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February 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings / February /




  OST orchestra conducted by the composer
  SOUTHERN CROSS SCCD 903   [42:05]

Intended as a homage to Hitchcock (as The Fury, Obsession and Dressed to Kill would be later) Brian De Palma’s gruesome Sisters, made in 1973, is a horror story about a Siamese twin (Margot Kidder, later to star as Superman’s Lois Lane) who takes on the personality of her deranged and dead sister. "The plots of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Rear Window are both raided for this effective, if derivative shocker" – Halliwell’s Film and Video Guide 2000.

When De Palma heard Herrmann’s Psycho music as recorded by Herrmann on the Decca London recording , played with the rushes of Sisters, he became convinced that it was absolutely essential to hire Herrmann to write the music for his shocker to create the right ‘Hitchcokian’ ambience. In spite of Sister’s low budget non-superstar status, both De Palmer and the film’s producer (Edward R. Pressman) were willing to pay Herrmann’s fee which turned out to be the single most costiest item on the budget.

Herrmann’s score is one of the most powerful and terrifying he ever wrote for the screen. The Main Title sets the scene; it is as Royal S. Brown, in his erudite booklet note, observes, "one of the most stark marrow-chilling openers the composer has ever produced. Against an X-Ray shot of a human embryo in the womb, the music immediately establishes an atmosphere of intense, even morbid tragedy…" Chimes and screeching, distorted nursery song-like figures, and disturbing horn patterns played in typical Herrmannesque thirds (alternating major-minor)…’ create a skin-crawling effect. Elsewhere slower, quieter droning music – often recalling material from earlier Hitchcock thrillers notably Psycho and Vertigo, holds and tightens the tension building up to the murder scene following the presentation of the birthday cake, and other chilling moments (notably ‘Breton’s Murder’ and ‘Hypnotic Trance’). There is also poignancy and compassion too not to mention a dark sardonic humour (‘The couch’).

Herrmann is as resourceful as ever in his orchestrations, ranging from ‘the simple bells and vibraphone birthday-cake theme to the incredibly resonant, ominous, almost science-fiction combination of bells, vibraphone, woodwinds and Moogs during the sequence in which the first murder takes place.’

Sisters is one of those films that seems to be rarely screened on TV, compared to the later De Palma shockers, here in the UK and I will confess that I have still to see it. [TV schedulers please take note]

Although not as consistently gripping as his later score for De Palma’s Obsession, nevertheless this album is an absolute must for all Herrmann admirers

Ian Lace


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