From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Brian DePalma's Sisters tells the story of a young woman named Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) a French-Canadian working as a model and part time actress In New York. In the films opening sequence we see she has been on a zany TV show patterned after Candid Camera, called Peeping Toms. This is one of DePalma's trademarks in almost all his films, the aspect of voyeurism. Danielle and the shows new "Peeping Tom" Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson) win a prize: a set of cutlery and a free dinner at a local bar called The African Room. While there, we meet Danielles ex husband Emil Breton (William Finley). He has been following Danielle (you can even spot him in the Peeping Tom's TV show audience). After they have dinner and get to know each other, they go back to Danielle's place and relax. Danielle's a little drunk, as Philip looks outside he sees Emil standing in front of Danielle's building. Philip makes a plan to drive his car around the back of the apartment building to make it appear as if he's leaving, so Emil will then leave too. So he does.
When he comes back, Danielle is sexily sitting on the couch waiting for him. As he walks closer, she pulls her robe off and reveals her breasts and they embrace. As Philip slides his hand up her leg slowly, we hear Bernard Herrmann's creepy score rising, then in a horrifying shot we see a huge scar on her hip. The next morning, Danielle seems to be hallucinating while she sleeps. Philip wakes up and hears Danielle talking to someone, he goes into the bathroom where Danielle has put her medication. He accidentally brushes the pills into the sink while putting his shirt on. Danielle tells Philip it is her birthday and her sisters as well. Philip goes to get a cake for her and while hes getting the cake with Dominique and Danielle's name written on it, Danielle is becoming more sick. Her medication for her mental illness is getting worse. When Philip gets back to Danielle's apartment, he takes out the cake and one of the new butcher knives Danielle won on the Peeping Tom show. He presents to cake to a sleeping Danielle and we see her hand slowly reach for the butcher knife. Suddenly, Dominique stabs Philip in the mouth and in the groin several times, blood spurts everywhere. She stabs him again in the back several times.
Philip crawls to a window, bloody and dying and tries to write "HELP" on the window in his own blood. In the first elaborate split screen sequence in the film, we see the view from neighbor Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) window across the street and Philips POV inside the apartment. As Philip struggles to get help, Grace sees this and frantically runs downstairs and calls the cops. Once the cops arrive, Grace tries to explain what she saw. Meanwhile, Danielle's ex husband Emil arrives with her medication pills and he walks up to her apartment to drop them off. Danielle wakes up in the bathroom after her "blackout". Emil comes in and makes a startling discovery when he sees the bloody trail on the floor. Danielle sees this and says "Dominique!". Emil finds Philip's dead body and he rushes to clean up the blood thats all over the place. As we witness Emil and Danielle cleaning up the apartment, Grace is trying to convince the police to help her find out what happened in the apartment. Emil and Danielle hide Philips dead body in her folding couch and Emil puts all the bloody evidence in a trash bag and goes outside to dispose them. As he walks down the hall, DePalma's split screen follows him and Grace and the two cops.
The cops arrive at Danielle's apartment while we see in the extended split screen that they barely miss running into Emil. The cops and Grace look around Danielle's apartment for any signs of the man Grace insists she saw murdered, but the beautiful, slightly ditzy Danielle denies that anything happened. As they look around her apartment, theres only one thing they dont notice. A growing blood stain on the back of the couch. The cops are convinced that Grace must've just been seeing things and they leave Danielle alone. Grace keeps on trying to figure out what happened. She hires a private eye (Charles Durning) to help her with the mystery. He breaks into Danielle's apartment and finds out that the body may be in the couch, so he keeps track of it.
Grace follows Emil to a large mansion, once she arrives she finds out its a mental hospital. When she tries to use the phone inside she is intercepted by Emil and he takes her into a room and she's hypnotized into believing SHE is Danielle's dead twin sister Dominique. As she lays on a table next to Danielle, we enter through her eye into her mind and we see in a strange Fellini-esque black and white dream sequence where we find out more about what happened to Danielle and Dominique when they were connected. While Grace is in a hypnotized state, Danielle again "becomes" Dominique once again and kills Emil.
One of the main themes in many of DePalma's films is the investigator/voyeur. In Sisters, Grace Collier is the one whos trying to find the truth behind the murder of Philip Woode. In later films like his conspiracy masterpiece Blow Out (1981), the giallo styled thriller Dressed To Kill (1980) and the erotic thriller Body Double (1984), DePalma revisits this theme of the murder investigator.
What I loved most about Sisters was the way you could see DePalma's comedic style sort of meld together into the thriller genre which was new territory for him. I think this is one aspect that even back in 1973, set DePalma apart from other "thriller directors". He also showed his attention to detail and his interest in exploring cinema techniques such as split screen. If you watch DePalma films in succession now you can see how much he has progressed as a director. Every film he does is advanced more from the last. That to me is what all directors should strive to do.
Peter Roberts is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb) and contributor to the GCDb's sister site Furious Cinema. A Massachusetts native, he is an avid film fan that has been immersed in the world of entertainment and pop culture his entire life. He is currently majoring in Communications and Interactive Media Design.