Dark Blood

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Dark Blood
Dark Blood.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Sluizer
Produced by
Written by Jim Barton
Music by Florencia di Concilio
James Michael Taylor
Cinematography Edward Lachman
Edited by Martin Walsh
Michiel Reichwein
  • Scala Productions (1993)
  • Sluizer Films (2012)
Release date
  • September 27, 2012 (2012-09-27) (private audience, NFF)
Running time
86 minutes
  • United States
  • Netherlands
Language English

Dark Blood is a 2012 American-Dutch thriller film directed by George Sluizer, written by Jim Barton, and starring River Phoenix, Judy Davis, and Jonathan Pryce. The film was not completed due to the death of Phoenix in 1993 shortly before the end of the project (it would also be the final film made by Sluizer) and remained unfinished for 19 years. It was the last film to feature River Phoenix and the only film in which Phoenix portrayed a villain.

It premiered to a private guest audience on September 27, 2012 at the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands. The film was shown twice more, publicly, on October 2, 2012 at the festival. It was shown at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival in February 2013, the Miami International Film Festival in March 2013, the Split Film Festival in September 2013, and the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in April 2014. On January 26, 2018, Dark Blood was released on DVD in Germany.

The film follows Boy (Phoenix), a young widower, who retreats to the desert after his wife dies of radiation following nuclear tests near their home. Boy is waiting for the end of the world and carves Kachina dolls, believing they contain magical powers. A couple, Harry (Pryce) and Buffy (Davis) travel to the desert on a second honeymoon in an attempt to save their marriage. Their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and the couple is rescued by Boy. Boy holds them prisoner because of his desire for Buffy and his ambition to create a better world with her.[1]


The movie begins with Harry (Pryce), an actor who hasn't worked in over a year, and his wife Buffy (Davis), an ex-showgirl, traveling by car on their "second honeymoon". After staying overnight at a motel, the owner (Black) informs Harry of previous nuclear testing taking place in the town. The following day, their Bentley eventually breaks down, leading them to run out of water in the middle of the desert. Harry insists on staying with the car rather than to look for help. While Harry sleeps in the back seat, Buffy notices a light in the distance and follows it, leading her to the front door of a cabin belonging to a widower named Boy (Phoenix). He drives with her to rescue Harry. After mentioning he is one-eighth Hopi Native American, Boy reveals a cave filled with candles and voodoo dolls that he believes have magical powers, which he spends his time making waiting for the world to end.

During their stay, Boy promises to drive them to the nearest town, but keeps delaying this offer by dismantling the entire engine of his truck after telling the couple there's a problem with it, and later telling them he is waiting for friends to arrive before he can take them to town. His friends, meanwhile have been told by Boy where to find their Bentley and they tow it away. Buffy and Boy become attracted to each other, angering Harry. Harry tells Boy to leave her alone while on a shooting hunt. The two have an argument and Boy retreats, leaving Harry to find his way back from the desert. Boy later fires a shot at Harry, but tells him he was shooting a snake in a passive-aggressive gesture. Eventually, the couple become aware that Boy will not let them leave. Exasperated, Harry announces he is walking to the town and marches off alone. After an argument with Buffy, Boy drives off frustrated, finds Harry dehydrated, gives him water and brings him back to the cabin where Boy locks Harry in a barn, telling Buffy he's gone mad from the heat.

Later on, as they are all sleeping, Harry wakes silently, rouses Buffy and steals the keys to Boy's truck in an escape attempt that is quickly thwarted by Boy who catches them as they are leaving his cabin. A fight ensues and after hitting him with a crowbar, Harry is judged by means of a kangaroo court, and ordered to chop wood as punishment. As he is cutting the wood, he sees Buffy removing her clothes and is forced to overhear as his wife is raped, turning his back, unable to watch. Buffy later comes outside to tell Harry that Boy is finally taking them to the town. Boy's friends approach, bringing the repaired Bentley, and Boy announces only Harry can leave in his car. Outraged, Harry attacks Boy with the axe, only for Boy to block the axe's blow with his rifle above his head. However, unable to withstand Harry's strength, the axe hits Boy, splitting open his head and knocking him to the ground. Acting in self-defence, Harry is forced to fatally wound Boy's dog when it tries to attack him. Boy gets to his feet, telling Harry that he has never wanted to kill a man before, his finger on the trigger of the rifle. Harry begs for his life, but Boy then collapses from the bleeding head wound.

