Sisters Blu-ray review

Brian De Palma‘s Sisters opens with a candid camera show called Peeping Toms – Michael Powell reference, check – which sees an actress, Danielle (Margot Kidder), pretending to be blind and undressing in a effort to trick a man into leering at her.

It feels like De Palma is front-loading Sisters with references to voyeurism, one of its major themes, and cluing in the audience early as to what to look out for. But this is just a drop on the ocean, and a drop near the top at that. Sisters has a lot more going on beneath its ‘exploitation thriller’ surface.

The victim of the hidden camera ruse is the African-American Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson). His ethnicity is relevant here as his prize is a hilariously pointed jab from De Palma at antiquated ideas concerning race.

Danielle and Phillip hit it off and he stays the night at her apartment. In the morning Phillip overhears Danielle arguing in French with her twin sister, Dominque (also Margot Kidder), who later stabs Philip to death.

Danielle’s neighbour, journalist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) immediately calls the police and rushes over, in a sequence that is incredibly tense and edited using a reasonably effective split-screen device. But the evidence has already been hidden and it’s left up to Grace to investigate Danielle, Dominique and their very, very strange past…

So, the plot in Sisters is perhaps not the film’s greatest strength but De Palma has punctuated it with exciting sequences, all of whichdrive things along at quite a pace. Again taking cues from Alfred Hitchcock, the most infamous of his influences, De Palma has cleverly orchestrated the suspense, playing with the audience, and ramping up the tension in just the right places.

The score, by Hitchcock’s frequent collaborator Bernard Hermann, also adds greatly to the atmosphere, with histrionic shrieks and stabs helping to dial up the stress levels.

But it’s not all ‘straight’ thriller material and De Palma has injected a number of scenes that are quite deliberately comedic, including some genuinely hilarious pratfalls.

Not everything works, though, and Sisters is rather uneven, but when it’s good it’s really great and the slight awkwardness in its construction often adds to the unnerving nature of the film. It’s something of a delight to watch a movie with no idea at all of where the plot is going next and there’s a real feeling that anything could happen.

This new release from Arrow Video is the first Blu-ray for the film outside of Japan. It’s an excellent disc with a good quality transfer and a fine selection of extras. Upon first viewing, however, I was little concerned with the opening credits where there appeared to be some slight cropping of the image.

After the titles, the film itself did not appear to have any tight framing that would suggest cropping issues. I reached out to Arrow Video for clarification and Anthony Nield, co-producer on the release,  was kind enough to provide some further detail regarding the transfer, which was from a master supplied by Criterion.

I don’t think we can confirm one way or the other that the missing info on the credits therefore means missing info on the film overall. There’s certainly no untoward ‘tightness’ in the framing to suggest as much.


When Criterion released their DVD some years back they windowboxed the opening titles to show viewers that there was no additional information (and to protect from overscan, this being a time when CRT televisions were the most common on the market). They were simply working with what they were supplied and those materials continue to be the best available.

I’m reasonably confident that any cropping issue only applies to the credits sequence but even if this isn’t the case, this will almost certainly be the best version we’ll get without a total remastering from source elements.

The transfer from Arrow is superb in all other respects and a definite improvement on the standard definition DVD from Criterion. Grain is consistent throughout and this Blu-ray looks to be a very fair representation of the film as it would have originally been seen on 35mm.

The uncompressed mono audio track has almost certainly been hampered by the limitations of the original recording  but there is still a reasonable amount of dynamism and the track handles both the low dialogue and high peaks of Hermann’s score adequately.

The extras are also decent, with two informative and reasonably engaging video essays, a selection of cast and crew interviews, a theatrical trailer, promotional images and an excellent booklet which includes a lot of contributions from De Palma himself.

The Arrow Video Sisters Blu-ray will be released on the 28th of April. The disc is region free.