Blood Simple

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Blood Simple
Theatrical re-release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen
Written by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
Edited by
  • Roderick Jaynes
  • Don Wiegmann
  • River Road Productions
  • Foxton Entertainment
Distributed by Circle Films
Release date
Running time
96 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.5 million
Box office $3,851,855[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 a prolonged immersion in violent situations.[3]

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


The film opens with a short voice-over monologue voiced by M. Emmet Walsh as various images of the Texas landscape are shown. The film then shifts to a conversation between Abby (Frances McDormand) and Ray (John Getz) in a car as it drives through a heavy downpour at night. They seem to be discussing Abby's bad marriage and Ray indicates that he's driving her to Houston. But instead of driving Abby to Houston, Ray drives to a motel and they have sex. We later find out that Abby's husband, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya), who owns a Texas bar, had hired a private detective (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow Abby. The detective took photos of the tryst and delivered the prints to Marty. Ray turns out to be a bartender working for Marty.

Marty is humiliated when his attempt to kidnap Abby from Ray's home fails, so he then hires the detective to kill the couple. The detective breaks into Ray's home, steals Abby's gun, and photographs the sleeping couple through the bedroom window.

The detective 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 the detective his $10,000 fee. The detective then shoots Marty with Abby's gun in a double cross, leaving her gun at the scene as evidence that she killed Marty.

Ray returns to the bar to get his last paycheck 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 Marty's body into his back seat with Abby's gun in the body's coat pocket. While Ray is driving down a lonely country road at night to dispose of the body he realizes that Marty is still alive, although badly wounded. Ray ends up burying Marty alive, but not before retrieving the gun.

The detective, in his darkroom, realizes both that he had left his cigarette lighter at the crime scene and that Marty must have stolen and hidden the doctored photo before being shot.

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 exactly one unfired round, with Abby.

The detective 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 she might be in danger. Immediately after Abby arrives, the detective, firing from a nearby rooftop with a rifle, shoots Ray dead through the window. Abby checks on Ray and when she hears footsteps approaching she quickly takes Ray's knife from his pants pocket and hides in the bathroom. The detective then enters the bathroom to kill her, muttering, "I don't know what you two thought you were going to pull off," but he 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 gloved hand into the sill. He then shoots holes through the wall, and punches through it and removes the knife, while Abby retreats and waits outside the bathroom, holding her gun.

As the detective is about to emerge, she fires through the door, hitting him. "I'm not afraid of you Marty," Abby says. The detective, lying on the bathroom floor, mortally wounded, bursts into cackling laughter, saying, "Well, ma'am, if I see him, I'll sure give him the message."


Cast notes

  • Blood Simple was Frances McDormand's screen debut.[4]
  • Holly Hunter has an uncredited voice-only role as Helene Trend, who is heard on Meurice's telephone answering machine.


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 eight weeks in the fall of 1982. The film spent a year in post-production and was completed by 1983.[6]


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, where 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]

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

Director's Cut and home media[edit]


The film was released on VHS tape in 1995 with a 99-minute running time.[10]

Unusual for such an exercise, the "Director's Cut" is some three minutes shorter than the original 1985 theatrical release. The Coens reduced the running 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.[11]

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]

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 that, in scenes with both dialogue and music, the actors simply mouth the words and record them in post-production, so they won't 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]

Criterion Collection[edit]

In June 2016 the Criterion Collection announced they would be releasing Blu-ray and DVD special editions of the film in September with a new 4K digital transfer supervised and approved by Barry Sonnenfeld and the Coens, along with various new special features.[12]


Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Original Motion Picture Soundtracks - Raising Arizona and Blood Simple.gif
Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell
Released 1987
Genre Film score
Length 39:26
Label Varèse Sarabande
Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology
Blood Simple.
Raising Arizona
(1987)Raising Arizona1987
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars [13]

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.[14] By 2016 he had scored 16 of the Coen brothers' films.[14]

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.[15]

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]

Chinese remake[edit]

In December 2009, Zhang Yimou released a Chinese remake of the film. The film, titled A Simple Noodle Story (known internationally as A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop), is set in a Chinese noodle shop in a desert and revolves around the restaurant owner's plan to murder his adulterous wife and her lover.[16]

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 4, 2014. 
  8. ^ Levine, Josh. The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Film Makers. Canasa: ECW Press. pp. 17–30. ISBN 1-55022-424-7. 
  9. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 20, 2016. 
  10. ^ VHS cover (image)
  11. ^ Beckett, David (March 27, 2013). "Blood Simple – Director's Cut (2013) DVD". Film 365. 
  12. ^ "Blood Simple". Retrieved 14 July 2016. 
  13. ^ Blood Simple at AllMusic
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Bakan, Michael B. (2009). "The Abduction of the Signifying Monkey Chant: Schizophonic Transmogrifications of Balinese Kecak in Fellini's Satyricon and the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, Ethnomusicology Forum, volume 18, Number 1, May 28, 2009. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
  16. ^ Graser, Marc (28 July 2009). "SPC to distribute Yimou's 'Blood': Chinese director remaking Coen brothers' pic". Variety. New York: Reed Business Information. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 

External links[edit]

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