Sisters (1973) directed by Brian DePalma
One of the fun things about watching more and more movies is that you will occasionally catch references to other films. The more films you watch, the more you will be able to catch these cross references to each other. It's not that directors are ripping off other people's work per say, it's more of paying homage to the works that inspired them. It's kind of like being able to catch an inside joke that only you and the director get and it's fun trying to be part of that inner circle. Like all people, I used to love The Simpsons as a kid for the obvious reasons, but it is only until I grew older and more familiar with popular culture and history that I was fully able to appreciate the show for how smart it was and how hard it tried to jam stuff in that many of its viewers wouldn't even recognize.
Brian DePalma's Sisters is a fine movie in its own right, but if you're at all familiar with Alfred Hitchcock's films you'd find all sorts of goodies here to make the viewing that much sweeter. But what sets DePalma apart from many directors is that not only is he able to call upon Hitchcock, but is able to retain his own unique style to make the film distinctly his own.
The film begins with an incredibly ominous score accompanied by a shot of an embryo during the opening credits. This film is going to be dark and twisted, but you don't know yet exactly why. Then the movie starts off rather innocently. Two characters Danielle and Phillip meet each other on a game show called Peeping Tom, a fitting reference to Rear Window in which the plot is loosely based on. From there they go on a date, get to know each other and share some romance which leads to Phillip spending the night at Danielle's place. Then inexplicably, Phillip is brutally stabbed to death in a very Psycho-esque moment with the silhouette and a kitchen knife. Grace, a woman who lives in the opposite building, has a plain view to Danielle's apartment and witnesses the murder. She calls the cops, but by the time they arrive the body has been stashed away and nobody believes her. It is up to Grace to solve the murder. If it sounds like the plot to Rear Window, you're absolutely right, it is. This sequence also has a great reference to a lesser known Hitchcock classic, Rope in how the body is hidden in plain sight. Maybe I've given away too much of the plot as it seems like a lot has happened, and it has, but the majority of the film is spent on Grace's attempts to prove that a murder did take place and there is of course the mysterious subplot of Danielle's Siamese twin sister.
Stylistically there is a lot to take in as the film is crafted with Brian DePalma's meticulous detailing. I loved the scene where Phillip is writing Danielle's name in frosting on a birthday cake. Meanwhile Danielle, who hasn't taken the proper dosage of her medication, is writhing in pain on her bathroom floor. The scene cuts back and forth between the frosting tube which eerily resembles a knife and Danielle in pain accompanied by that ominous score in the beginning, contrasting a seemingly innocent task with something violent or foreboding. There is this same juxtaposition when the two have sex and the revelation of Danielle's surgical scar on her hip. There are also other signature DePalma moments such as his use of split screen and his slow long tracking shots.
When they use the phrase psychological thriller, I think they have the last twenty minutes of Sisters in mind as the scene is frightening, revealing, disturbing and takes a turn for the bizarre. As soon as the shocking murder happens, it grabs you by the wrists and won't let go, not that you want to turn away or anything until the crime is solved.
While I was proud to recognize the homage that DePalma paid to Hitchcock, many of the references are obvious. That being said, I'm sure I must have missed more subtle ones, or maybe even equally obvious ones to the ones I did recognize if only I knew where they were from. And who knows about all of the other films I've watched and everything I missed from them. Maybe one day I will look back at these films like I did The Simpsons and rediscover and appreciate them more.