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12 Toys From The 1980s That Didn't Take Off

Many people of a certain age look back at the 1980s as the golden age of toys. But some action figures just didn't resonate—at least back then. Here are 12 rejected toys of the 80s that, in some cases, are now sought after by collectors.

1. Food Fighters (Mattel, 1988-89)

The backstory of the weird and oft-forgotten Food Fighters line of action figures plays out like every 80s toy franchise: The good guys (in this case, the "Kitchen Commandos”) fight the bad guys (“Refrigerator Rejects”) for control of… your refrigerator? The five members of each faction of the 80’s Food Fighters line—regardless of whether their affiliation was good or evil—are manifestations of the worst forms of junk food America has to offer: The good guys are Burgerdier General (a deluxe hamburger with ketchup), Lieutenant Legg (a fried chicken leg), Major Munch (a glazed chocolate doughnut), Private Pizza (a slice of pepperoni & mushroom pizza pie), and Sergeant Scoop (a two-scoop chocolate & vanilla ice cream cone). The bad guys are Mean Weener (a hot dog with mustard), Chip-the-Ripper (a chocolate chip cookie), Fat Frenchy (a sleeve packed with “crinkle cut” French fries), Short Stack (a stack of pancakes with syrup and butter), and Taco Terror (a hard-shell taco).

It makes sense that Mattel refused to construct the good guys as health-food characters, since children probably wouldn’t respond to those choices. But they didn’t react well to the existing product either. These fully poseable “squeaky-toy” action figures (which are filled with air) only lasted for one series of production.

On today’s secondary market, the Food Fighters have made a resounding comeback, with their peculiar vehicles leading the way: the Kitchen Commandos’ Combat Carton (an egg carton modified into an armored personnel carrier), the Fry Chopper (a frying pan that became a helicopter with spatula blades), and the Refrigerator Rejects’ BBQ Bomber (a barbecue grill that transformed into an armed assault vehicle). Even the figures command decent money—more so if they are still sealed in their original packaging.

2. Barnyard Commandos (Playmates, 1989)

The Barnyard Commandos line of “action figures”—non-poseable squeaky-toy pigs and sheep with military armaments on their backs—was produced by Playmates in 1988. These mutant anthropomorphized sheep and pigs were the result of a secret military experiment buried on their farm. From the packaging: "After eating some of the grain the Pigs and Sheep started acting kind of funny. Some started driving the tractors around like tanks, others started digging trenches. Soon after, an all-out war erupted between the Barnyard Commandos!”

The sentiment behind the two warring factions of Barnyard Commandos was defined perfectly by their acronyms: the R.A.M.S. (Rebel Army of Military Sheep) fought the P.O.R.K.S. (Platoon of Rebel Killer Swine); these foes fought against one another in military fashion. Each individual action figure package contained a “Secret Code Book” which taught the consumer how to speak a top secret language: Pig Latin.

The non-poseable nature of the action figures may have caused retail sales of the toys to suffer when children could choose from a myriad of more popular, more malleable options at their local toy store. Despite disastrous sales, the Barnyard Commando toy line continues to tickle the funny bone of many a modern toy collector—and they’re quite inexpensive on the secondary market. Urchasepay omesay Arnyardbay Ommandoscay odaytay!

3. Army Ants (Hasbro, 1987)

In 1987, Hasbro believed they had struck gold by modernizing the “green plastic army men” concept, and introduced their new Army Ants toy line to retail as a more intricate collectible toy—one with a backstory. "The Army Ants struggle to conquer the vast land that is your backyard," their packaging reads. "Two opposing armies engage in deadly combat to control important resources." But these figures were strange. Army Ants were odd little “peg warmers”: those action figures that—due to a lack of demand by consumers—languished on retail pegs, “warming” the shelves and pegs as children ignored them.

Regardless, Hasbro organized their Army Ants toys into two different warring factions of anthropomorphized insects: the Blue Army (commanded by General Mc-Anther) and the Orange Army (ordered by General Patant). These toys were solicited in five different retail sets on blister cards, each of these “squadrons” containing three or eight Army Ant members; each side had 20 soldiers.

For action figure collectors and devoted fans of rubber figurines (such as M.U.S.C.L.E., Monster in My Pocket, etc.), the forty total pieces of this toy line makes it fun and desirable to collect. However, because every Army Ant figure included a hard-to-find removable accessory unique to each figure, a removable soft abdomen, and a distinctive mold unique to each character, obtaining a complete Army Ants collection is quite challenging.

4. Sectaurs, Warriors of Symbion (Coleco, 1984-85)

A play on the word “insect,” the imaginary world of the Sectaurs is the planet of Symbion, where insects have grown to ludicrous proportions thanks to an experiment. Many Sectaur soldiers—humanoids who share characteristics with insect and arachnids—have telepathically bonded to their insect companions via a process called “binary-bonding” that benefits both creatures when engaging in combat.

Coleco only offered one series, which consisted of eight action figures and one playset. Regardless of price point, each action figure came with a host of weapons and accessories (such as bandoliers, belts, pistols, rifles, swords, and shields) and a unique insect companion with an action feature.

Coleco also sold higher-price point deluxe action figure sets. Each of these four larger sets included a humanoid Sectaurs figure accompanied by an oversized insect companion that was basically a hand-puppet. Kids would attach the humanoid figure to a saddle that rested on top of the insect companion. The child would insert a hand into the underside of one of these hand-puppet steeds, which fit like a glove; the kid's fingers would then function as the insect’s legs. Some sets even had insects with thin, twin, translucent (and awfully fragile), battery-powered wings that would flap when you flipped an “on/off” switch. These motorized wings, combined with the movement of the child’s hands as an insect’s legs and appendages, were a marvel of toy engineering.

Other than eight action figures, an immense and highly desirable Hyve action playset was also produced. With two “Hands-In” monsters, the Hyve, Forbidden Fortress is an oft-requested piece by collectors. The playset’s tremendous size and vast number of parts (many of which are quite delicate) suggests that any surviving samples of this toy from the 1980s will not usually be found intact or complete—adding to its rarity and the toy’s exorbitant cost on the collector’s market.

5. Rock Lords (Tonka, 1986-1987)

Tonka’s Rock Lords action figures captured the attention of children with a unique concept: instead of creating robots that transform into vehicles, why not have these detailed characters change into… colorful rocks? There were two warring factions of Rock Lords from three different series of toy releases: Good Rock Lords were Boulder (tungsten), Nuggit (gold), Granite (granite), Marbles (cristobalite), Crackpot (azurite), Pulver Eyes (Dolomite). The Bad Rock Lords were Magmar (Igneous), Tombstone (quartz), Sticks ‘N Stones (a two-headed Rock lord with two rock types—anthracite and magnetite), Stoneheart (slate), Brimstone (brimstone), Slimestone (silver), and the insidious Sabrestone and Spearhead (whose rock types are unknown).

Beyond the first two series of “Good versus Evil” GoBots Rock Lords action figures, Tonka also offered a set of furred companions known as “Narlies.” Along with these Narlies, Tonka produced a series of dinosaur companions to the Rock Lords—the Rockasaurs’ Terra Rock and Spike Stone. The (ahem) crown jewels of the toy line are the Rock Lords’ stunning Jewel Lords. Although only three of these toys were released—Solitaire, Flamestone, and Sunstone—these are highly prized: Even loose samples command high prices on the secondary market. The toy line was rounded out with a few other sub-collections such as the Shock Rocks, whose action feature was to… roll on the ground. Or shoot a rock. Or throw a rock.

6. Computer Warriors (Mattel, 1989)

“An accident in a top-secret government computer lets loose hordes of evil Virus troops on an unsuspecting world. ... Their goal: global domination through total control of the world's computers... even yours! To fight this menacing evil, the computer generates heroic micro soldiers—COMPUTER WARRIORS designed to recapture the marauding Virus troops and to make sure computers are used for the good of mankind!”

So goes the backstory of the 2-inch tall Computer Warriors. And what child wouldn’t want to play with an action figure playset that transforms from a soccer trophy to a “radar rover”? From a flashlight into a “flash craft”? From a Pepsi can into a “hyper hover jet”? Or from a PC board into an “aerial assault bomber”? Apparently, most children.

Although a complete collection of these toys is difficult to find on the secondary market due to the scarcity of the higher price-point pieces, it is easy to pick up a single sample of one of the more common figures: The heroic Debugg and Romm, or the evil members of Virus, Asynk and Megahert.

