On Sept. 27, director George Sluizer will unveil a finished version of Dark Blood, the film River Phoenix was working on when he died in 1993, at a Dutch film festival (it’s unclear whether it will ever get a theatrical or DVD release). Here’s an excerpt from our story about the movie’s tangled history.
Around 3 a.m., the phone in director George Sluizer’s hotel room rang. It was River Phoenix’s agent, sharing the news of what would become one of the saddest, most shocking pop culture milestones of the ’90s. While hanging out at the Viper Room club in Los Angeles, Phoenix had ingested a dangerous combination of cocaine and heroin. He went into convulsions on the sidewalk outside the club. The 23-year-old actor was pronounced dead at 1:51 a.m.
Sluizer and Phoenix were in the middle of filming a movie called Dark Blood, and it was now up to the director to inform his movie’s cast and crew of the tragedy. “I was devastated,” says Sluizer, now 80. “It was a terrible sadness.” Sluizer and his crew had spent about seven weeks shooting in the Utah desert, and then decamped to L.A. to film interiors. There were roughly 11 days left on the schedule when Phoenix died. Now the movie was in limbo. After the initial shock wore off, Sluizer, the film’s producers, and the company that insured the production had to figure out what to do. Was there some way to salvage the movie? Or would all of their work — and Phoenix’s final onscreen performance — be lost forever? READ FULL STORY