Blood Simple


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Joel and Ethan Coen’s career-long darkly comic road trip through misfit America began with this razor-sharp, hard-boiled neonoir set somewhere in Texas, where a sleazy bar owner releases a torrent of violence with one murderous thought. Actor M. Emmet Walsh looms over the proceedings as a slippery private eye with a yellow suit, a cowboy hat, and no moral compass, and Frances McDormand’s cunning debut performance set her on the road to stardom. The tight scripting and inventive style that have marked the Coens’ work for decades are all here in their first film, in which cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld abandons black-and-white chiaroscuro for neon signs and jukebox colors that combine with Carter Burwell’s haunting score to lurid and thrilling effect. Blending elements from pulp fiction and low-budget horror flicks, Blood Simple reinvented the film noir for a new generation, marking the arrival of a filmmaking ensemble that would transform the American independent cinema scene.

Picture 9/10

The Criterion Collection updates its edition for Joel and Ethan Coen’s debut feature, Blood Simple, to 4K UHD, presenting the film in Dolby Vision in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a BD-66 disc. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition presentation is sourced from the same 4K restoration Criterion used for their 2016 Blu-ray edition. This release also includes a standard dual-layer Blu-ray featuring a 1080p encode of the film alongside all special features. Outside of the artwork, the disc is a replica of what was included in the 2016 edition.

Criterion’s new 4K UHD delivers a notable improvement over the already impressive Blu-ray presentation. The finer details are a bit cleaner and sharper, which carries into how grain is rendered. It is cleaner than the Blu-ray’s, with a texture more akin to what you get from projected film. Dolby Vision and HDR also provide a modest boost. Though it has scenes taking place during the day, it’s a predominantly dark film, and the black levels look better with cleaner delineation in the shadows. I also like how lights, especially neon ones, illuminate the dark interiors of the bar setting. The climax in the darkened apartment also looks better, especially that moment when light is seeping in through bullet holes in the wall. Smoke and fog also have a cleaner consistency, and I like how the light breaks through both in a few shots.

The restoration work is still impressive, having cleaned up things thoroughly. The digital encode is also rather good and better than the dated one on the old Blu-ray, outside of what ends up being a minor caveat. It was pointed out online that there is macroblocking evident in the highlights, which has been an on-and-off issue with Criterion’s 4Ks (Trainspotting shows something similar, Lone Star doesn’t), and looking at some of the SDR screen captures I took, it is evident in some of the hotter spots scattered about the film, particularly in the windows of Abby’s apartment. Ultimately, this is a minor issue as it rarely pops up and doesn't call attention to itself during playback (I only noticed them going through some screen captures). But as the age-old proverb goes, your mileage may vary.

Ultimately, the film now has an even cleaner film-like texture, with the dark photography looking better than ever.

Audio 8/10

Criterion presents the film with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack, which sounds to be the same remastered one used for the previous Blu-ray edition. The presentation is still fairly front-heavy, with most dialogue and effects mixed between the three speakers, but Burwell's excellent score, music within the film, and some sound effects end echoes do find their way creeping to the rears. Splits are noticeable in a few instances, including the opening sequence where cars pass by, and bass is subtle.

Yet again, it's an excellent presentation that keeps it simple while proving effective.

Extras 9/10

As per usual, Criterion does not include any supplements on the 4K disc and instead port over the Blu-ray from their 2016 edition and, therefore, port over all content from that release. This means all of the gag supplements (the spoof audio commentary and introduction) are still no longer included.

Yet again, the standout feature is the 70-minute Shooting Blood Simple, featuring Barry Sonnenfeld and the Coen Brothers. It's not your typical interview but rather is something closer to a select-scene audio commentary, with the trio discussing various aspects of the film's visual style, framing, and more. They utilize Telestrators, using color-coded pens to annotate scenes, highlight framing, camera positioning, empty space, mistakes, and other details. This technical analysis, interspersed with anecdotes and production insights, is insightful and incredibly entertaining. I still wish this was employed more in features of this type.

A Conversation with David Eggers presents a lively 35-minute discussion between writer David Eggers and Joel and Ethan Coen, primarily focusing on the film and its production. They touch on their horror background, the challenges of financing the film, and their experiences working with actors and securing distribution. Criterion also includes Interviews with Frances McDormand and M. Emmet Walsh, who offer further insights into their experiences working on the film, with McDormand discussing her role and collaboration with the Coens and Walsh reflecting on his initial skepticism and eventual appreciation for the project. Amusingly, the actor figured he wouldn't make any money, so he pocketed the per diem he was given. The interviews run for 25 and 16 minutes, respectively.

A feature with composer Carter Burwell and sound editor Skip Lievsay explores the film's sound design and score, providing a deeper understanding of the film's auditory elements.

The disc also features trailers, including the fundraising trailer used to attract investors, as well as an essay by Nathaniel Rich discussing the film's noir and horror elements. It's the same one found in the Blu-ray edition.

While the release could benefit from additional scholarly interviews or insights into the differences between this version and the original theatrical cut (if only for posterity), the material still marks a significant improvement over previous editions, which of course only featured "joke" supplements. Overall, the content provided here is thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening.


With the same solid set of supplements and a sharper-looking 4K presentation, this upgrade is well worth getting.


Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Year: 1984
Time: 96 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 834
Licensor: River Road Productions
Release Date: January 09 2024
MSRP: $49.95
4K UHD Blu-ray/Blu-ray
2 Discs | BD-50/UHD-66
1.85:1 ratio
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Regions A/None
HDR: HDR10Dolby Vision
 Conversation between Barry Sonnenfeld and the Coens about the film’s look, featuring Telestrator video illustrations   Conversation between author Dave Eggars and the Coens about the film’s production, from inception to release   Interviews with composer Carter Burwell, sound editor Skip Lievsay, and actors Frances McDormand and M. Emmet Walsh   Trailers   Insert featuring an essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel Rich