Made in 1973, a whole three years before his breakthrough Stephen King adaptation Carrie, Brian De Palma’s Sisters (previously released as Blood Sisters in the UK and now available on DVD and Blu-ray through Arrow Video) begins with a mock quiz show called ‘Peeping Tom’, in which a female participant wins a set of steak knives. Right there, we have the key De Palma obsessions; voyeurism stabbed through with violence, all played out with a healthy slice of self-aware humour. This being De Palma, we also need the Hitchcock influence which – with a late score by Bernard Hermann – occasionally oversteps the mark into straight pastiche rather than nuanced, reverent homage.
Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder, who would go on to play Lois Lane in Richard Donner’s Superman) is one lucky recipient of the knives after starring in a Candid Camera-style skit. She goes home with the duped man from the show, advertising executive Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson). However, Danielle has a sister, Siamese twin Dominique, who’s insanely jealous. Also on the scene is Danielle’s ex-husband Emil (played by De Palma regular William Finley), who seems nervous that something is going to happen. In her apartment, a murder is witnessed by neighbour and investigative reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt). The police, irritated by Collier’s exposés of police brutality, fail to find a body and Grace – with the help of her very own Arbogast (Charles Durning) – starts to investigate for herself.
There’s a sharp edginess to proceedings and De Palma’s political radicalism can be felt in the paranoia against the incompetent authorities, casual racism and Grace’s radical credentials. However, his influences are ubiquitous and the score almost suffocates the film, making it almost nonsensical to anyone who isn’t au fait with Hitchcock. Everything Hitch used as subtext, De Palma brings to the fore as blood red text, just as forcefully as the stabbing victim who write help in his own blood on the window pane. There’s not subtlety here, but plenty of schlocky delights, especially when De Palma employs what would become his trademark split-screen technique. An effective thriller, Sisters is an intense tightly executed slasher, which fans of the directors later work will revel in. The cult film has in embryo – quite literally in the title sequence – all of De Palma’s concerns, fears and delights.