River Phoenix's last film, 'Dark Blood', will soon be seen by US audiences.
21 years after his death, River Phoenix’s final film Dark Blood is set to be released in the US having been picked up by distributor Lionsgate. It’s a film which many though would never see the light of day after, but director George Sluizer has worked hard to try and deliver as close to a complete film as possible, given the circumstances. Whilst its been 21 years since Phoenix's tragic death, public fascination with the actor and his short career has never waned, but can Dark Blood be a fitting end to his screen legacy?
River Phoenix died in 1993, he was just 23 years old
Set in the Utah desert, Dark Blood tells the story of a young Hollywood couple, Harry and Buffy whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere while they're enjoying a second honeymoon. They then encounter a young widower, Boy, played by Phoenix, who has retreated to the desert after his wife's death in order to wait for the end of the world. But things soon start to take a dark turn for the couple when Boy develops an unhealthy obsession with Buffy.
Dark Blood began production in September 1993 and by the end of October the on location filming in Utah had been completed and there was just three weeks of filming on a Los Angeles sound stage left. But on the night of October 31st, River Phoenix's life came to a tragic end outside Hollywood’s Viper Room nightclub when he died from an accidental drug overdose. He was just 23 years old.
After Phoenix’s death production on Dark Blood was unsurprisingly abandoned. Though 75% of the film had been completed the feeling was that without their leading man Dark Blood was an unsalvageable project. The insurance company who had backed the film then paid out on their $5.7 million insurance policy and effectively took over the rights and materials to the film.
Director George Sluizer did not see his film again until 1999 when he learnt it was going to be destroyed and effectively rescued it from a storage facility. He told the Los Angeles Times, "I call it saving, not stealing. Morally, I was saving important material. ” Still, despite having the footage, Sluizer didn't not attempt to finish the film. That was until 2008, when the director suffered a near fatal tear in the wall of his aorta, after he recovered he began attempting to finish the film.
Obtaining donations from Dutch crowd funding website Cinecrowd and the Netherlands Film Fund as well as using some of his own money, Sluizer was able to begin finishing Dark Blood. He started rewritting the film and then used the still photographs taken during production along with his own narration to fill in the missing scenes.
Dark Blood will most likely receive an on demand release
The now completed film first premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival in September 2012. It has since gone on to be shown at film festivals worldwide and was premiered for the first time in the US in March 2013. Now Lionsgate are said to be planning an on demand release after acquiring the film’s US distribution rights.
Of course the now finished Dark Blood doesn't look how the it was originally intended, but Sluizer appears to have done his best considering the circumstances. Though it's been completed in an unconventional way, the scenes Phoenix did film should be a testament to why we're still fascinated with him over 20 years after his death. As Sluzier described it, Dark Blood is like a chair with three legs, "the fourth leg will always be missing, but the chair will be able to stand upright.”