Blood Simple

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Blood Simple
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Coen
Written byJoel Coen
Ethan Coen
Produced byEthan Coen
CinematographyBarry Sonnenfeld
Edited by
Music byCarter Burwell
  • River Road Productions
  • Foxton Entertainment
Distributed byCircle Films
Release date
Running time
96 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.5 million[2]
Box office$2.7 million[2][3]

Blood Simple is a 1984 American independent neo-noir crime film written, edited, produced, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and starring John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh. Its plot follows a Texas bartender who finds himself in the midst of a murder plot when his boss discovers that his wife is having a love affair with said bartender. In reaction, he hires a private investigator to kill the couple. It was the directorial debut of the Coens and the first major film of cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who later became a director, as well as the feature-film debut of McDormand.

The film's title derives from the Dashiell Hammett novel Red Harvest (1929), in which the term "blood simple" describes the addled, fearful mind-set of people after prolonged immersion in violent situations.[4] Stylistically, the film has been noted for its blending elements of neo-noir, pulp crime stories, and low-budget horror films.[5] In 2001, a director's cut was released, the same year that it was ranked No. 98 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills.


In Texas, bartender Ray and housewife Abby drive through a downpour at night, discussing Abby's bad marriage to Julian Marty, who is Ray's boss. After admitting they are attracted to each other, they stop at a motel and have sex. Lorren Visser, a private detective, takes photos of the tryst and delivers them to Marty. When a mysterious caller informs the couple they are being watched, Abby goes home and grabs some belongings, including a small pistol Marty gave her. Despite being warned by Abby to stay away from the bar, Ray goes there to demand his back pay from Marty. Angry and humiliated, Marty mockingly tells Ray that Abby will betray him the way she did to Marty, and when confronted she will say, "I haven't done anything funny."

The next morning Marty attempts to kidnap Abby from Ray's home, but she punches him in the stomach instead. Humiliated again, he meets with Visser, offering him $10,000 to kill Abby and Ray. Visser agrees, telling Marty to "go fishing" in Corpus Christi to establish an alibi. Visser breaks into Ray's home and steals Abby's gun, and then calls Marty to tell him the job is done. When Marty returns, Visser meets him at the bar to collect his payment, showing Marty photos of the murdered couple as evidence. When Marty opens the safe to get the money for Visser, he surreptitiously places one of the murder photos inside. As Marty hands over the photos and the money, Visser shoots him with Abby's gun, drops the gun and grabs the money. As Visser exits, he carelessly leaves his cigarette lighter at the bar.

It is then revealed that Visser doctored photos of the couple asleep to look as if he shot them. Ray, deciding to confront Marty about his wages again, returns to the bar and discovers his body, accidentally discharging Abby's gun when he steps on it. Assuming Abby had murdered Marty, Ray puts the gun in Marty's coat pocket and the body in the backseat of his car. While driving, he is shocked to discover that Marty is still alive, albeit barely. Ray drives into a field and begins to bury Marty in a shallow grave. Finding the gun, Marty takes aim and pulls the trigger three times, falling on an empty chamber each time. Ray gingerly takes the gun and finishes burying Marty as he screams in terror.

A distraught Ray goes to Abby's new apartment and tries to explain that he "cleaned it all up." Abby, oblivious to Marty's shooting and unnerved by the blood on Ray's clothes, says, "I haven't done anything funny," which disturbs him further and leads to an argument. Visser calls the apartment but does not speak when Abby picks up; she assumes and tells Ray that it was Marty. Horrified, Ray places her gun on a table near the door as he leaves. Later, he is confronted by Meurice, another bartender, who tells him about a phone message Marty left regarding money stolen from the safe (Marty's cover story for the $10,000 he paid Visser).

While burning the doctored photos, Visser realizes that Marty kept one and that he cannot find his lighter. Knowing these can implicate him, he returns to the bar and attempts to break into the safe, but is thwarted by the arrival of Abby, who thinks the damage to the safe was caused by Ray and starts to realize Marty might be dead. Later, she has a nightmare of Marty, warning her that Ray will kill her as well. She goes to confront Ray who, now thoroughly confused, tells her Marty was still alive when Ray buried him.

While Abby tells Meurice about her suspicions, Ray goes to the bar himself and, opening the safe, discovers the doctored photo. Believing Abby is in danger, he realizes someone is following him on the way to her apartment. When Abby arrives and discovers Ray sitting in the dark, she turns the lights on, thinking it will protect her from him. Visser, who is on a rooftop across the street with a rifle, shoots and kills Ray. Abby manages to smash the lightbulb with her shoes and hides in the bathroom.

