Not Quite Horror: “Blood Simple” (1984)


Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Blood Simple (1984)

In the month of October, I am celebrating the films of Not Quite Horror legends Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Monster: The Coen Brothers debut film is filled with monsters, but private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) is a killer who bites harder than he barks. Visser is hired to catch a cheating wife, and before long the secret lovers, the husband, and the private eye are all scheming to stay alive while eliminating anyone standing in their way.

Visser may be a killer, but he’s hard to hate. He’s likeable and philosophical until he acts. When he does strike, he does so like a Great White shark with its eyes rolled up in its head.

The Horror: Blood Simple’s sense of humor stands a few steps further up the gallows than the rest of the Coen Brothers’ films. The awkward goofiness of later films (for example, Raising Arizona) is replaced with a smirk before death. None of the actors in Blood Simple seem like they really believe they’ll escape with their lives, and yet they struggle on.

The Shared Fate: As their first feature, Blood Simple is the grit that polished the Coen Brothers’ future career style. Later films attempt to cut their nihilism with wacky humor, but this film does not skimp on darkness – from the lighting to the ending and everything else.

Blood Simple is a movie with a moral – you’re going to lose. And when you lose, it will be unpleasant. You won’t see it coming, either.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen