River Phoenix’s final film is finished, nearly two decades after his death

Claudine Zap
Movie Talk

Nineteen years after the death of River Phoenix, the actor's final movie, "Dark Blood," is finally finished. The older brother of Joaquin Phoenix was just 23 when he died of an apparent overdose on October 31, 1993.

The "Stand By Me" co-star was shooting "Dark Blood" the day before he died, and his blond hair was still dyed dark brown for the role. The Danish director of the film, George Sluizer, got hold of the footage, which was left unfinished, and completed it with his own voice-overs.

The film opened at the Netherlands Film Festival, and Variety called it "a surprisingly coherent vision of a decidedly oddball story set in the Arizona desert."

The Hollywood Reporter describes Phoenix's role in the film as a hermit who lives on a nuclear testing site and is waiting for the end of the world. He is joined by two stranded vacationers (played by Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce), who are seeking shelter after their car breaks down. Phoenix is "suitably charismatic and commanding air in his final role," according to Variety.

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That the movie was finished at all is somewhat miraculous. According to Variety, back in 1999 the insurance company that had the footage wanted to destroy it rather than pay storage costs. Sluizer took back the unmade film, but some legal issues over its rights still exist.

Other film festivals have expressed interest in the movie, and it could potentially be shown at colleges and museums. Although Sluizer is hoping for a wider release, he does not own the commercial rights to the film.

There could be plenty of interest in the movie, which adds a final chapter to the young heartthrob's meteoric career. Before his untimely death, the talented young star was in huge demand. He had received attention for his role in the indie film "My Own Private Idaho" and in blockbusters like "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." He was set to star opposite Tom Cruise in "Interview With a Vampire." (Christian Slater took over the role.)

The Dutch director, now 80, who says he was "devastated" by Phoenix's death, told Entertainment Weekly, "It's a complete film. It's not pieces stuck together. It has a beginning and it goes up to the end, like it should. The film is finished."