This movie is clever and interesting, like almost all of De Palma's films, but the amount of payoff a viewer gets is not quite up to how interestingly the movie is put together.
SPOILERS>>> If you want to keep the surprises for watching the movie, you'd better not read any of this review. Or look at the pictures. Or be on this site at all. Or even be on the Internet.
Here's the dirty, dirty dish: Margot Kidder is on a Candid Camera-type show called Peeping Toms. She picks up the winning contestant [who has proved himself to be a gentleman by declining to watch her strip] and they go back to her place, where they make tasteful offscreen love. In the morning she hasn't had her pills, so she freaks out and stabs the guy [in the crotch and mouth]. A reporter with a hideous mullet hairdo across the street sees the murder, and calls the police. The police find nothing, so the reporter decides to embark on her own investigation, and shocking secrets are revealed.
One aspect of this movie is its compositing of many themes from different Hitchcock movies. You have Psycho with a seemingly main character getting killed in the first 40 minutes, as well as the surviving person taking on the personality of a dead relative, you have Rear Window with the murder seen from one apartment into another, and you have Rope with the body stored inside a piece of furniture smack dab in the center of the room. These things are interesting, but don't get one any further into the story. A thought occurred to me while watching this, though, and that is that while Hitchcock was often a major presence in the experience of watching his films, he still had stars and the stories and characters were still very involving on their own, whereas, for me at least, the main pleasure is watching a De Palma film is seeing what DE PALMA is going to do technically, and my sense of the stories is that [in most cases] they are constructed entirely to convey De Palma's pet themes. Hey, nothing wrong with that: I love watching De Palma's set pieces and technical displays, and his themes [voyeurism, sexual jealousy and violence, split personalities] are interesting.
Anyway, this movie is has a lot of De Palma staples like split screens and movies-within-the movie, but the story just isn't all that compelling. A LOT seems wrong with Margot Kidder's character from the beginning, so when she changes it's really not that much of a surprise. I found the Jennifer Salt character more annoying than anything. And the story takes forever to get going. You'll be looking at the screen an hour in, knowing you only have 30 minutes more to go, and think. "But nothing has really happened yet!"
Margot Kidder surprised me with her performance. I had only seen her as the shrill, screeching Lois Lane in Superman, and as the wife in the Amityville Horror, neither of which really impressed me with her talents. Here she plays a French-Canadian model transplanted to Staten Island and, I don't know, I was convinced. She was confused and vulnerable, and seemed genuinely unfamiliar with our culture. Belated props to Margot.
There is a funny part toward the end when Jennifer wanders into a mental ward and is told that she cannot use the phone by a crazy germ phobic woman who believes that germs can travel over phone lines and says: "That's how I got sick... Someone called me on the telephone!"
There is an interesting [though confusing] narrative sequence in which Jennifer's character has a dream that explains the entire Margot backstory. that is, Margot was one of a pair of Siamese twins [once again, Siamese twins = Evil] that were separated. The other twin died, and Margot periodically takes on her personality and kills people. But the thing is, in this movie, they show Jennifer AS the other twin, which makes it an interesting device, but leads to moments of "So wait a minute-and I to understand that Jennifer IS the twin sister?" De Palma talks about this being confusing in the interview on the DVD, and I assume that this is what he's talking about. The whole of that interview [on the Criterion disc] is really good, and fairly long. He talks a lot about his Hitchcock influence, what he was trying to do with the film, and various techniques.
De Palma is a God, but I think this is one of his lesser creations.
If you've already seen most of the other De Palma films.