River Phoenix died a sad and tragic death at the age of 23, overdosing on a wicked combination of cocaine and heroin outside a night club; until then, he’d had a hugely successful career as a child and young adult actor, starring in films which would become cult classics (“Stand By Me”) and box-office hits (“Sneakers”). He chose unique parts to play, characters who were mostly flawed but still redeemable (or perhaps he only made them seem that way), and fans were utterly heartbroken to learn of his death in 1993.
What many people don’t know is that Phoenix was shooting a film when he died, a film which had mostly been shot in the Utah desert and still had almost two weeks to go in the production schedule. The movie was “Dark Blood”, and now it’s about to be given a limited screening at a film festival. The attention it’s getting has prompted the director, George Sluizer, to talk about the strange journey of the movie and why it’s taken so many years to be released.
Because it would have taken mega bucks to work around the loss of Phoenix and finish the film, the insurance company pulled the plug on the project and abandoned it, storing the footage away for possible future use. But in 1999, when the director learned that the cost of storage was about to necessitate the footage being tossed out, he decided he had to save it–by any means necessary.
“I have good assistants, if I can put it this way, and some people who are clever in finding the right key,” he said. “I am an enterprising person.”
But the project got laid by the wayside, as they sometimes do, and until Sluizer had a near-death experience in the French Alps–a near fatal heart attack–it was looking as though the movie would never be finished. But looking at what could have been a very bleak future was enough to make him reassess his priorities, and now he’s ready to share the film on a small scale.
“Dark Blood” will premiere at a Dutch film festival on September 27th, and while there’s no word yet as to whether it will come to American shores, fans are desperately hoping it will be made available in some way. The promise of seeing Phoenix’s last recorded work is too much to be asked to give up.