DarkBloodLionsgate has taken North American rights to the last film starring River Phoenix. Existential Western Dark Blood was originally shot in 1993 but had lingered in a rights quagmire from which director and co-writer George Sluizer had been trying to extricate the pic. Apparently that has been done, and Lionsgate is planning a VOD release after it screened in 2013 at the Berlin Film Festival and has made the fest rounds since then. Cinemavault sold the pic at Cannes.

dark bloodThe film has a storied history. About 80% of it was shot before Phoenix died of a drug overdose outside the Viper Room in West Hollywood. At the time, the unfinished product reverted to the film’s insurance company before Sluizer recovered it and sequestered it away. In Berlin, he explained that in 1999 he learned the footage was going to be destroyed and within two days was able to save it and take it back to Holland. Sluizer said the material “laid in my care for many years waiting for something to happen with it. I was making other films at the time and it was safe.” But when he learned he had a life-threatening aneurism in 2007, he decided, “Before I die I want to put Dark Blood together as best I can.” For the scenes that were not completed at the time of Phoenix’s death, Sluizer provides his own voice-over.

The pic tells the story of Boy (Phoenix), a young widower who retreats to the desert after his wife dies of radiation following nuclear tests near their home. He is waiting for the end of the world and carves Katchina dolls that supposedly contain magical powers when a married couple’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and Boy holds them prisoner because of his desire for the woman and his ambition to create a better world with her. Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce co-star.

The pic  is in theaters in Japan, and is scheduled to be released in Brazil, South Korea and Turkey.