I recall the unexpected joy I felt when I first sat down to watch Sisters and saw that it seemed to star (or at least co-star) a black man. And not your typical 1970s Hollywood black man either — struttin’, jive talkin’, ho slappin’ — but rather, an honest-to-goodness upper middle-class, suit-wearin’, proper talkin’ professional black man named Phillip (Lisle Wilson). The film opens with a series of intriguing and subversive racial situations, as Phillip finds himself on a hidden camera TV show in which a supposedly blind white woman begins to take her clothes off in front of him, unaware that he’s there. He manages to (barely) avoid the lusty black man stereotype — although it might’ve been nice if he’d warned her that everyone can see her junk. The show, by the way, is called Peeping Toms.
I’m not sure if the racial innuendo of the title is intentional, but seeing as how the movie is aware enough to joke about Phillip getting the parting gift of dinner for two at a restaurant called “The African Room,” that may indeed be the case. The lady in the skit, incidentally, turns out to be Danielle (Margot Kidder), a model who invites herself along for Phillip’s dinner. One thing leads to another, and badda bing, they’re back at her place.
When they wake up the next morning, we learn that Danielle’s evil twin, Dominique, is staying with her (sleeping on evil sheets, no doubt) and that today is their birthday. Nice guy that he is, Phillip goes to a local bakery and returns with a birthday cake for the gals, only to be ambushed by Dominique, who stabs him wildly with the butcher knife Danielle won on the game show. Hello, lawsuit! Alas, my hope for a black lead character died at the 26:37 mark. (Apparently, Wilson’s career also died at this time, as this seems to have been its high point.)
That said, Phillip was an admirable character, a credit to his race. And his death scene is pretty damn good — creepy and unnerving, like a more graphic (Knife to the crotch and mouth anyone?) deleted scene from Psycho. Plus, he doesn’t die in vain; his death jump-starts the rest of the movie, as journalist Grace (Jennifer Salt) investigates the shifty goings-on in Danielle’s apartment and even attempts to expose racism within the police department (“These people are always stabbing each other,” a cop tells her when she informs him of the black victim.)
Furthermore, Phillip’s death brings to light the issue of interracial relationships in film, still something of a taboo today. There aren’t many documented instances, but history has shown that black-white miscegenation in horror movies is not a good idea. From mainstream fare like House of Wax, Candyman, The Omega Man and Frogs to lesser-knowns like Ritual, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Tanya’s Island, Cut Up and Soul Vengeance, things rarely turn out well for those involved.