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The Last, Lost River Phoenix Film Finally Sees the Light of Day

“Dark Blood”, the actor’s last film from 1993 gets a US release.

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More than 20 years after the untimely death of Oscar-nominated Hollywood star River Phoenix, the actor’s last film is finally getting a release.
Motion picture sales company Cinemavault announced Friday that it has sold the North American distribution rights of “Dark Blood”, the film Phoenix has been working on when he died of drug overdose back in 1993, to Lionsgate.

Since its star had died roughly five weeks into production, and director and co-writer George Sluizer spent years battling the insurance company that made a claim about Phoenix’s drug use, the film’s future has remained uncertain for nearly two decades, with most expecting it to never see the light of day.

With the legal issues finally behind him, though, largely due to the efforts of Dutch production house Eyeworks, who opted to help navigate the claims – and after being diagnosed with a terminal disease – Sluizer, who had held onto the footage himself, decided to finally complete “Dark Blood”.

He started editing the film in 2011, bridging the considerable gaps in the narrative with his very own narration track, in which he describes the missing scenes. While an unorthodox approach, The Guardian’s Geoffrey Mcnab assures the result is satisfactory, calling it “a simple but surprisingly effective tactic”, which “ensures that the film is just about coherent”. He adds that while the film may still be “fragmentary, uneven and downright odd in parts”, it also has “huge curiosity value”. Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer calls the film a “terrifically played and superbly photographed three-hander“, which, he adds, “reveals to what extent the 23-year-old star was an intense and unpredictable talent.”

The film, which premiered to a special guest audience at 2012’s Netherlands Film Festival, followed by an international premiere at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, tells the story of Boy (Phoenix), a young widower, who retreats to the desert after his wife dies of radiation following nuclear tests near their home. While waiting for the end of the world to arrive, he meets a married couple (played by Jonathan Pryce & Judy Davis) – whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere – and holds them prisoner, in hope of creating a new, better world with the wife.

Lionsgate is planning to release the film – currently playing in theatres in Japan, and scheduled to be released theatrically in Brazil, South Korea and Turkey – on VOD. The film is released in spite of opposition from both Phoenix’s mother, Heart, who reportedly wrote a letter to Sluizer, urging him to abandon the project, and the late actor’s brother, Joaquin, who refused the director’s proposal to do the film’s narration.


River Jude Phoenix was born in 1970 to a Jewish mother and a lapsed Catholic father. By age ten, he was acting professionally on TV. His film debut was in Explorers (1985), followed rapidly by box-office successes with Stand by Me (1986), The Mosquito Coast (1986), and as young Indiana in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
His role as Danny Pope in Running on Empty (1988) earned him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor, while his role as Mike Waters in My Own Private Idaho (1991) earned him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead, and a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor, among other accolades.
He died of a drug overdose at age 23 outside the Viper Room, Johnny Depp’s Los Angeles club.
George Sluizer is a Jewish Dutch filmmaker whose credits include features as well as documentary films. He is best known for directing two versions of “The Vanishing”, a 1988 Dutch-language release, originally titled “Spoorloos”, and a 1993 American version.

Photo courtesy of Cinemavault.



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