Blood Simple

Blood Simple is a 1984 American independent neo-noir[3] 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.

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]

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.[4]

In 2001, a director's cut was released, the same year that it was ranked number 98 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills.


Abby and Ray are driving through a heavy downpour at night, discussing Abby's bad marriage. Ray, a bartender at Marty's Bar, 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.

Abby collects some things from home and warns Ray to stay away from the bar. Ray finds Marty on the bar’s back steps, and asks Marty 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 to kill the couple. Visser breaks into Ray's home, steals Abby's gun (a gift from Marty), and once again photographs the sleeping couple through a window. He presents a doctored photo of the couple's "corpses" to Marty as evidence. Marty goes to the bathroom to vomit, then opens the safe to give Visser his fee, secretly placing the doctored photos in the safe as insurance against a potential betrayal by Visser. Visser then shoots Marty with Abby's gun, leaving it at the scene as evidence that she killed Marty.

Ray returns to the bar and finds a motionless Marty, with a bullet wound in his chest. Assuming it is Abby who murdered Marty, he puts her gun in Marty's coat pocket and loads the still-bleeding body into the back seat of his car. As he is driving the body away from the crime scene, he perceives movement in his rearview mirror and pulls over in a panic. 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 makes an attempt to use the gun on Ray, but Ray takes it and continues to bury Marty.

A distraught and panicked Ray goes to Abby’s new apartment and tells Abby he cleaned up her mess. They are unable to communicate about Marty. 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 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. He sits in the dark waiting for Abby. After Abby arrives, Visser, firing from a nearby rooftop with a rifle, shoots Ray through the window, killing him. 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 where Abby is hiding. She slams the sash down and drives the knife through his hand into the sill, pinning Visser. He shoots vainly through the wall, finally punches through it and removes the knife while Abby retreats and waits outside the bathroom, holding her gun, now containing 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, "If I see him, I'll sure give him the message." 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"[5] – and a projector and went around to people's homes and workplaces 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.[6]


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.[7]

Blood Simple was Frances McDormand's screen debut.[5] 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.


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."[8] 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.[9]

John Simon of the National Review had a differing opinion, finding the film inept and detestable.[10]

Director's cut and home mediaEdit

VHS versionsEdit

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 releaseEdit

The 2001 DVD release from Universal 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 setsEdit

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.

The Criterion CollectionEdit

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
AllMusic     [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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Blood Simple at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "Blood Simple (1985) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  3. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  4. ^ Falsani, Cathleen. (2009). The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. p. 31.
  5. ^ a b Ferarra, Greg "Blood Simple (1984)" (article)
  6. ^ Robson, Eddie (2003). Coen Brothers. Great Britain: ebooks. ISBN 9780753547700.
  7. ^ Marsh, Calum (January 15, 2015) "How 'Blood Simple' Stated A 30-Year Hollywood Firefight" Maxim
  8. ^ "Blood Simple (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 136.
  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 linksEdit

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