At that moment the couple's car is delivered by Boy's native friends, who take Boy inside the cabin, where he requests to see Buffy. As his last physical effort, he raises himself up to embrace her, dying in her arms as Harry is held at gunpoint outside. Buffy exits and the couple's fate is up to Boy's friends, one of whom is a sheriff - but, despite the crime, the two are told to leave immediately in their car. Boy's friends set the cabin ablaze as a funeral pyre.

Harry and Buffy drive along out of the desert disoriented, exhausted and silent. They hold hands and Harry asks Buffy, "Are you O.K.?" "No," replies Buffy, as she glances back at the fire's glow. The couple fall silent again.



Dark Blood consisted of roughly five weeks of on location shooting in Torrey, Utah and was scheduled to complete three weeks of filming interior scenes in Los Angeles, California on a sound stage. Parts of the film were also shot in Gallup, New Mexico.[2] There is a scene shot at Mesa Verde National Park in Montezuma County, Colorado. Filming was only 80% finished before Phoenix's death on October 31, 1993. Production halted while insurers and financiers tried to determine if the movie could be completed, but with important scenes still needing to be shot, the film was abandoned on November 18 of that same year.[3] For the 2012 release, roughly four to six missing scenes were replaced with Sluizer providing narration.

It was revealed in October 2011 that director George Sluizer had held onto the footage, fearing it would be destroyed, and that he had reedited the material and believed that with some adjustments a completed film could be released in 2012.[4] In 1999 the insurance company that owned the negatives wanted to stop paying storage costs, so they considered having the film destroyed. Sluizer entered the storage area holding the negative and removed the negative.[5] It was speculated that Sluizer would ask Phoenix's younger brother Joaquin Phoenix to dub River's voice. The Phoenix family made it clear that they would not participate in the project, saying in a statement, "In regard to releasing River's last film, Joaquin Phoenix and his family have not been in communication with the director nor will they participate in any way.”[4]

On May 18, 2012, a trailer for the film and an interview with Sluizer were released on YouTube.[6][7] The film premiered to an invited audience on September 27, 2012, at the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands.[8] It had its international premiere out of competition at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.[9]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received four positive reviews and one negative one, for a score of 80%, with an average rating of 6/10.[10]

Geoffrey Macnab from The Guardian gave the film 3 out of 5 stars, stating that "Dark Blood is fragmentary, uneven and downright odd in parts but it also has huge curiosity value. The director's solution for bridging the considerable gaps is to read out descriptions of what is missing. It's a simple but surprisingly effective tactic. His narration ensures that the film is just about coherent."[11] Ard Vijn from Twitch says the movie is "almost polished enough to be regarded as a finished film. Almost. The images, music and actors definitely make watching it a worthwhile exercise."[12]


  1. ^ "Dark Blood – Dutch Film Festival". September 2012. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
  2. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  3. ^ Rebecca Ascher-Walsh (December 17, 1993). "Must the Show Go On?". Web. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Fleming, Mike (October 20, 2011). "River Phoenix's Family Wants Nothing To Do With Re-Release Of Unseen Film 'Dark Blood'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  5. ^ http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/river-phoenix-final-film-finished-19-years-article-1.1195633
  6. ^ "Dark Blood trailer – River Phoenix at CineCrowd.com". YouTube. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
  7. ^ "George Sluizer on Dark Blood – CineCrowd.com". YouTube. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
  8. ^ Roxborough, Scott (August 1, 2012). "River Phoenix's Last Film 'Dark Blood' to Debut at Film Festival in September". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  9. ^ "Berlinale 2013: Competition Now Complete". berlinale. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  10. ^ "Dark Blood". rottentomatoes.com. 3 January 1993.
  11. ^ Geoffrey Macnab (October 1, 2012). "Dark Blood – first look review". Web. The Guardian. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
  12. ^ Ard Vijn (October 3, 2012). "Review: George Sluizer's Unfinished River Phoenix Film, DARK BLOOD". Web. Twitch. Retrieved October 14, 2012.

External links

  • Official website
  • Dark Blood on IMDb
  • BBC article 8 October 2012 on the film
  • Raw footage of River Phoenix in Dark Blood on YouTube
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