We start off with De Palma's favorite theme: voyeurism. On a corny television program called Peeping Toms, the candid camera guest, Philip (likeable Lisle Wilson) has to choose whether or not to let a blind woman know he's in her dressing room when she's changing clothes. He opts to be a gentleman and leave the room before she takes off her brassiere.
The audience rewards him with a free dinner at an African restaurant, since he's a black guy. It's a bold, politically incorrect move which wouldn't be done nowadays. Brian De Palma had previously satirized race in Hi, Mom!, but he eschews that here in favor of Hitchcockian trickery. Philip goes out on a date with the blind woman, who was really a French-Canadian model living on Staten Island, Danielle (Kidder, natch).
After a nice trip back to her apartment for some pre-AIDS casual sex, our would-be hero Philip learns that Danielle has a twin and it's their collective birthday. He buys them a cake and brings it back to Danielle's place. Unfortunately for him, the deranged sister (also Kidder) is waiting for him and she ain't interested in cutting the cake.
The film, of course, is Psycho. We follow a hero through the first half of the story only to have him hastily dispatched. Our Norman Bates comes in the form of Danielle, maybe, since it's never clear whether she's the psycho killer or it's her twin sister.
Our focus shifts to a nosy reporter who lives next door (played by brassy Jennifer Salt) who has witnessed the killing through her window. Whether this is an homage to Rear Window or outright theft is debatable. Of course, those lousy police won't lift a finger to help her since she gave them some negative press.
We have the obligatory and painfully unfunny scenes where she tries to gets the cops to investigate, complete with "who's on first" dialogue not five minutes after we've seen a gory on-screen slaying. De Palma was never one for maintaining an even tone in his films, shifting wildly from sadistic violence to slapstick. I'm sure he'd call it "playing the audience like a piano," since he's been trying to be Alfred Hitchcock ever since 1973.
The character development is minimal, the situation so over-the-top as to prove laughable. Margot Kidder embarrasses herself with a va-va-voom French accent, but not so much as Jennifer "Pay Attention To Me" Salt.
De Palma's camerawork is fairly mundane, except when he goes for his split screen parallel action bit as the cops are closing in and the body is being disposed. It feels like an episode from some bad sitcom. I gotta clean up this mess before dad gets home! Uh-oh! Here comes dad! I'll just hide around this corner!
As for the surreal dream sequence which closes the film, involving black and white cinematography and an explanation of how that bizarre doctor (William Finley) who's been scampering around throughout the film is involved with the sisters, well, this turns the movie into a carnival freakshow, complete with the seedy feeling of being ripped off afterwards. The half-jokey tone of the eleventh hour revelation probably didn't even play well back in 1973. It sure doesn't work today.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 27th March 1973
Distributed by: Criterion Collection
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Edward R. Pressman
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