A welcome reissue of the Coen brothers’ debut film, Blood Simple, gives us the opportunity to revisit a modern classic. Now, reissues often include the insertion of additional sequences that maybe were deemed to be inappropriate upon original release or thought to be too long, or they might include additional characterisation, extra reshoots or added effects sequences in all newly rendered CGI or 3D. But the Blood Simple director’s cut might almost be labelled Blood Simpler; it’s no less complex in terms of its narrative, dialogue or character development but rather in its depiction and sequencing of events. Now several minutes shorter, it features tighter cuts to enhance key sequences. For those familiar with the film there should be no need to suggest that a re-watch is an enjoyable way to pass the time (unless you didn’t like it and there probably isn’t much that will persuade you to alter your opinion), but for those unfamiliar with the work then this is a golden opportunity to watch a modern classic and enjoy the genesis of a film-making partnership that has helped create some of the recent decades’ most enjoyable films. The Coens started out with a modern noir – Blood Simple. So how does it play, nearly thirty years later?
The elements of noir are all present – dollars, deaths, desires and dames, together with unexpected twists that affect both the characters and viewers. Sex, death and cash connect in a world where the line between normality and criminality is thin. A private dick is essential if any of these matters are to be resolved. The detective in question is Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), hired by bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) to find out whether his wife Abby (Frances McDormand), whose concept of monogamy is decidedly suspect, is having a tempestuous affair with Ray (John Getz). She is. Photographic confirmation of her infidelity leads to Marty commissioning Visser to kill the pair, but the detective has plans of his own, and shoots Marty, seeking to frame Abby and take the cash. When Ray discovers the ‘corpse’, he tries to get rid of the evidence but it appears that Marty isn’t as dead as Visser thought. Still, Ray buries him anyway. And so begins a game where no one is certain who can trust whom and the dead may not be as dead as initially assumed.
On the surface the connection may not seem so apparent, but there are many similarities between the Coens’ work and the films of Sam Raimi (whose Evil Dead II gets a re-issue this week as well, the original nasty shocker having some of its grim humour added in the editing suite by Joel Coen). Despite the clear differences in genre, these films are distinctly modern, blending the grotesque elements of horror or noir with humour that either pushes the boundaries of taste or is deliberately slapstick. Indeed the prevalent nature of the shocks and the camerawork (by Barry Sonnenfeld) add an extra dimension to the neo-noir modernity of Blood Simple which blends a traditional noir outlook with contemporary mores. The use of roadside and car camerawork scenarios (that would reach their humorous and deliberately absurd zenith in Raising Arizona ) create tension, while the use of shock techniques, most notably in the editing (sudden jumps and narrative twists) make for an enjoyable ride of pulp fiction revelations.
A remix of an old classic. It’s all there and as you remember, just a little more taut. An essential watch if you’re viewing for the first time and a very welcome re-watch for everyone else. Blood Simpler, then, but no less bloody or compelling.