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Blood Simple (1984) – Review

blood simple poster

Blood Simple is the directorial debut of the Coen Brothers, John, and Ethan which was released in 1984 and is a dark noir murder mystery that has all the hallmarks of the style they would get to develop over the upcoming years.

Abby (Frances Mcdormand) is cheating on her bar owner husband, Marty (Dan Hedaya) with Ray (John Getz) one of the bartenders. Marty uncovers their sordid affair and decides to hire Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), an unscrupulous private detective, to kill both of them. Unbeknown to Marty, Visser had other, more lucrative plans of his own.

The film is set in Texas and was shot in Austin with a very low budget and a cast of then mostly unknown actors. The filmmakers were inspired by friend Sam Raimi, who had raised the money and shot his classic Evil Dead a couple of years earlier. In fact, the Coen Brothers used the same tactics, they made a short trailer first and took that around to show potential investors. As with a lot of films from this era, every major film studio rejected it for distribution but it eventually got released and did win the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

You can see the influence of the horror and exploitation genre as the film progresses and they also used storyboards to make the filming the most efficient as possible.

The cast are all excellent, M Emmet Walsh was one of the first to agree to the project, which was ideal as the Coen’s wrote it with him in mind. This was Francis McDormand’s first major role, and she was to go on and star in their Oscar-winning film Fargo. You really get the feel of the terrain, hot and sweaty, and also the feeling that most of the characters are incompetent people who really don’t know how to resolve the issues facing them. The clearing up of the blood from a body after being shot is a perfect example.

The horror elements develop with the attempted murder and disposal of the body of one of the main characters, it’s messy and bloody and the directors stated that they wanted to show how difficult it is to kill someone and were inspired by a famous scene from an Alfred Hitchcock film Torn Curtain.

The soundtrack is also fascinating as there is a lot of silence which builds the tension and the music used is subtle, but the overall sound design is excellent.

The film was released in the cinema and later DVD, but was re-edited as a director’s cut for any future releases. The differences are small. 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.

A fantastic debut feature for a very talented duo. This is the first review of the director’s filmography and we will follow up with the others we have not already done soon.

8.5 out of 10

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