Entering the apartment, Visser searches Ray for the lighter (which was overlooked by everyone) and goes into the bathroom, only to find Abby has climbed out of the window into the next apartment. When he reaches around to open the window she stabs him with Ray's knife, pinning his hand to the sill. As she backs away in shock, Visser empties his gun into the wall, then punches through it to remove the knife. Returning to her own apartment, Abby picks up her gun and shoots Visser through the bathroom door. Abby then says, "I'm not afraid of you, Marty.", and Visser, lying mortally wounded on the floor, bursts into laughter and responds, "Well, ma'am, if I see him, I'll sure give him the message."




After writing the screenplay, the Coen brothers—neither of whom had any prior experience in filmmaking—shot a preemptive dummy theatrical trailer for the film, which showed "a man dragging a shovel alongside a car stopped in the middle of the road, back towards another man he was going to kill" and "a shot of backlit gun holes in a wall."[6] The trailer featured actor Bruce Campbell, playing the Julian Marty role, and was shot by recent film school graduate Barry Sonnenfeld.[7][8]

After completing the trailer, the Coens began exhibiting it with the hope of persuading investors to help fund the full-length feature film.[7] Daniel Bacaner was one of the first people to invest money in the project. He also became its executive producer and introduced the Coens to other potential backers. The entire process of raising the necessary $1.5 million took a year.[9]


The film was shot in several locations in the towns of Austin and Hutto, Texas over a period of 8 weeks in the fall of 1982. The film spent a year in postproduction and was completed by 1983.[10]

Blood Simple was Frances McDormand's screen debut.[6] All Coen brothers films are co-produced and co-directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, although Ethan was credited as the sole producer and Joel the sole director until 2004. The Coens share editing credit under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes.[11]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Critical response[edit]

While the film was only a modest box-office success, it was a huge critical success. It holds a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 110 reviews, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The critical consensus reads: "Brutally violent and shockingly funny in equal measure, Blood Simple offers early evidence of the Coen Brothers' twisted sensibilities and filmmaking ingenuity."[12] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 83 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[13]

Pauline Kael negatively called it "a crude, ghoulish story with thriller themes".[14]

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (the latter putting the film at No. 10 on his Top Ten list of 1985 and reviewed again on its 15th anniversary) each gave it a thumbs up on the movie review show At the Movies.[15][16][17][18]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $2.7 million worldwide.[2] Its first big public viewing was the USA Film Festival in Dallas, followed by the Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Grand Jury Prize. The brothers took the film to the Toronto Film Festival, Cannes, and the New York Film Festival. They were very proud of their film, particularly in light of having raised the funds using their self-made trailer.[19]

Home media[edit]

The original MCA Home Video VHS tape and LaserDisc was released on October 10, 1985, with a 96-minute running time.[20] The film was released on Universal Pictures Home Entertainment VHS for a second time in 1995 with a 99-minute run time.[21] Unusual for such an exercise, the "Director's Cut" is some 3 minutes shorter than the original 1985 theatrical release. The Coens reduced the run time with tighter editing, shortening some shots and removing others altogether. Additionally, they resolved long-standing rights issues with the music; the original theatrical version of the film made prominent use of The Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song" (1965); the Coens had replaced it with Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer" (1966) for the 1995 U.S. home video edition on VHS. The Director's Cut reinstated the Four Tops track.[22]

Universal Home Video released a DVD version of the film in 2001, and again in 2005 as part of a DVD box set titled The Coen Brothers Collection. A Blu-ray edition was released in 2011 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.[23]

In 2016, The Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray and DVD, featuring a new 4K digital transfer supervised and approved by Barry Sonnenfeld and the Coens, along with various new special features.[5] In 2024, The Criterion Collection released the film on 4K Ultra HD for the film time as a combo pack which includes the 2016 Blu-ray disc as well.[24]

In popular culture[edit]

The film was referenced in a 1992 episode (Master Ninja II) of the cult satirical sci-fi TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 as well as a 2017 episode ("Backfire") of the TV series Designated Survivor.[25][26]



Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Soundtrack album by
GenreFilm score
LabelVarèse Sarabande
Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology
Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Raising Arizona
Professional ratings
Review scores

Carter Burwell wrote the Blood Simple score, the first of his collaborations with the Coen brothers. Blood Simple was also the first feature-film score for Burwell, and after his work on this film, he became a much-in-demand composer in Hollywood.[31] As of 2024, he had scored 16 of the Coen brothers' films.[31]

The score for Blood Simple is a mix of solo piano and electronic ambient sounds. One track, "Monkey Chant", is based on kecak, the "Ramayana Monkey Chant" of Bali.[32]

In 1987, seven selections from Burwell's Blood Simple score were released on a 17-track album that also features selections from the soundtrack of the Coens' next film, Raising Arizona (1987).

