DVD reviews: Blood Simple | Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn

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THE Coen brothers and Sam Raimi are among the most successful filmmakers in the world, but back in the early 1980s they were just a bunch of friends helping each other make movies.

Blood Simple

StudioCanal, £16.99

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn

StudioCanal, £16.99

Raimi had made The Evil Dead and Joel, who had worked on it as an assistant editor, had been so impressed by Raimi’s ability to raise private money to make an independent feature, he set out with his brother Ethan to do the same. It took them another couple of years, but when they delivered Blood Simple, screening it at Robert Redford’s nascent Sundance Film Festival in early 1985, they lit the fuse for the indie film explosion that would take place over the next decade. If Raimi (who would later co-write The Hudsucker Proxy) had shown what was possible with a pure genre film, the Coens bridged the gap between exploitation movies and arthouse fare, providing the blueprint for everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Bryan Singer to Danny Boyle. What’s remarkable about watching the new Blu-ray director’s cut of Blood Simple (which, in a typically perverse Coen brothers move, is three minutes shorter than the original) is just how distinctive their style already was. Aside from a couple of shaky-cam point-of-view shots borrowed from Raimi, much of what we’ve come to recognise as Coen brothers traits were already present and correct. But it’s the tightness of their neo-noir script that continues to impress. A sweaty little tale of infidelity, murder and madness (the Dashiel Hammet-inspired title refers to the way murder makes people crazy) it sinks its teeth into you like a rabid dog and refuses to let go until the last, bloody frame.

While Blood Simple was picking up plaudits, Raimi’s own film based on a Coen brothers script was falling apart. 1985’s Crimewave was butchered by studio interference, but the demoralizing experience did lead directly to Raimi making Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (also released on Blu-ray). Part-remake, part-sequel, the film once again put star Bruce Campbell through the ringer as Ash, the chainsaw-wielding goofball terrorised by evil spirits unleashed by the discovery of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Ratcheting up the comedy as much as the gore, it’s a film that, even today, remains a law-unto-itself – gleefully deviating from every expected filmmaking rule and bursting at the seams with gonzo energy.

• To order these DVDs, call The Scotsman on 01634 832789