1984’s Blood Simple was the first film from Joel and Ethan Coen. Featuring the debut of then-unknown actress Frances McDormand, the title comes from a slang term invented by Dashiell Hammett to suggest a murderer’s state of fear and confusion, which suggests that the ‘perfect’ murder is impossible.

Blood SimpleIn the middle of nowhere Texas, rich saloon owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife Abby (McDormand) is cheating on him. He decides to hire a sleazy private detective (M. Emmet Walsh) to find out and kill her and her lover. Julian’s suspicions are correct; Abby is having a love affair with Ray (John Getz) a bartender employed in her husband’s saloon. However, Julian’s revenge doesn’t go as planned because Visser, the private detective has his own scheme—and discovers that when one deviates from the simple plan, the complications pile up, the wrong bodies end up on the floor (and then off it again), and there are times when you just shouldn’t place your hand through an open window.

The cinematography, by future director Barry Sonnenfeld, becomes an active participant in the story, distorting space and lending the film’s last scene, in which the wife and detective fight for their lives, bizarre humor. Beyond that, the camera is always on the move. One tracking shot goes down the length of the bar in the saloon with a drunk passed out across the path of the camera. The camera simply goes up and over the drunk, dropping back to its original angle and tracking along the bar as if nothing had happened. These types of shots have become part of but back in 1984, they were making this up as they were going along.

Blood Simple is really a fine example of modern noir; it’s dark and bleak. All of the characters appear lost, and paranoid, stumbling through the story. All of this makes for a comical and fascinating viewing experience. All those years ago, the Coen brothers showed flashes of that slightly sick sense of humor they’ve since become known for.

Blood Simple comes to Blu-ray via a 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p. This is a film that never really looked fabulous, so I wasn’t too surprised to find it appeared soft throughout. However, the colors look better than I’ve ever seen them, with inky blacks and fairly vivid primaries when they do appear. While, the transfer suffers from crush, there is a nice level of shadow detail, particularly in the many dimly lit scenes.

The film sports a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. Though lacking a lossless surround mix, what’s here packs a surprising punch. Low ends are very nice; dialogue is always clear and understandable. Sound effects are never muffled and tend to come from the center channel.

English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are available.

We get the following special features, which have appeared on previously released editions of the film.

  • Commentary with Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Films. “Forever Young Films” supposedly “restored” the Coen Brothers’ works for home video release, and Loring skewers every pretentious commentator ever caught on tape. If you enjoy dry British humor, you’ll enjoy it. Though not billed as such, this cut of Blood Simple also includes the fake Mortimer Young Forever Young Films intro.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:41)