7. The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior (1982)

Based on an 11-issue Marvel Comics title produced in 1983, The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior yielded a series of odd-looking action figures produced by Remco—a company noted for producing low-quality yet charmingly cheap toys in the 1980s. The backstory of the action figure line reflected the narrative contained in the pages of the Marvel Comic series: Remco pitted the “Forces of Order”—which included the blue translucent "crystal" Crystar and his allies Warbow and Ogeode the wizard versus the “Forces of Chaos”: Solid red Moltar, red-robed Zardeth and the Magma Men, which were molded in red plastic as well. In total, Remco produced seven figures, four small playsets with figures, two large dragons with figures, two hard-to-find catapults, and one large, super-fragile Crystal Castle playset.

Although The Saga of Crystar line was initially successful, sales waned rather quickly, and as with most failed 80s toy lines, many extant samples feature price tag reductions that reflect a “deep discount” strategy. The more common figures from the line (Zardeth, Ogeode) nearly always show up in 80s collections. They’re certainly cool to look at, and lately there’s been a rise in interest on the secondary market.

8. Inhumanoids (Hasbro, 1986)

With the tagline “The Evil That Lies Within," Hasbro’s Inhumanoids franchise has a small base of loyal fans on the secondary market due to the strange malevolence evoked by the toys’ construction—most had glowing eyes that lit when exposed to sunlight—and an unusually sophisticated backstory, which was recounted in a 13-episode TV show.

A heroic group of government-funded geological scientists—the Earth Corps—encounters three horrifying, giant subterranean monsters dubbed the Inhumanoids who wreak havoc on the surface of Earth: Tendril, a brutish creature that can regenerate its limbs; D’Compose, a flesh-corrupting vampire with an exposed rib cage he uses to trap his enemies; and their leader, Metlar. Ruler of the blistering realm of Infernac, Metlar is the master of fire and commands an army of living statues. With the assistance of the kindly Mutores, another subterranean population of powerful beings, the Earth Corps scientists defeat the sinister Inhumanoids.

The great disappointment of the line was the action figure form of the four Earth Corps protagonists: each of the action figures possesses very limited poseability (five points-of-articulation), and looked a bit awkward when displayed. Although the figures’ possessed “Interchangeable Arm Implement[s]” that could “be used by any member of the Earth Corps team” (according to their package backs), and “Glow-in-the Light” helmets, these features did not make up for the lack of articulation collectors were accustomed to with Hasbro’s 3 ¾-inch G.I. Joe line.

This tertiary toy line only lasted one short year due to poor sales—yet the creepy vibe projected by the toy line and the accompanying animation may still haunt the dreams of many children of the 80s.

9. Super Naturals (Tonka, 1987)

Today, we take holography for granted—some form of hologram appears on nearly every driver’s license or government-issued piece of identification. But when holograms appeared on Tonka’s Super Naturals, kids were fascinated. In place of a three-dimensional molded face and chest piece, each Super Naturals’ action figure mold was flattened, with a holographic sticker affixed onto the plastic of the toy.

With a directive to “Release their hologram powers!” on the front of each toy package—where each character’s hologram “transformed” from one image to the next (on both the figure and the figure’s shield)—Super Naturals were only produced for a single series, yet there was a good deal of product manufactured. The most popular of all the Super Naturals characters were the six large, standard-sized action figures. Each came with one holographic shield accessory, a unique glow-in-the-dark weapon, and a short mini-comic explaining the Super Naturals’ back story. Every large-scale Super Naturals figure possessed a removable chest piece that functioned to hide a good deal of the toy’s “hook”—its two-phase hologram sticker—which would essentially function to make the figure’s holographic innards a surprise feature.

For consumers who wished to pick up a less expensive toy, Tonka created a series of smaller-scale figures. Packaged with removable cloaks, a single glow-in-the-dark sword, and a Super Naturals mini-comic, the eight Ghostlings were sold at a lower price point than the standard-sized figure.

For many years, the Super Naturals figures were relegated to discount bins in secondary shops. But within the last few years, they’ve begun to rise in both cost and estimation in collector’s hearts and minds.

10. Air Raiders (Hasbro, 1987)

In the late 1980s, the idea that somehow purified air would be such a commodity that an entire world would base its economy and social status on a “free” part of a planet’s atmosphere was a bit of a stretch. But this was the story behind Hasbro’s Air Raiders toy line. Although ingenious in its delivery—each Air Raiders vehicle possessed one or more “air-powered” features that kids could repeatedly activate to achieve a desired effect, such as firing missiles, racing vehicles, or opening panels—children simply didn’t respond to the gimmick.

Without a motion picture or syndicated cartoon to drive sales, Air Raiders languished on retail toy shelves. Many sealed pieces purchased today will evince this grim reality: They'll show the original prices slashed viciously.

