River Phoenix, who died of a drug overdose in 1993 at the age of 23, had nearly completed shooting George Sluizer’s off-kilter drama “Dark Blood” at the time of his death. The move follows a loner living in an American desert who believes the world is coming to an end. While the bulk of the film had wrapped up shooting in Utah, the movie had about two weeks left of shooting in Los Angeles -- which included most of its interior shots, according to the BBC.
Sluizer, a veteran Dutch filmmaker who turned 80 this year, told the BBC that he last saw Phoenix on the evening of Oct. 30, 1993, just hours before the actor took a toxic combination of cocaine and heroin and collapsed outside the Viper Room on the Sunset Strip.
“Dark Blood” was shelved after Phoenix’s death and locked away in a storage room for seven years as the film’s financing bank and insurance company fought legal battles over who owned the negatives. In 1999, the director learned that the insurance company no longer wanted to warehouse the film and that it was planning to destroy it. Sluizer rescued the movie and held onto it for eight years until a health scare -- an acute aortic dissection and a year of physical therapy, according to Entertainment Weekly -- convinced him it was time to finish the project.
Sluizer completed the movie as best he could, filling in the gaps with still photos and his own voice narration as a means of moving the story forward. “I did my best -- with the material I had -- to make it an understandable and plausible story,” he told the BBC.
“Dark Blood,” which also stars Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis, premiered last month at the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht, where it played to an invitation-only audience. Since the screening, the director has told reporters that he is hoping the film will receive a wide release, but whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.
The Phoenix family is apparently against the project, telling Deadline late last year that they “have not been in communication with the director nor will they participate in any way.” This despite the fact that Sluizer had reportedly claimed that Phoenix’s brother, Joaquin Phoenix, was to provide voiceover work for the movie.
Sluizer used his own production company, Sluizer Films, to complete “Dark Blood” along with support from the Netherlands Film Fund. But despite several misleading reports that the movie is coming soon to a theater near you, no official release date has been announced, nor has Sluizer named a distributor. In his recent interview with the BBC, which posted Sunday, he is quoted simply as saying that he thinks it will find a wide release “quite soon.”
So while the director continues to search for a means of getting “Dark Blood” into movie theaters, the story behind the movie is much like the movie itself: incomplete.
A trailer for “Dark Blood” is available on YouTube.