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Countdown to Halloween: Andrew Llewellen on Sisters (1972)


ABOUT OUR GUEST


Andrew Llewellyn is a UK based freelance writer who began bagging various writing assignments two years ago at the ripe old age of 46 when he submitted two pieces for the book Unsung Horrors. Since then Andrew has been a regular contributor to We Belong Dead magazine ("Mysterious Island", issue 19 / "Addams Family", "Young Frankenstein", issue 20) and their books Son of Unsung Horrors and A Celebration of Peter Cushing. Additionally, Andrew has had articles published in the magazines Darkside (issue189) and Infinity (issue 12) and last year's Fantastic Fifties Peplum special from Hemlock. Andrew has several articles awaiting publication in the next issues of both Fantastic Fifties and We Belong Dead, and is now planning an article for Scary Monsters magazine and a Horror Companion book for Hemlock publications.


All right, that's his blurb. But I want to add that Andrew might also just be crazy. His Facebook posts keep me rolling-on-the-floor-laughing several times a day. He also lives part time in an awesome writing "man-hut" that he built for himself in his back yard. Of all my friends and/or colleagues from "We Belong Dead"/"Unsung Horrors," he's the one I'd most like to meet in person, because I think he'd show me a great, although possibly dangerous, time. As his Facebook moniker says, he'd probably be my "Greatestmate." I'm thrilled that he chose to write about one of my favorite movies ever, and even more relieved that he likes it as much as I do...

Although Brian De Palma had been making films since the late sixties, it was his seventh feature Sisters (1973) that really got him noticed. As a fan of his work it surprised me that, up until now - and despite being aware of it - I had not yet managed to see this movie. Now that I have, I am pleased to say that I found it every bit as enjoyable as anything else from his extensive body of work. A chilling item that perfectly encapsulates all the elements for which he is now renowned, Sisters (UK title Blood Sisters) is an early example of the type of often controversial and graphically violent psychological thriller De Palma is so adept at manufacturing. I would go as far as to say that in many ways the film is more effective than some of his later shockers, simply because his penchant for parody had at this point not developed fully, although the movie does have a fair infusion of black humour.


Margot Kidder (who sadly left us earlier this year) plays the role of New Yorker Danielle Breton, a French-Canadian model and aspiring actress who goes out to dinner with Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson), a man she meets on a tv prank show. While having dinner, the couple are stalked and bothered by Danielle’s obsessive ex-husband Emil (William Finley), but despite this Danielle still takes Phillip back to her Staten Island apartment and sleeps with him. Somehow her new lover does not notice a large scar on Danielle’s hip, it appears that she has had some sort of surgical procedure at a previous time. The following morning Phillip hears Danielle having a heated discussion with another female in an adjoining room, it transpires that she has a twin named Dominique. After Danielle sends Phillip out on an errand to the local pharmacy, he returns to her apartment with a birthday cake for her, only to be brutally stabbed to death by Dominique, who it turns out is dangerously psychotic. This murder is witnessed from the building opposite by reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), and from this point on the film follows Grace’s efforts to get a sceptical local police force to believe what she has seen, after their initial search of Danielle’s flat reveals nothing (the murdered Phillip has been concealed inside a couch). The police are not keen to help the reporter anyway as she is known to them for writing an article exposing police brutality, but eventually she manages to enlist the help of a private detective named Joseph Larch (Charles Durning), and together they investigate further, discovering that Danielle and Dominique were once co-joined (hence the scar). The narrative eventually leads us to the Loisel Institute, an asylum where Danielle’s ex-husband Emil is a doctor, and it is here that we learn the truth about Dominique.


For many years, Brian DePalma has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock, and with good reason. Much of his work is distinctly similar in style, featuring similar themes and utilising many of the same techniques as those employed by Hitchcock. This is strongly the case with Sisters, which - along with many of DePalma’s films – can be considered an homage to that undisputed master of suspense. The ‘Janet Leigh trick’ of killing off a lead character early in the film and the surprise twist regarding a person’s identity are both familiar to us from Psycho (1960), and a long tracking shot of over six minutes in length that focuses on Danielle’s apartment in the aftermath of Phillip’s murder appears to be a direct reference to Rope (1948). DePalma employs unusual point of view shots to create a sense of unease, and inspired split-screen photography for contrast and dramatic effect (a technique he would use brilliantly in his 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie), allowing us to view multiple events and protagonists all at the same time. The idea of a person witnessing a murder and then trying to convince others of the truth is, of course, a theme recognisable from both Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958). With Sisters, DePalma succeeds in skilfully blending irony and suspense in much the same way as Hitchcock could, and when the violence comes it is unexpected, and shockingly gory. Where the filmdoes differ from a Hitchcock movie, however, is with its final sequences, which are absurdly funny, an expression of both DePalma’s unconventional sense of humour and his admiration for the great French New-Wave director Jean Luc Godard. The film was scored by Bernard Herrmann, who admired the script enough to provide his services, despite being semi-retired. Well, who else would do?



ABOUT THE COUNTDOWN


We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.


Well, I'm going to cheat a little. Assisting me this year are a number of "guest bloggers" that I've invited to participate by commandeering classichorrors.club for a day. These are all people whose blogs I read, whose podcasts I enjoy, and/or whose existence I simply appreciate. It's an experiment, but I hope you'll enjoy reading some new perspectives.

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