It’s a nutty premise that has a delicious (and broad) satirical subtext about the indulgences and eccentricities of the rich, as the would-be extended family of Grace (Weaving) is only pursuing her because they’re convinced a grandfather made a deal with the Devil for their wealth–and to keep it they must step on those beneath them every generation. Well step, shoot, stab, and ritualistically sacrifice in this cruelest game of hide and seek ever. Come for the gonzo high-concept and stay for the supremely satisfying ending.
One of the scariest things about the 1972 psychological thriller Sisters is the subliminal sounds of bones creaking and muscles readjusting during the slasher scenes. Margot Kidder plays both title characters: conjoined twins, French Canadian model Danielle Breton and asylum-committed Dominique Blanchion, who had been surgically separated. Director Brian De Palma puts the movie together like a feature-long presentation of the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The camera lingers over bodies, bloodied or pristine, mobile or prone, with fetishistic glee before instilling the crime scenes in the mind’s eye. He allows longtime Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann to assault the ear.
De Palma was inspired by a photograph of Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova, Russian conjoined twins with seemingly polarized temperaments. There may be no deeper bond than blood, which the film has plenty of, but the real alter ego comes from splitscreen compositions and an outside intruder. The voyeuristic delight culminates in a surgical dream sequence with freaks, geeks, a giant, and dwarves. Nothing is as it seems and an out-of-order telephone is a triggering reminder.
A nigh silent picture, Vampyr came at a point of transition for its director Carl Th. Dreyer. The Danish filmmaker, who often worked in Germany and France at this time, was making only his second “talkie” when he mounted this vampire opus. That might be why the movie is largely absent of dialogue. The plot, which focuses on a young man journeying to a village that is under the thrall of a vampire, owes much to Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well as F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu from some years earlier.
Yet there horror fans should seek Vampyr out, if for no other reason than the stunning visuals and cinematography. Alternating between German Expressionist influences in its use to shadows to unsettling images crafted in naturalistic light, such as a boatman carrying an ominous scythe, this a a classic of mood and atmosphere. Better still is when they combine, such as when the scythe comes back to bedevil a woman sleeping, trapping us all in her nightmare. Even if its narrative has been told better, before and after, there’s a reason this movie’s iconography lingers nearly a century later.