Today, Air Raiders are desirable to many die-hard toy collectors. Some hard-to-find figures include the Man-O-War and the mail-away “Air Raider Survival Kit” featuring Emperor Aerozar and Baron Jolt; both command more than $500 sealed.

11. Chuck Norris & Karate Kommandos (Kenner, 1986)

In 1986, exploiting Chuck Norris’ burgeoning popularity with children, Ruby-Spears produced a truly awful five-episode animated mini-series recounting the adventures of U.S. government operative Chuck Norris (voiced by the actor himself) and his team of martial-arts experts as they fight the evil organization of ninjas known as VULTURE (the acronym’s origin is unknown) and their leader, Claw. The cartoon tried to capitalize on the ninja craze of the mid-eighties, but Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos is remembered more for its unintentional comedy.

Following 80s convention, in conjunction with the cartoon, Kenner Toys released a series of nine Karate Kommandos action figures: Chuck Norris (available in three different uniforms), Kimo (the resident samurai of the Kommandos), Reed Smith (Chuck’s apprentice), Ninja Serpent, Ninja Warrior, Super Ninja (Claw’s right-hand man), and Tabe (a champion sumo wrestler) and one vehicle (the Karate Corvette). There was no Claw figure released in the assortment of figures—perhaps Kenner had decided to offer him in Series Two, if a full season of the animated program was ordered. But that was not in the cards.

12. Police Academy (Kenner Toys, 1989-1990)

Although not a critical success, Police Academy was warmly embraced by the American public: the franchise grossed nearly $250 million. The characters featured in 1988’s 65-episode run of Police Academy: The Animated Series were based on the personalities in the films. Many of the major characters were then translated into plastic action figures by Kenner.

The cast of characters for Kenner’s Police Academy toy line included the officers’ charismatic leader, Sgt. Carey Mahoney; Sgt. Eugene Tackleberry, the bellicose weapons expert; antagonistic martinet, Captain Thaddeus Harris; the tight-lipped, near-superhuman Sgt. Moses Hightower; massive Officer Thomas “House” Conklin; former-antagonist-turned-police Officer Zed McGlunk; Zed’s partner, the meek, mild-mannered, bespectacled Officer Carl Sweetchuck, and of course, the miraculous sound effects and martial-arts prowess as rendered by Sgt. Larvell Jones.

Mark Bellomo is the author of Totally Tubular '80s Toys. He has 45,000 action figures (all of the pictures in this article were taken from his personal collection) and he's taken every single one of them out of their boxes.

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11 Things You Didn't Know About Dolly Parton
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. YOU WON'T FIND HER ON A DOLLYWOOD ROLLER COASTER.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. SHE ENTERED A DOLLY PARTON LOOK-A-LIKE CONTEST—AND LOST.


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Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. SHE SPENT A FORTUNE TO RECREATE HER CHILDHOOD HOME.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. SHE WON'T APOLOGIZE FOR RHINESTONE.


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Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. SHE IS MILEY CYRUS'S GODMOTHER, SORT OF.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. SHE RECEIVED DEATH THREATS FROM THE KU KLUX KLAN.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
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In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBT members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted, "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. TO PROMOTE LITERACY, SHE STARTED HER OWN "LIBRARY."

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. PARTON'S HOMETOWN HAS A STATUE IN HER HONOR.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. THE CLONED SHEEP DOLLY WAS NAMED AFTER PARTON.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. SHE TURNED DOWN ELVIS.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. SHE JUST EARNED TWO GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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15 Fascinating Facts About Blood Simple
Janus Films
Janus Films

Ethan and Joel Coen hadn’t made a feature film of their own until they set out to write, direct, produce, and edit Blood Simple, a bloody Texas-set noir about a cuckold husband named Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) who hires a private detective (M. Emmet Walsh) to murder his cheating wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover (John Getz). The filmmakers wanted a small budget like a horror film, but preferred making an entertaining B-film. Before production started, the Coens created a two-minute trailer and showed it to investors, which allowed them to raise an impressive $750,000 (which was half of the final budget).

In January of 1985, the movie was released in theaters and grossed $2,150,000. In its 2000 theatrical re-release, the movie added another $1.7 million to its box office haul. The low-budget film set the standard for the wave of American indie films to come, and it established the Coens as two of the most important voices in cinema. It also launched the careers of Frances McDormand and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (who would later turn to directing).

Here are 15 facts about the noir thriller, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1985.

