DECEMBER 26, 2010
I don’t know why I am so slow to catch up with Brian De Palma films, since I rarely dislike any (Redacted being the only one I flat out disliked; even Mission to Mars I found mostly entertaining at least). I know I had planned to check out Sisters when I heard it was being remade, so I could avoid potentially seeing the remake first, but that film hit DVD a while ago and I’m only seeing the original now. I’ve also owned Casualties Of War for about 3 years now and its still in the shrinkwrap!
Anyway, Sisters is good, but not one of my top 5 favorites*. I know he loves Hitchcock and draws heavily from him, but I think he went a bit overboard with the Psycho love here, since the movie is structured almost identically, right down to a lengthy cleanup scene after the person we thought was our hero (Lisle Wilson) got killed. But instead of following the “Norman Bates” character, in this case Margot Kidder, we follow “Lila Crane”, aka Grace, a reporter who witnessed the murder and is determined to get to the bottom of it. Kidder disappears for about a half hour or so, and now we are following someone we barely know, and who’s kind of abrasive to boot. So it’s a bit of an awkward shift, and it took a while for me to get back into the groove of the film.
I did love, however, the “meet cute” for the film’s would-be romantic lead couple, Kidder and Wilson. Seemingly reverse engineered from De Palma’s need to work a large knife into the story, they meet on a game show of dubious merit, where contestants vote on how staged “Peeping Tom” scenarios will play out. Kidder is the female victim and Wilson is the “Tom”, and for their participation, they get some random but fairly traditional prizes – she gets a set of steak knives and he gets a gift certificate for a trendy new restaurant (which Kidder basically invites herself to help him spend). Sort of like a Simpsons episode, with the opening scenes having nothing to do with anything beyond a seemingly pulled-from-the-ass way to get the story where it needed to be.
It’s nowhere near as random as the film’s closing shot, however, which may be one of my favorites in movie history. Wilson’s body is concealed in a couch that has somehow ended up in front of a building on a farm or something. A cow approaches it, its owner chases her off, and then we zoom out to reveal Charles Durning, dressed like a repairman and watching the cow/couch nonsense with binoculars from a telephone pole. The end! But even that sort of feels lifted from Psycho; it’s simply a stranger/funnier version of the final shot in Hitch’s film, with the car being pulled from the lake.
Actually the movie is sprinkled with humorously random stuff, like William Finley slipping on a floor and whacking his head, or Grace’s mother and her dismay that her daughter hasn’t found a husband yet. And I loved the scene where Wilson decides to buy a cake; not only is his whim more or less causing his death (he should be bringing Kidder’s medication back so she doesn’t go crazy), but BDP milks it for all its worth. For example, the usual decorator isn’t around, so the inexperienced clerk and Wilson have to write on it themselves, which is painfully slow. And hilarious.
I was surprised to learn that the disc was from Criterion, especially when I took a look at the extra features. None are video based (not even the trailer), nor is there a commentary or anything of that nature – just a few magazine articles: an interview with De Palma conducted during the film’s release, and the 1966 Life article about real Siamese twins that served as the inspiration for the film. And then a bunch of publicity stills and the like; all told – a remarkably thin package for Criterion. The transfer wasn’t particularly great either – it looked good and was anamorphic (many early Criterion titles aren’t – this is spine #89 out of 550 or so), but it also had a lot of scratches and other imperfections. Could be a low budget thing – maybe it hasn’t been preserved as well as it should.
I’ve heard the remake is awful, but only via die hard De Palma fans, so I will try to keep an open mind going in, especially since it was written by one of the writers of Terror Firmer. How bad can THAT be? But if it’s truly bad, it will help me appreciate this one more I guess, so that’s good. I have a feeling I’d like this one even more a 2nd time around anyway, now that I know about the only thing that was really bothering me (the Psycho cribs).
What say you?
*Could change since I have more to see and others like Raising Cain that I saw as a kid and don’t remember, but roughly: Carlito’s Way, Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, Phantom Of The Paradise, and Carrie.