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Siamese Twins at Birth: What the Devil hath joined together let no man cut asunder.
Directed by Brian DePalma
In many (read: all) cases when you look back at a film that is 47 years old you’re quickly taken by its painfully dated varnish. The dating of films, their techniques, the fashions, their soundtracks and generally their collective temperament is parked firmly in a time and place. On rare occasion, a film is so unique and inventive that it eschews all the trappings of time and sets its own track forward. Brian DePalma’s 1972 masterwork is that film.
Set largely on Staten Island, Sisters follows a striking young French-Canadian model, Danielle (Margot Kidder). Danielle is a budding model who’s taken to sleazier side of TV to pay the bills. She finds herself on the set of a punk’d-style show where she lays down a come-hither prank on an unsuspecting advertising executive, Phillip (Lisle Wood).
Following the show, Danielle and her new found pal Phillip find themselves back at her apartment dancing in the sheets. While in a deep and satisfying slumber, Danielle’s new amour Phillip is awakened by two women shouting and caterwauling. Danielle discloses that her (conjoined twin) sister Dominque has arrived to celebrate their birthday and she asks Phillip to scoot to the store and grab a big-ol-bottle of psychoactive pills. Phillip dutifully heads to the store, grabs the pills, and decides to also nab a Danielle/Dominique b-day cake. Upon arrival back at Danielle’s apartment he settles back in for round two of amorous sheet dancing and in one of the most terrifying scenes ever Phillip is promptly stab, stab, stabbed by the psychotic Dominique lurking under the sheets of the bed.
In a derivative homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the entire horror show is witnessed by the next door neighbor, Grace (Jennifer Salt) who just happens to be a fledgling reporter for the local Staten Island neighborhood newspaper. Grace won’t let this one go. She, rightfully so, is hyper-convinced that an honest-to-god slasher got to cutting right in her apartment complex. She pushes the police to keep digging, she confronts Danielle, and she questions everyone within earshot. Grace is a rapid pitbull with a journalistic jones.
Throughout, Sisters employs radical, almost unparalleled use of split-screen and multiple angles. You’re whipped back and forth between the killer’s point-of-view, what’s right around the corner, and strange and peculiar perspectives. DePalma also employs a plagarized soundtrack ripped straight from Hitchcock celluloid. Courtesy of one of the greatest composers of all time, Bernard Hermann (Taxi Driver, Psycho, It Lives Again, Vertigo and countless others), all of Sister’s scenes are punctuated by shrieking strings, punchy jump scares, and audio massacre.
Eventually, Grace’s Scooby-Doo-like mystery solving pay off. She unearths the true secret behind Danielle and Dominique — hey were the first ever Canadian conjoined twins. Gasp! One is good, one is EVIL. But, both were the subject to the freaky experimentation in an experimental French-Canadian mental institution. Grace’s do-gooder reporter sensibilities eventually push her towards the French-Canadian mental institution where she’s IN-voluntarily committed to the weirdo nuthouse. For good measure DePalma punctuates Grace’s stay with lots of manufactured and grainy newsreel footage, psychedelic dreams, and terrifying scares.
Call it derivative, call it genius, call it both. Because, the end of the day Sisters is a jarringly unique film that’s never really been replicated. Inventive tracking shots (one lasting almost six minutes), surreal dream sequences, and Greek tragedy with a horror gimmick. DePalma gives you all of these things in a nice, neat, and tiddy package. You might think you’ve seen a film like Sisters, but you really haven’t.