Sisters – Brian De Palma week

This is Brian De Palma week. Sisters is currently available on instant Netflix.

Sisters

WATCH: Sisters (1973) – Rated R

“Reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) sees model Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) commit murder in the apartment across the way and promptly alerts the police — who find no corpse or other evidence of the crime. Left to her own devices, Grace teams with private eye Joseph Larch (Charles Durning) to crack the case, with the trail leading to Danielle’s once-conjoined twin and a creepy mental asylum in director Brian De Palma’s disturbing shocker.”

“Did you know that the germs can come through the wires? I never call and I never answer. It’s a good way to get sick – very, very sick. That’s how I got so sick! Someone called me on the telephone!”

Brian De Palma both wrote and directed Sisters. He also cast two of his friends, Jennifer Salt and Margot Kidder as the leads. This is an early film of his and is a bit rough around the edges. He uses his split-screen a bit here (then a new technique) three years before his iconic use of it in Carrie.

Again De Palma is in Hitchcock mode here. He uses odd camera angles and tracking shots a la his role model. Bernard Herrmann, a frequent Hitchcock composer, provides a good score here.

Acting is a little uneven. Jennifer Salt underplays her role as the intrepid reporter allowing the other cast members to dominate the film. Margot Kidder is quite good as the mysterious Danielle. The show is stolen by the delightful Charles Durning as an investigator.

Obsession, yesterday’s film, is clearly the stronger mystery but Sisters certainly has its rough charms.¬† I recommend watching this because it is entertaining but not very highly because the twist is easy to guess and some of the third act shenanigans don’t make much logical sense.

People Watch: Look for Olympia Dukakis as Bakery Shop employee #2.

Christmas week – Black Christmas

As White Christmas is not available on instant Netflix, I am sadly forced to review Black Christmas which is available.

Black Christmas

WATCH: Black Christmas (1974) – Rated R

“Terror reigns inside a sorority house a few days before Christmas break as a series of menacing phone calls — and the discovery of a dead girl’s body — transform yuletide cheer into fear. Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey and Andrea Martin (“SCTV”) co-star as just a few of the petrified sisters at the mercy of an unseen stalker in this 1970s horror gem from director Robert Clark, who told a much happier holiday tale with his 1983 classic, A Christmas Story.”

It’s really hard to believe that this is produced and directed by Bob Clark. I guess he had to get out all of his bitterness towards the holidays before he could mold all of his love for Christmas into A Christmas Story. The poster of a victim’s face covered by a plastic bag on a snowy background is certainly unsettling. The tagline is hysterical – “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight!”.

While watching this film, I realized the difference between this and John Carpenter’s Halloween. They are both slashers that feature some killer point of view shots (Black Christmas to its credit does this four years before Halloween). The feel of the films though is completely different. Halloween comes off as an incredible edge-of-your-seat suspense film in spite of the material where Black Christmas comes across as pure exploitation cheese in attitude (even though there isn’t much gore and no sex/nudity).

In addition to the killer, we have an extremely foul-mouthed Santa predating Bad Santa by almost 3 decades, a student who wants to have an abortion, a student happily sharing alcohol with a small child and an alcoholic, foul-mouthed den mother. There is also an abundance of bad 70s hair and fashion through the movie.

This film is not very good but I recommend watching it for three reasons. First, it’s a fine example of grindhouse fare although Bob Clark did tone down the kills somewhat. Secondly as a precursor¬† to much that followed afterwards in the horror genre, this set some groundwork. This is the first of “the killer is calling from inside the house” movies and an early use of the now ubiquitous killer point-of-view shots. The scene of Claire in the rocking chair with a bag over her head is wonderfully effective and disturbing although it is used too often in the film. There is some genuine suspense in the film (though some of the scenes with the killer are annoying) and the ending, while a bit nonsensical, is quite good – the absence of music during the final scene was a very good choice. The final reason is that you simply won’t be able to believe that this was made by the same man who did “A Christmas Story”.

People Watch: Look for B-movie stalwart John Saxon as the police lieutenant. Also note that Andrea Martin, here playing a college coed, plays the house matron role in the 2006 remake.