1. ITS TITLE WAS INSPIRED BY DASHIELL HAMMETT’S RED HARVEST.

“It’s an expression he used to describe what happens to somebody psychologically once they’ve committed murder,” Joel Coen told Time Out. “They go ‘blood simple’ in the slang sense of ‘simple,’ meaning crazy. But it’s left up to the audience to ponder the implications; they’re never spelled out in the film itself.”

2. THE COENS SPECIFICALLY WROTE THE PART OF LOREN VISSER FOR M. EMMET WALSH.

Blood Simple started something else that we’ve done pretty much on every subsequent movie, which was that we’ve always written parts for specific actors,” Joel Coen said in the book My First Movie. The brothers knew Walsh from the film Straight Time, in which he played a sleazy character. “Actually, it was a more interesting character than what we came up with in Blood Simple inasmuch as it was more ambiguous,” Joel said. They offered him the part without having him audition, but ran into a dilemma. “All I remember is we didn’t know what the hell to call him,” Ethan said. “I mean, what the hell do you call him when you meet him? M?”

3. THE COENS—AND MANY OF THE CAST AND CREW—HAD NEVER BEEN ON A FILM SET BEFORE.

Joel Coen admitted in My First Movie, “The first day of shooting on Blood Simple was the first time I’d ever been on a feature movie set in any capacity, even as a visitor.” Coen had previously worked as an assistant editor on horror films, including 1981’s The Evil Dead. Coen mentioned how Sonnenfeld would throw up after looking at the dailies, because he was so nervous working on the film. “Everyone was in the same boat,” Joel said. “The gaffer had never gaffered a feature. The sound guy, the mixer on the set, had never mixed a feature.”

4. THE COENS CHOSE TO MAKE A FILM NOIR BECAUSE OF THE GENRE’S PRACTICALITY.

Dan Hedaya and M. Emmet Walsh in 'Blood Simple' (1984)
Janus Films

The Coens liked hard-boiled fiction authors James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, and used them to their advantage in writing the script. “It’s certainly a genre that is entertaining, and we also picked it for very practical reasons,” Ethan said. “We knew we weren’t going to have a big budget. The financing would not allow it. We could build something on the genre and the appeal it has.”

“It’s also a genre that allows you to get by rather modestly in some ways,” Joel added. “You can limit the number of characters, put them into a confined set. There’s no need to go for large-scale effects or scatter them through the film, and those cost a lot of money. So it was a pragmatic decision that determined what film we would make.”

5. BUT THEY DIDN’T WANT TO PARODY FILM NOIR.

In a 1985 interview, featured in the book The Coen Brothers: Interviews, Ethan said, “When people call Blood Simple a film noir, they’re correct to the extent that we like the same kind of stories that the people who made those movies like. We tried to emulate the source that those movies came from rather than the movies themselves.” They didn’t want to make “a venetian blind movie,” but movies like The Conformist and The Third Man inspired the look of Blood Simple.

Because of the comedic elements in the film, some people might think the movie is trying to parody the thriller genre. “On one hand, it is a thriller, and, on the other, it is funny,” Ethan said. “But certainly the film is supposed to work as a thriller and I don’t think it would work as both at once.”

6. THEY BORROWED AN INVESTMENT TACTIC FROM SAM RAIMI.

Their friend Sam Raimi had shot a trailer for his film The Evil Dead and raised $60,000 toward the budget after showing it to investors. “He financed the movie using a common thing that people making exploitation movies had used, which was a limited partnership,” Joel said in My First Movie. “What we also borrowed from Sam and the other models was that I presented more of an action exploitation type movie than it ended up being, and in fact than we knew it would be.”

The Coens didn’t know many people, so they decided to take a projector and the trailer to entrepreneurs’ homes in New York, Texas, and Minnesota. “If you call people up and say, ‘Can you give me 10 minutes so I can present an opportunity to invest in a movie?’ They’re going to say, ‘No, I don’t need this,’ and hang up the phone,” Joel said in My First Movie. “But it’s slightly different if you call and say, ‘Can I come over and take 10 minutes and show you a piece of film?’ All of a sudden that intrigues them and gets your foot in the door.” Eventually, all 65 investors made a profit from their investment.

The investor trailer finally surfaced online and features Bruce Campbell in the Dan Hedaya role.

