are a bit reluctant to believe her story, due to the face she's a newspaper columnist who has written many unpleasant things about the police in past articles. Still, they do their job and go up to Dominique's apartment to investigate, with Grace right behind them. They investigate, finding no bodies or evidence of murder, and dismiss it as a hoax. Grace, however, isn't as easily convinced. She suspects that Danielle may have a twin and begins investigating on her own. Little does she know the terrors she's about the face as she learns the truth to the twins.
I've heard a lot about Sisters, so naturally I was expecting a lot from it. And I have to say that it does turn out to be a terrific thriller. I don't feel it's in the same league as Hitchcock's Psycho, but Sisters manages to hold its own. Sisters is quite suspenseful, thanks to great directing by Brian De Palma and a wonderful score by Bernard Herrmann. De Palma uses his split-screen technique to perfection in Sisters. He uses it to increase the suspense and keep the story movie along at a good pace, and it definitely works well. It was obvious from many scenes that Hitchcock was an inspiration to De Palma, and you'll see many homages to various Hitchcock's films throughout the movie.
Directing and a great musical score definitely help make this a good movie, but lets not forget about the acting either. Margot Kidder does a wonderful job playing the distraught Danielle, and for those who have seen the film you know that's not the only part she's does a good job with. Williams Finley also does terrific as Emil Breton, Danielle's mysterious ex-husband who has his own hidden secrets. And finally we have Jennifer Salt who is wonderful playing the part of Grace Collier, the nosy reporter. All of these elements combined - great directing, great acting, suspense, mystery, and a wonderful musical score - make Sisters the classic that it is.
Criterion presents Sisters in a new 16x9 widescreen transfer in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This certainly may be the best Sisters has ever looked, but it still has some flaws. The main problem is the grain that is present throughout the majority of the movie. It's most evident in nighttime and some of the darker scenes, but it's also somewhat evident in various daytime scenes. Colors are strong and nicely saturated - never before has "paint blood" looked so much like paint! Flesh tones appear to be accurate and well balance. Image is reasonably sharp and clear, and it's obvious Criterion puts its usual TLC (tender loving care) into this transfer. The only complaint of mine is the grain, and I'm not sure why there's so much of it. While some scenes were shot on 16mm, the majority of the film was shot in 35mm so there's really no excuse. Still, grain really is the only problem so I'm going to rate it a B+.
Sisters is presented in a pleasing English Dolby Digital Mono track. This film would've benefited from a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, mostly to give Bernard Herrmann's thrilling score (who also did the score to Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest) greater emphasis. As it stands, the score is still terrific to hear and definitely increases the suspense in the film, but my opinion is that if it had more strength and separation it would've benefited the movie even more. The dialogue itself was clear and no audio distortion was heard during the presentation.
The disc isn't that heavy on supplements, but Criterion has included some nice text supplements that fans of the movie will enjoy. First is the insert, which contains liner notes by Bruce Kawin, a Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The rear side of the insert contains Director Brian De Palma's 1973 VILLAGE VOICE essay "Murder by Moog: Scoring the Chill", on working with composer Bernard Herrmann. Kawin's notes are definitely an interesting read, as they point out many of the Hitchcock references in the film and explains the some of the confusing aspects to the story. As a side note, it's probably best to read the notes AFTER you have watched the film. De Palma's essay on working with Bernard Herrmann is a wonderful read that many will enjoy. He really gives you a sense of what it's like to work with Herrmann, who is obviously a brilliant man but is also very impatient.
There are also some nice supplements on the DVD itself. First is "The Making of Sisters", an interview with director Brian De Palma. It's in the form of text, as it originally came from the Filmmakers Newsletter in September 1973. It's an interesting read; De Palma explains how he got the idea for Sisters, the Hitchcock elements in the film, the budget, the split-screen scenes and much much more. Any aspiring filmmakers will enjoy it (makes sense given where the interview comes from), as well as De Palma fans. So much is covered and it takes a good 5-10 minutes to read through it all. Next is the "Rare Study of Siamese Twins in Soviet", first published in the April 8, 1966 issue of Life magazine. As De Palma explains in his Filmmakers Newsletter interview, this article from Life magazine is where he got the idea for Sisters. Personally, I found all of to be quite fascinating. Some of the pictures are incredible and the whole story of these particular twins is quite sad.
Also included is the Original 1973 press book, in the form of still photographs that you can navigate through using your DVD player's remote control. Lastly, there are hundreds of production, publicity, and behind-the-scenes stills that you can view. Overall there are some great supplements here if you have the patience to read through them. It's a shame De Palma doesn't seem to like doing commentary tracks, but you still gets a lot of his thoughts from the interview and essay that are included.
Sisters is a definitely a horror classic in its own right. I definitely recommend all horror fans give it a rental to see if it suits their tastes. Any fans of the film or De Palma will definitely want this Criterion DVD. With a good audio/video presentation and some enjoyable extras it's a must own.
Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B+
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 32 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter stops
- English Dolby Digital Mono
- English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
- Director Brian De Palma's 1973 VILLAGE VOICE essay "Murder by Moog: Scoring the Chill", on working with composer Bernard Herrmann
- Liner notes by Bruce Kawin
- 1973 print interview with De Palma on the making of Sisters
- "Rare Study of Siamese Twins in Soviet", the 1966 Life magazine article that inspired De Palma
- Excerpts from the original press book, including ads and exploitation
- Hundreds of production, publicity, and behind-the-scenes stills