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 he is having a love affair with his wife. 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 number 98 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills.


Ray, a bartender at Marty's Bar, and Abby, Marty's wife, are driving through a heavy downpour at night, discussing Abby's bad marriage. They arrive at a motel, where they have sex. A man named Lorren Visser, a private detective, has been hired by Abby's husband, Julian Marty, to follow Abby. Visser takes photos of the tryst between Ray and Abby, and delivers them to Marty.

Abby collects some things from home and warns Ray to stay away from the bar. Ray finds his boss, Marty, on the bar's back steps, and asks him for two weeks pay. Marty refuses and angrily tells Ray it will be funny when Abby at some point looks at Ray and says, "I haven't done anything funny."

Marty attempts to kidnap Abby from Ray's home. He fails and, humiliated, rehires Visser: this time, to kill the couple. Visser agrees and tells Marty to "go fishing" to establish an alibi. Visser breaks into Ray's home, steals Abby's gun, which was a gift from Marty, and it appears that he kills the sleeping couple. He presents photos of the couple's corpses (with blood and bullet wounds) to Marty as evidence. Marty goes to the bathroom to vomit and then opens the safe to give Visser his fee, surreptitiously placing one of the photos in the safe. Visser then shoots Marty with Abby's gun, taking the money and leaving the gun at the scene to make it appear that she killed Marty. But Visser doesn't realize that he has left his cigarette lighter on the desk underneath the fish that Marty caught on his fishing trip.

The audience learns that Ray and Abby are still alive (the photos of them in bed together apparently having been doctored to make it appear they had been shot and killed) when Ray returns to the bar and finds a motionless Marty in his chair, with a bullet wound in his chest. Assuming that Marty is dead and that it is Abby who murdered him, he puts her gun in Marty's coat pocket and loads the still-bleeding body into the backseat of his car. As he is driving the body away from the crime scene, he perceives movement in his rear view mirror and pulls over to the side of the road in a panic. Ray runs a short distance into a field. Returning to the car, Ray finds a barely alive Marty crawling away from the car. Ray puts him back in the car and drives into a field to dig a grave. Marty is still breathing as Ray drags him to a shallow hole and starts burying him. Marty raises the gun and pulls the trigger three times, but it is out of bullets. Ray gingerly takes the gun and continues to bury Marty, whose screams of terror become fainter and fainter as each shovelful of dirt is thrown into his face.

A distraught and panicked Ray goes to Abby's new apartment and tells her he cleaned up her mess. They are unable to communicate about Marty, as each has drawn erroneous conclusions from differing assumptions. Echoing Marty's earlier comment, Abby, baffled, says, "I haven't done anything funny." By the time Ray leaves, each is convinced that the other has done something to harm Marty. Ray leaves the same pearl-handled gun with Abby.

Visser realizes that he cannot find his cigarette lighter and goes back to the bar office to search for it, knowing it can identify him. He first observes Abby, and later Ray, visiting the bar office, each in pursuit of their own assumptions. When leaving the bar, Ray notices that he is being followed and heads to Abby's apartment, realizing that she might be in danger. He sits in the dark waiting for Abby. After Abby arrives, Visser, firing from a nearby rooftop with a rifle, fatally shoots Ray through the window, as Abby has disregarded Ray's admonition to turn off the lights. 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, into which Abby has escaped and is now hiding. She slams the window down and drives the knife through his hand into the sill, pinning Visser. He shoots vainly through the wall, finally punches through it to reach around, and removes the knife while Abby retreats and waits outside the bathroom, holding her gun which now contains one round. As Visser is about to emerge, she fires through the door, hitting him. Abby says, "I'm not afraid of you, Marty." Visser, lying mortally wounded on the bathroom floor, bursts into laughter and responds, "Well, m'aam, 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 convincing 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]


Critical response[edit]

While the film was only a modest box-office success, it was a huge critical success. It holds a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 105 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]

John Simon of the National Review had a differing opinion, finding the film inept and detestable.[14]

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.[15]

Home media[edit]

The original MCA Home Video VHS tape and LaserDisc was released on October 10, 1985, with a 96-minute running time.[16] The film was released on Universal Pictures Home Entertainment VHS tape for a second time in 1995 with a 99-minute run time.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19]

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]


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.[21] By 2016, he had scored 16 of the Coen brothers' films.[21]

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.[22]

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 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.
  3. ^ "Blood Simple (1985)". Box Office Mojo. 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. 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" Maxim
  11. ^ Yuan, Jada (January 22, 2008). "Roderick Jaynes, Imaginary Oscar Nominee for 'No Country'". Vulture. Retrieved June 22, 2021.
  12. ^ "Blood Simple (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
  13. ^ "Blood Simple". Metacritic. Red Ventures.
  14. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 136.[ISBN missing]
  15. ^ Levine 2000, pp. 17–30.
  16. ^ "LaserDisc Database - Blood Simple [40180]".
  17. ^ VHS cover (image)
  18. ^ Beckett, David (March 27, 2013). "Blood Simple – Director's Cut (2013) DVD". Film 365.
  19. ^ Spurlin, Thomas (September 20, 2011). "Blood Simple: The Director's Cut". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on November 22, 2020.
  20. ^ Blood Simple at AllMusic
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ 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.


External links[edit]

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