Brian De Palma made several films before Sisters, but that 1973 thriller, recently restored for video and DVD release, truly set the stage for the rest of his career. A self-confessed homage to Hitchcock bursting with references to Psycho, Rear Window, and others, Sisters allowed De Palma to find his own voice by imitating another's. But those who have written him off as a stylish imitator were wrong from the start: Sisters could never have been made without his inspiration, but Hitchcock never could have made it. Independently financed and shot on an extremely modest budget, Sisters joins Hollywood-caliber suspense sequences to the feel of a gritty exploitation film and themes in tune with the time of its creation. That it opens with one of DePalma's trademark fake-outs—in this case Peeping Toms, a game show that recalls Candid Camera by way of Michael Powell—reveals both its importance in terms of the director's later work and how much the initial enjoyment of it depends on an ignorance of its many plot twists and ingenious dashing of expectations. Suffice it to say that it features Margot Kidder as a sweet French-Canadian model, Jennifer Salt as an intrepid female reporter, Charles Durning as a by-the-book private eye, a madhouse, a doctor specializing in Siamese twins, and a fatal set of prize cutlery. With Sisters, De Palma created an expertly paced technically audacious thriller that's too knowing to be easily dismissed as a mere exercise. Albeit a near-perfect fusion of craft and material, particularly in some remarkable split-screen sequences, there's more at stake than immediately apparent: Consider the way every male character uses a combination of patronization and aggression to suppress female ambition, or the way an uncredited (and scene-stealing) Olympia Dukakis uses different techniques to the same end in a cameo as Salt's mother. For a director later labeled a misogynist, Sisters has an awful lot in common with early-'70s feminism. But, as a filmmaker most often comfortable working within a genre, De Palma also knows how to deliver thrills, a skill he displays with remarkable regularity in Sisters, which still looks like one of his best. Featuring such wicked jokes as a sequence juxtaposing a woman going into seizures with a man happily and unknowingly purchasing her a birthday cake, it finds his career quickly taking shape.
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