Blood Simple selections on the 1987 album:

  1. "Crash and Burn" (2:40)
  2. "Blood Simple" (3:33)
  3. "Chain Gang" (4:47)
  4. "The March" (3:34)
  5. "Monkey Chant" (1:04)
  6. "The Shooting" (2:52)
  7. "Blood Simpler" (1:22)

Other songs from the film that are not on the album:[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roderick Jaynes is the shared pseudonym used by the Coen brothers for their editing.


  1. ^ a b c "Blood Simple". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "Blood Simple (1985) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 2022-04-10. Retrieved 2022-04-10.
  3. ^ "Blood Simple (1985)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 17 August 2016. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  4. ^ Falsani, Cathleen. (2009). The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. p. 31.
  5. ^ a b "Blood Simple". The Criterion Collection. Archived from the original on December 1, 2020. Retrieved November 22, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Ferarra, Greg "Blood Simple (1984)" (article)
  7. ^ a b Hoad, Phil (November 6, 2017). "How we made Blood Simple". The Guardian. Archived from the original on November 22, 2020.
  8. ^ Rich, Katey (June 24, 2016). "Watch Bruce Campbell in the Fake Trailer That Started the Coen Brothers' Careers". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on July 14, 2016.
  9. ^ Robson 2003.
  10. ^ Marsh, Calum (January 15, 2015) "How 'Blood Simple' Stated A 30-Year Hollywood Firefight" Archived 2015-12-25 at the Wayback Machine Maxim
  11. ^ Yuan, Jada (January 22, 2008). "Roderick Jaynes, Imaginary Oscar Nominee for 'No Country'". Vulture. Archived from the original on June 24, 2021. Retrieved June 22, 2021.
  12. ^ "Blood Simple (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on January 7, 2022. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
  13. ^ "Blood Simple". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc.
  14. ^ Kael, Pauline (17 February 1985). "PLAIN AND SIMPLE|The New Yorker". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  15. ^ "Vision Quest, Turk 182, Blood Simple, Mischief, 1985 - Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews". Archived from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  16. ^ "Best of 1985 - Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews". Archived from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  17. ^ "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists - Inner Mind". Archived from the original on 2021-07-01. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  18. ^ "Blood Simple (15th Anniversary)". Archived from the original on 2023-07-13. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  19. ^ Levine 2000, pp. 17–30.
  20. ^ "LaserDisc Database - Blood Simple [40180]". Archived from the original on 2018-02-07. Retrieved 2018-02-06.
  21. ^ The Collector's Choice edition VHS on ASIN 6300184110.
  22. ^ Beckett, David (March 27, 2013). "Blood Simple – Director's Cut (2013) DVD". Film 365. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  23. ^ Spurlin, Thomas (September 20, 2011). "Blood Simple: The Director's Cut". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on November 22, 2020.
  24. ^ "Criterion Announces January Releases". Archived from the original on February 25, 2024. Retrieved February 26, 2024.
  25. ^ MST3K: Master Ninja II (FULL MOVIE) on the show's official YouTube channel (riff at 49:07-49:08)
  26. ^ "Backfire", Season 1, Designated Survivor (TV Series), 22 March 2017, riff at 23:40 (Netflix Archived 2023-11-18 at the Wayback Machine)
  27. ^ 1985 Sundance Film Festival Archived 2012-01-31 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ "First Spirit Awards ceremony ever hosted by Peter Coyote - full show (1986)|Film Independent on YouTube". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  29. ^ "Film Independent. "Film Independent Spirit Awards - A Brief History - Playlist" on official YouTube channel". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  30. ^ Blood Simple at AllMusic
  31. ^ a b Greiving, Tom (2016). Love The Music of Coen Brothers Films? You Can Thank Carter Burwell". Archived 2018-01-24 at the Wayback Machine Music News, National Public Radio (NPR), February 7, 2016. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  32. ^ Bakan, Michael B. (2009). "The Abduction of the Signifying Monkey Chant: Schizophonic Transmogrifications of Balinese Kecakin Fellini's Satyriconand the Coen Brothers'Blood Simple". Ethnomusicology Forum. 18: 83–106. doi:10.1080/17411910902778478. S2CID 54703956.
  33. ^ "The Coen Brothers: 8 Unforgettable Music Moments - UPROXX". 5 February 2016. Archived from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  34. ^ "The 10 best musical moments from Coen brothers films|Far Out Magazine". 11 November 2021. Archived from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 2022-10-09.


External links[edit]

Preceded by Sundance Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic
Succeeded by