The candid camera, the obscuring camera: "Which one is the evil twin?" Brian De Palma avails himself of Bernard Herrmann’s trembling strings and Margot Kidder’s resemblance to Simone Simon in her Val Lewton period, and forges ahead into splintered-psyche territory. The opening sequence shows how much society has appropriated De Niro’s ideas in Hi, Mom! -- the peeper’s dilemma at the bathhouse is now TV fodder, the decoy (Kidder) and the voyeur (Lisle Wilson) hook up afterwards at the "African Room." The barbed Freudian joke has the heroine, a Quebecoise model, as the surviving half of post-op conjoined sisters, her scarred hip fondled by her lover. The vanquished sibling lives within Kidder’s guilt and springs to bloody action in the morning after, the doctor who severed them (William Finley) drops by to mop the mess up, the whole thing is witnessed by a reporter (Jennifer Salt) from the building across the street. De Palma’s obsessive use of doubles starts with the title (familial bonds, "right on!" feminism) and extends to the film itself with bifurcated frames, parallel montage (a birthday endearment scrawled letter by letter on a cake while the medicated heroine writhes on the bathroom floor) and, finally, the split-screen of a stabbed camera. Rear Window is explicitly quoted and the living room coffin from Rope makes a telling appearance, but the director’s great affinity with Hitchcock resides in his understanding of a society built on repression and of the castrating frenzies that ensue. A wide-angle POV precipitates the climactic hallucination, with its virtuosic twitches of Wiene, Browning and Powell bringing a butcher’s cleaver down into a Francis Bacon composition -- De Palma's surgery is one of (film history) memory reconstruction and transference, "complications" and all. Fatally penetrated, the crumpled patriarch desperately tries to penetrate back and expires atop his complicit victim; the only thing more excoriating is the closing view of unclaimed evidence, truth suppressed. With Charles Durning, Barnard Hughes, Dolph Sweet, and Mary Davenport.
--- Fernando F. Croce