BLU-RAY REVIEWS: Blood Simple & Dressed to Kill
Two classic 1980s thrillers hit hi-def home video...
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To say Brian De Palma and the Coen Brothers have made an impact on modern cinema is speaking lightly. Considering De Palma brought to life such classic and fan-favorite films as Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible while the Coens have created such critically-acclaimed pictures like The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and the recent remake of True Grit, these directors have made - between them - some of the most influential pop culture films of the last 30 years.
For the Coens, this began in 1984 with Blood Simple. A seemingly simple tale of sex, betrayal, and murder, the film was written by the brothers and stars John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh. The film's mood and manner show influence from Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, and even Sam Ramini (whom Joel Coen had worked with prior to Blood Simple's production) as well as the pair's trademark dark humor, which the writing/directing brothers would later perfect in films like Fargo.
Blood Simple, for the most part, focuses on the ever present darkness lurking in each and every one of us and how, when necessary, ready, and able, this darkness rears its ugly head. Simply put, the plot goes something like this: bar owner Julian Marty (Hedaya) suspects his wife Abby (McDormand) is having an affair with his bartender Ray (Getz) and hires a private eye Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to find out. Once the truth is revealed, Marty hires Visser to kill his wife and Ray. But all it not as it seems and thing soon get crazy as the betrayal, lying, and murdering begin.
Again, the plot in and of itself isn't that original, but the way in which the Brothers Coen write and direct the film make for both an entertaining and thought-provoking experience. Likewise, the acting is solid. While there are no real standout performances, the ensemble cast does a great job of portraying the characters and helping audiences suspend the disbelief even more.
As for this blu-ray presentation, the 1080p video transfer looks good, especially considering the age of the film and the state of the film in its previous releases. The darker color pallet looks soft sometimes, but overall the film and its colors is well presented. Likewise, the true to its roots 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sound track provides clear dialogue and sound effects as well as a score that fits the film's overall mood well. While nothing overly impressive, it does its job just fine.
As for special features, the disc includes only two, one of which makes for an entertaining experience all itself. The original theatrical trailer is nothing special, but the audio commentary with Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Films makes this disc worth the purchase alone. Going along with the Coens' odd sense of humor, the pair created Loring (played by Jim Piddock) as a joke for fans. The commentary pokes fun at the seriousness of other film commentary in its humor, all the while going on tangent after tangent throughout. Worth the price of the disc alone, the commentary makes for a great way to re-watch the film and have a completely different experience.
Overall, Blood Simple makes for a great release on blu-ray hi-def. Fans of the Coens will want to check it out (if they haven't already) as no doubt the filmmakers' later films find much of their style and influence from this, the pair's first film. Likewise, those looking for a good film noir will appreciate the mood, tone, and sheer intelligence displayed within.
Likewise, Brian De Palma's 1980 sexual thriller Dressed to Kill finds itself unsnarled with sexual frustration and an entertaining intelligence the likes of which few films today feature. Again inspired by Hitchcock, De Palma weaves a tale of sexual frustration, deranged lunacy, and dark humor. Starring Michael Caine as psychologist Dr. Elliot and Angie Dickinson as Kate, his frustrated housewife patient, Dressed to Kill finds Kate slashed up by an unknown assailant who's stalking Dr. Elliot's patients. The only witness is Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), a prostitute with a heart of gold who wants nothing more than to help Dennis Franz's Detective Marino solve the crime. Of course, it's only through the film's various plot twists and turns the audience learns the killer's motives and how the story (though not entirely believable) can still be so engaging and entertaining.
De Palma does an outstanding job of shooting the film and the camerawork shows the director's masterful understanding of how to frame a shot and bring the story to life on screen. While the plot itself is weak at times and features some holes which may pull some viewers out of the experience, with the right amount of suspension of disbelief, the film is easy to enjoy.
The video transfer of the film is excellent considering the age, with few specks or scratches. Compared to past releases, this 1080p presentation is worth owning for fans of De Palma's work. The same goes for the audio, which is excellent mostly due to solid use of all channels in the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and Pino Donaggio's impressive score. The sound effects of the city - be it police sirens, running water, and street side chatter - are all captured and delivered through rear channels while the previously mentioned score adds ambiance and mood to the entire film.
As for special features, the disc includes a decent amount, including a 40+ minute "The Making of a Thriller" which features interviews with everyone save Michael Caine. The disc also includes a comparison of the 3 different versions of the film: the TV edit, the R-rated, and the Unrated. "Slashing Dressed to Kill" clocks in at nearly 10 minutes and shows De Palma, Allen, and Gordon discussing getting an R-rating versus an X-rating while "Dressed to Kill: An Appreciation by Keith Gordon" is right at 6 minutes, with Gordon chats about De Palma. Other special features include a photo gallery and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Overall, Dressed to Kill - while not the most memorable of De Palma's films - is one of the director's most thought provoking and tantilizing creations. It fools with the audience's conception of right and wrong, desire and disgust and all the while, tempts us to both laugh and cringe at the way in which these ideas are portrayed.
Dressed to Kill and Blood Simple are both available on blu-ray hi-def now wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley
"Until next time...have FUN with your figures!!"
Jess C. Horsley