7. NONE OF THE MAJOR STUDIOS WANTED TO DISTRIBUTE IT.

The Coens took time editing the film, and started shopping the movie around in 1984. Warner Bros. rejected it, but an indie company agreed to distribute it with a slight change. “We took it to Crown International Pictures and the guy would say, ‘If you have some nudity you can put in there maybe we can distribute it,’” Joel said in My First Movie. “We saw everybody from the studios to the lowliest sleaze-bucket distributors in L.A. And they all said no.” Circle Films picked up the movie after seeing a screening of it at the Toronto Film Festival. When the movie came out with good reviews, Warner tried to buy it from Circle to no avail.

8. M. EMMET WALSH COULDN’T BLOW SMOKE RINGS.

At first the actor was skeptical of starring in a movie where he probably wouldn’t make any money, but he gave the Coens a chance. Joel asked Walsh if he could blow a smoke ring from cigarette smoke and he said he would try. “I just couldn’t do it,” Walsh said. “I worked and worked on it, but I started to make myself sick.” The Coens brought in a smoke machine to make the smoke rings but the machine broke during filming. “The script gal says, ‘Give me a damn cigar. I grew up with five brothers smoking behind a barn,’” Walsh said. “So they give her a cigar and she starts making these incredible smoke rings. I said to myself, ‘My God, this is how you make a movie!’ Later on, I went outside and saw her puking her brains out. That was Blood Simple.”

9. THE COENS HAD AN INCIDENT WITH ONE OF THEIR POTENTIAL INVESTORS.

“There was one investor we went to and we hit his car, parking,” Ethan said in My First Movie. “And we had this big debate out on the driveway [about] whether we should tell him we hit his car before the sales pitch or after the sales pitch. We decided that we wouldn’t tell him until we showed him the movie and made the sales pitch.” The investor decided against investing in the film.

10. FRANCES MCDORMAND REFUSED TO BE “THEATRICAL” IN THE MOVIE.

John Getz and Frances McDorman in 'Blood Simple' (1984)
Janus Films

Up until she starred in Blood Simple, the future Oscar-winner had mainly done theater and some TV. In an interview with William Dafoe for Bomb Magazine, she told him her approach to playing Abby Marty. “The only choice I made was not to be theatrical,” she said. “I never moved my face and my mouth’s always open like I’m terrified—I was a lot of the time. I just did whatever they told me to do, which was perfect for the character, but it’s not like I made that decision as a character choice. It was from not knowing what to do.”

11. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND WITH LITERATURE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

12. THE COENS RELEASED A SHORTER VERSION OF THE FILM.

Blood Simple got the Director’s Cut treatment in 2001, but instead of adding material to the re-release of the movie, the Coens removed a few minutes from it. “We always thought it was rather kind of clumsy, the editing,” Joel told Hollywood.com. “It was interesting to go in and try to tighten the movie up.” “Before, the original version was like an old lady with a walker, and now it just has a cane,” Ethan said. The newer version also brought back the Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song,” which had been in the original theatrical release but had been replaced with Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer” in the VHS release.

13. THE COENS THINK THE MOVIE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

A scene from 'Blood Simple' (1984)
Janus Films

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature, in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

14. ZHANG YIMOU REMADE THE FILM.

Director Zhang Yimou—who directed House of Flying Daggers and Heroremade Blood Simple in 2009 as A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop. The move is set in a Chinese noodle shop in a desert, and in similar fashion, the plot centers on a man trying to kill his wife and her lover.

15. BLOOD SIMPLE BEGAT RAISING ARIZONA AND FARGO.

Two years after Blood Simple was released, the Coens wrote-directed their follow-up, Raising Arizona, which wasn’t anything like Blood Simple. “In essence, after having completed Blood Simple, we wanted to make something completely different,” Ethan said. “We didn’t know what, but we wanted it to be something funny that had a very quick rhythm. We also wanted to use Holly Hunter, who has been a friend of ours for a long time. So it really wasn’t the story that was the origin of the project, but Holly Hunter, her personality and, by extension, the character we had conceived for her to play. In contrast, Blood Simple took shape from an idea for a screenplay.” It should be noted Hunter provided her voice on an answering machine in Blood Simple.

More than a decade after Blood Simple came out, the Coens released Fargo. The Coens’ dealings with investors for Blood Simple inspired the film’s businessmen. “It was raising money for Blood Simple that we met all of these business guys who could wear the suits, get bundled up in the park and slog out in the snow and meet us in these, like, coffee shops,” Joel said in My First Movie. “We came back to that whole thing in Fargo: the car salesman, the guy who owns the bowling alley, you know, whatever.”

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