Blood Simple

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Blood Simple
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Coen
Produced byEthan Coen
Written byJoel Coen
Ethan Coen
Music byCarter Burwell
CinematographyBarry Sonnenfeld
Edited by
  • Joel Coen
  • Ethan Coen
  • Don Wiegmann
  • River Road Productions
  • Foxton Entertainment
Distributed byCircle Films
Release date
Running time
96 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.5 million
Box office$3.8 million[2]

Blood Simple is a 1984 American neo-noir crime film written, edited, produced, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It was the directorial debut of the Coens and the first major film of cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who later became a noted director, as well as the feature-film debut of Joel Coen's wife Frances McDormand, who subsequently starred in many of his features.

The film's title derives from the Dashiell Hammett novel Red Harvest (1929), in which the term "blood simple" describes the addled, fearful mindset of people after prolonged immersion in violent situations.[3]

In 2001, a director's cut was released. It ranked number 98 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills. The film also placed 73rd on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.


Abby and Ray are driving through a heavy downpour at night, discussing Abby's bad marriage. Ray drives to a motel, where they have sex. Abby's husband, Julian Marty, has hired a private detective, Lorren Visser, to follow Abby. Visser takes photos of the tryst and delivers them to Marty. Ray is a bartender working at Marty's bar.

Marty is humiliated when his attempt to kidnap Abby from Ray's home fails, so he then hires Visser to kill the couple. Visser breaks into Ray's home, steals Abby's gun, and photographs the sleeping couple through the bedroom window. He presents a doctored photo of the couple's "corpses" to Marty as evidence that they have been killed. Marty goes to the bathroom to vomit, then opens the safe to give Visser his fee. Visser shoots Marty with Abby's gun, leaving her gun at the scene as evidence that she killed Marty.

Ray returns to the bar and accidentally kicks Abby's gun, firing it. He finds a motionless Marty and decides to cover up the murder, which he assumes Abby has committed. He loads the body into his back seat and puts Abby's gun in the coat pocket. While Ray is driving down a country road at night, he realizes that Marty is still alive, although badly wounded. Ray buries Marty alive, after retrieving the gun.

A distraught Ray tells Abby, "I cleaned up your mess." Abby insists she "hasn't done anything funny." By the time Ray leaves Abby's apartment, each is convinced that the other has done something to harm Marty. Ray leaves the gun, now containing one round, with Abby.

Visser observes first Abby and later Ray visiting the bar office. When leaving the bar, Ray notices that he is being followed, and leaves for Abby's apartment, realizing that she might be in danger. After Abby arrives, Visser, firing from a nearby rooftop with a rifle, shoots Ray through the window. When Abby hears footsteps approaching, she quickly takes Ray's knife and hides in the bathroom. Visser enters the bathroom to kill her, but finds the bathroom empty and the window open. Reaching out the window, he opens another window to the next room, but Abby slams the sash down on his wrist and drives the knife through his hand into the sill. He shoots through the wall, then punches through it and removes the knife, while Abby retreats and waits outside the bathroom, holding her gun. As Visser is about to emerge, she fires through the door, hitting him. Abby states she "isn't afraid of you, Marty". Visser, lying on the bathroom floor, mortally wounded, bursts into laughter and responds by saying he'll "let him know if he sees him.", as Abby is horrified at the realization that he is not Marty.



The Coen brothers took the trailer they made – 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"[4] – and a projector and went around to people's homes and work places to show it. 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.[5]


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.[6]

Blood Simple was Frances McDormand's screen debut.[4]


While the film was only a modest box-office success, it was a huge critical success. It currently holds a 94% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 99 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.27/10. 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."[7] The movie made about $3 million. 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.[8]

John Simon of the National Review had a differing opinion. He found Blood Simple to be inept and detestable.[9]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Director's cut and home media[edit]

VHS Versions[edit]

The original MCA Home Video VHS tape and LaserDisc was released on October 10, 1985, with a 96-minute running time.[11]

The film was released on Universal Pictures Home Entertainment VHS tape for a second time in 1995 with a 99-minute run time.[12]

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.[13]

2001 DVD release[edit]

The 2001 DVD release features several spoofs of DVD "special features". One is an introduction to the film by fictional film historian "Mortimer Young", who claims the Director's Cut removes some of "the boring bits" and adds other parts; this was also included in the theatrical release of the Director's Cut.[citation needed] It was also re-released on VHS in 2001.

The 2001 DVD release also includes an audio commentary by "Kenneth Loring", the fictional artistic director of the equally fictional "Forever Young Films". Loring offers several entirely spurious "facts"; for example, he claims the scene with Ray and Abby driving in the rain, talking about Marty, was acted out in reverse, as well as upside down, to synch the headlights of the passing car just as certain lines were said. (He claims filming the scene backwards and upside down was the logical choice to get the timing right, and the actors are wearing hair spray to keep their hair pointing "down".) Elsewhere in the commentary, he claims, in scenes with both dialogue and music, the actors simply mouth the words and record them in postproduction, so they do not interfere with the music; that Marty's dog is animatronic; that the sweat on various actors is "movie sweat", gathered from the flanks of Palomino horses; that Fred Astaire and Rosemary Clooney were at one time intended for the film; and that a fly buzzing about is not real, but the product of computer-generated imagery. "Loring" is voiced by actor Jim Piddock, using a script written by the Coen brothers.[citation needed]

Box Sets[edit]

In 2005, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released The Coen Brothers Collection DVD box set that included the 2001 version. Then in 2007, MGM Home Entertainment released The Coen Brothers Movie Collection DVD box set that included a version with no special features. The DVD was sold separately in 2008. Finally in 2011, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the From the Minds of the Coen Brothers Blu-ray Disc box set, which included the mock commentary track. The Blu-ray Disc was sold separately, as well.

Criterion Collection[edit]

In 2016, the Criterion Collection released Blu-ray Disc and DVD special editions of the film with a new 4K digital transfer supervised and approved by Barry Sonnenfeld and the Coens, along with various new special features.[14]


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
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[15]

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.[16] By 2016, he had scored 16 of the Coen brothers' films.[16]

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.[17]

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. ^ a b Blood Simple at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "Blood Simple (1985) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  3. ^ Falsani, Cathleen. (2009). The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. p. 31.
  4. ^ a b Ferarra, Greg "Blood Simple (1984)" (article)
  5. ^ Robson, Eddie (2003). Coen Brothers. Great Britain: ebooks. ISBN 9780753547700.
  6. ^ Marsh, Calum (January 15, 2015) "How 'Blood Simple' Stated A 30-Year Hollywood Firefight" Maxim
  7. ^ "Blood Simple (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  8. ^ Levine, Josh (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Film Makers. Canasa: ECW Press. pp. 17–30. ISBN 978-1-55022-424-5.
  9. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 136.
  10. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  11. ^ "LaserDisc Database - Blood Simple [40180]".
  12. ^ VHS cover (image)
  13. ^ Beckett, David (March 27, 2013). "Blood Simple – Director's Cut (2013) DVD". Film 365.
  14. ^ "Blood Simple". Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  15. ^ Blood Simple at AllMusic
  16. ^ a b Greiving, Tom (2016). Love The Music of Coen Brothers Films? You Can Thank Carter Burwell". Music News, National Public Radio (NPR), February 7, 2016. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  17. ^ 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.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Old Enough
Sundance Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic
Succeeded by
Smooth Talk