Last week MGM released the Coen Brothers' first feature on Blu-ray disc, and if nothing more, it's a welcome reminder of how incredible a movie Blood Simple is—it's got to be one of the finest, most fully realized cinematic debuts ever. Granted, the Blu-ray release is not the 1985 theatrical version (or the subsequent home video version, which had a slightly altered soundtrack). This version of Blood Simple is the "director's cut" prepared by the Coens in 1998, which is three minutes shorter that the original version, but more importantly has a remixed, beefed-up soundtrack. This is the version that's been available on DVD, but this Blu-ray transfer is clean, clear, and more or less fantastic looking.

I hadn't seen Blood Simple since watching No Country for Old Men, but watching it again I was struck by the similarities of the two films on several levels: The wide open spaces of Texas as the film's backdrop; the lengthy, tense, quiet passages, often shot in half-light; the emphasis on small visual clues and incidental noises on the soundtrack; the story based on greed and double-crossing and murder and theft. Blood Simple is also one of the Coens' darker, relatively more serious pictures—and by that I mean that the humor is black enough to be legitimately creepy. I don't know if the Coens are actually capable of making a serious picture, and that's part of what makes their movies so much fun to watch: It's the "are they kidding?" factor. (If you find yourself asking, then they probably are.)

For those who haven't seen Blood Simple, or those who need to see it again, the Blu-ray is the version to watch. The picture looks excellent except for a few shots that were grainy to begin with. The soundtrack is punchy, crystal clear, and full of bottom end. The blood (there's a lot) looks vivid, and the film's tiny details (the fly that hovers around the M. Emmet Walsh character, the whoomp-whoomp of the overhead fan) jump out at the viewer. Blood Simple is the story of an adulterous affair between two well-meaning but not exactly bright people; there's a cuckolded husband, a private investigator, and a German shepherd; there's a trash incinerator, and a safe full of money, and a gun that may or may not be loaded. (The Blu-ray picture is so vibrant that you can actually see a major gaffe in the movie: When Frances McDormand's character loads the gun, you can plainly see the word "blanks" on the box of bullets.) The Coens' screenplay is so expertly laid out, so economical, and so suspensefully paced that there's no need for me to recount the story here. Let's just say there's a large amount of blood, and a corpse that just won't go away. (This clip reminds you of how much fun Blood Simple is, although the video quality is a poor representation of what's actually on the Blu-ray.)

Again, it's astonishing that this was the Coens' first film, since it's a tour de force with multiple set pieces (for example, the car/body/field sequence, and the hand/knife/window sequence, neither of which I'll explain further) that could only be the work of very assured, very capable filmmakers. Barry Sonnenfeld was the DP, and his work is so good here that it's a bummer to remember what he later went on to do. John Getz is serviceable as the fall guy, and Frances McDormand is a sort-of-believable femme fatale—she's perfectly good here, if not ideally cast—but Dan Hedaya and M. Emmet Walsh, as the film's two unsavory characters, steal the show. Hedaya is fantastically gross and hilarious (and sorta heartbreaking) in every scene he's in, and Walsh is just excellent as the crafty, creepy private eye who has his own agenda.

The Blu-ray has no new special features, but imports over a couple from the earlier DVD release, including a very silly, tongue-in-cheek introduction from Mortimer Young, a bogus film preservationist. While it's a fun little gag and a good indication of how little the Coens take themselves seriously, it kind of punctures the nail-biting noir mood of the movie. There's also a commentary from Kenneth Loring, who is actually actor Jim Piddock, the British guy you know from all the Christopher Guest movies. His commentary is absurd and full of lies—totally useless information, but it is pretty funny. (For instance, he claims the German shepherd is animatronic, and the sweat that drips from the actors' faces is "movie sweat," gathered off of Palomino horses.) The Coens supposedly scripted the commentary, but I'm pretty sure Piddock is riffing/improvising through most of it.

At any rate, the Blu-ray edition of Blood Simple is totally solid. Since we're unlikely to get anything straightforward from the Coens, the lack of other supplemental materials is not a huge loss, although it would be interesting to be able to compare the theatrical/VHS version of the movie with the available director's cut, which looks to be the version that will remain in print. Blood Simple is creepy and hilarious, a perfect matchup of Hitchcockian suspense, Sam Raimi grossout, and that certain indefinable Coen Brothers humor. If you haven't seen it, watch it, and if you want to own it, get this version.