Blood Simple

This article is about the film. For the metal band, see Bloodsimple.
Blood Simple

Theatrical re-release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen
Joel Coen (uncredited)
Written by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Starring John Getz
Frances McDormand
Dan Hedaya
Samm-Art Williams
M. Emmet Walsh
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
Edited by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
(as Roderick Jaynes)
Don Wiegmann
River Road Productions
Foxton Entertainment
Distributed by Circle Films (1985)
USA Films (2000)
Release dates
September 7, 1984 (1984-09-07)
(Toronto International Film Festival)
October 12, 1984 (1984-10-12)
(New York Film Festival)
January 18, 1985 (USA)
Running time
99 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 psychological crime thriller 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" DVD 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 Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya), who owns a Texas bar, has suspected Abby's affair with Ray, one of his bartenders, so he hires private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to take photos of them.

When Visser reports back to Marty, he teases him about being cuckolded. The morning after their tryst, Marty makes a silent phone call to Ray and Abby.

The following day Ray goes to the bar to collect his earnings, two weeks worth of work, but instead confronts Marty and quits his job. Marty threatens Ray's life and advises him not to trust Abby, that she will one day tell him she "hasn't done anything funny" and he won't believe her.

Marty then hires Visser to kill the couple. Visser suggests he take a fishing trip to Corpus Christi to establish an alibi. He then breaks into Ray's home, steals Abby's gun, and photographs the sleeping couple through the bedroom window.

Visser presents an edited photo of their fake corpses to Marty, who dumps four dead fish on his desk. Marty goes to the bathroom to vomit, then opens the safe to give Visser his $10,000 fee. Visser then shoots Marty with Abby's gun in a double cross, leaving her gun at the scene as evidence that she killed Marty. But he accidentally leaves his cigarette lighter and does not realize that Marty has stolen one of the incriminating photographs and locked it in the safe.

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 cleans up the blood and disposes of evidence in a backyard incinerator, loading 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 sees that Marty is still alive and stops the car and runs into a field. When he catches his breath and returns to the car, Marty is out of the car slowly crawling down the road. Ray struggles to get him back into the car as a truck approaches. The scene jumps to Ray digging a grave in a freshly plowed field. As he throws dirt onto Marty's body, Marty pulls the gun out and tries twice to shoot Ray, but the gun just clicks at the empty chambers. Ray takes the gun and buries Marty alive. Ray calls Abby from a phone booth and tells her he loves her, and she thanks him.

Visser burns the doctored photos, but realizes one is missing. He assumes Marty must have locked it in the bar's safe when he was taking out his payment. It is then that he also realizes that he left his cigarette lighter in Marty's office.

A distraught Ray tells Abby, "I cleaned up your mess." Abby insists she "hasn't done anything funny." While arguing they are interrupted by a telephone call from Visser, who says nothing. Abby tells Ray that it was Marty again. A confused Ray storms out. At this point they both think the other has done something to harm Marty.

Meanwhile, the other bartender, Meurice, listens to several old phone messages from Marty, accusing him or Ray of stealing money from the safe. Meurice arrives at Ray's house and accuses him of stealing the money. Ray is silent, hiding the blood in the back seat of his car.

Visser goes to the bar to get the photo and the lighter. As he takes a hammer to the safe he is interrupted by Abby, who wants to find out why Ray has been acting so strangely. Visser hides while Abby finds the bar ransacked and bloodstained.

Abby has a dream about Marty. She first thinks it's Ray in the dream until she realizes it's Marty warning her, before he vomits blood, "He'll kill you too." After Abby wakes up she finds Ray at his apartment, packing to leave. She tells him she thinks he killed Marty because he refused to pay him, and then broke into the safe and fought with him. Ray explains that he found her gun at the bar and that he buried Marty alive. She leaves with the misunderstanding still not resolved. Meurice later tries to assure her that Marty is still alive.

Ray returns once more to the bar and finds Visser's faked photo, and leaves for Abby's apartment realizing she might be in danger. While there he notices headlights in his rear view mirror. When Abby arrives home she turns on a light and finds Ray looking out the large window. He tells her to turn off the light because he thinks someone is watching. She thinks Ray is threatening her and turns the light back on. Visser is on a nearby rooftop with a rifle, and shoots Ray dead through the window. Barely escaping a second shot, then hearing approaching footsteps, Abby knocks out the light bulb with her shoe. She hides in the bathroom as Visser arrives. He 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 it to the next room, but Abby slams the sash down on his wrist and drives a knife through his gloved hand into the sill. Visser shoots holes through the wall, then punches through and removes the knife while Abby retreats and waits outside the bathroom, holding the gun Ray returned to her.

As Visser is about to emerge, she fires through the door, hitting him. "I'm not afraid of you Marty," Abby says. Visser, 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." The scene then focuses on a water droplet forming directly over his head from the pipes under the bathroom sink and as the droplet falls the screen cuts to black.



The Coen brothers had the idea for what became Blood Simple in their heads but knew no one would buy it because they wanted to make it themselves. They estimated that they needed around $1.5 million to make the film. They decided to follow in the footsteps of Sam Raimi's, who made a prototype version of The Evil Dead to raise money for his movie. Joel Coen contacted a friend of his from NYU, Barry Sonnenfeld, to help them make a two-minute trailer for the film. They didn't have any equipment and only enough money to rent out a camera and lights for a day, so they waited until the Thursday before President's Weekend holiday, which meant they would have five days to shoot.

The brothers themselves acted in the trailer, shooting a few scenes that were relevant to the movie and hopefully would excite their viewers. They took it to Minnesota for potential investors to view in the hope it would raise money. They wanted to get in touch with as many philanthropists as possible, so they contacted people from a list of a hundred supplied by Hadassah, the Zionist women’s charity.

The Coens then took their trailer and a projector and went around people's homes and jobs 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.[4]

Filming and post-production

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.[5]


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."[6] 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.[7]

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

"Director's Cut" and home media


The film was released on VHS tape in 1995 with a 99-minute running time,.[9] After being re-released theatrically in 1998 (premiering at the Austin Film Festival on October 3) as a "Director's Cut" with a 96-minute running time, this version was released on DVD in 2001. This shorter version was released again on DVD in 2008 by MGM.

Unusually 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.[10]

2001 DVD release

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".

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.

2008 MGM release

The 2008 MGM release is a barebones DVD edition of the 96-minute "Director's Cut", billed as Blood Simple: Director's Cut with no commentary or extras.

Criterion Collection

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 Coen brothers, along with various new special features.[11]


Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
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
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic [12]

Carter Burwell wrote the Blood Simple score, the first of his collaborations with the Coen Brothers; he went on to write scores for the majority of their films. Blood Simple was also the first feature film score for Burwell, and he became a much-in-demand composer in Hollywood.

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

In 1987, seven selections from Burwell's Blood Simple score were released on, and comprise the final tracks on, a 17-track album that also features selections from the soundtrack of 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

Chinese Version

In December 2009, Zhang Yimou released a Chinese version of the film as a comedy. 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.[13]


  1. "Blood Simple.". 18 January 1985. Retrieved 14 July 2016 via IMDb.
  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. Robson, Eddie (2003). Coen Brothers. Great Britain: ebooks. ISBN 9780753547700.
  5. Maxim
  6. "Blood Simple (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  7. Levine, Josh. The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Film Makers. Canasa: ECW Press. pp. 17–30. ISBN 1-55022-424-7.
  8. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  10. Beckett, david (March 27, 2013). "Blood Simple – Director's Cut (2013) DVD". Film 365.
  11. "Blood Simple". Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  12. Blood Simple at AllMusic
  13. 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

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Blood Simple
Preceded by
Old Enough
Sundance Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic
Succeeded by
Smooth Talk
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