When River Phoenix died of a drug overdose at Los Angeles' Viper Room in 1993, he was in the middle of production for Dark Blood. Described as an existential western, the film follows Boy (Phoenix), who lives in the middle of the desert and becomes dangerously obsessed with the wife of a holidaymaker couple (Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce) who come asking for help.
Now Lionsgate has acquired the North American distribution rights to the film, and is planning a video-on-demand release. Previously, an unfinished version had only seen limited release at various film festivals, including this year's Glasgow Film Festival.
It's been a long and arduous road to the commercial release of Dark Blood. Its director, George Sluizer, initially deemed the project impossible to finish without its 23-year-old star. The insurance company decided to destroy the film, but Sluizer discovered rolls of film languishing in a warehouse in London.
After rescuing what remained of the film, he held on to the rolls for more than a decade. In 2007, the Dutch director was spurred on to finish the film when he was told by doctors that he would not live long due to a brain aneurysm.
"The negatives were still good but part of the sound needed to be rebuilt and re-recorded," he says. "And only 65 per cent of the story was shot... So I had to rewrite the story."
The Phoenix family have said that they want no part of the film, although Sluzier says that Arlyn Pheonix, River's mother, has been in touch to wish them good luck with the project.
Dark Blood is expected to premiere on VOD later this year. Watch the trailer below:
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