Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 18
October 31, 1993
River's End

In a macabre twist, the 23-year-old actor River Phoenix died early on Halloween 1993 at 1:51 a.m. from a drug overdose at Los Angeles’ Viper Club. Phoenix had been there with friends on October 30, and was set to go on stage with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Beforehand he made a detour to the men’s room where he snorted a line of Persian Brown, a form of meth mixed with various opiates. Within minutes, Phoenix started to feel sick, staggered out of the club, and passed out in convulsions on the sidewalk. Even though his brother called 911 immediately, paramedics on the scene could not revive him. At the time of his death, Phoenix was considered one of the most promising actors of his generation. Having grown up in a transient hippie family, he was discovered early on for his musical ability, but soon parlayed that into an acting career, starring in the 1985 space adventure Explorers at the age of 15 (with an equally unknown Ethan Hawke). Soon Phoenix was proving his youthful range in a series of features from the coming-of-age yarn Stand by Me to the spy thriller Little Nikita and finally to Gus Van Sant’s Shakespeare-inflected hustler drama My Own Private Idaho. Famous in life, Phoenix gained even more notoriety in death, as his drug overdose was held up as tragic reminder of celebrity drug culture gone horribly wrong. Viper Room owner Johnny Depp was so crushed by the event that he closed the club every Halloween up until he sold his share in 2004.


More Flashbacks
Dec. 18, 1958
Boris Karloff's nephews found murdered

On December 18, 1958, Boris Karloff was struck by a personal tragedy more horrible than any event depicted in one of his movies when his two great-nephews were discovered with their throats slit.

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December 18, 1966
Antonioni’s Blowup Defines Cool

In New York, crowds of hip cinephiles lined up to see Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language film Blowup. The Italian director had already risen to the top of everyone’s must-see list with movies like L'avventura and L’eclisse. But in Blowup, Antonioni took hipness to a whole new level. The script, based on a short story by Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar (who gets a walk on role in the film as a homeless man), involves a callous fashion photographer (David Hemmings) who believes he may have photographed a murder by accident, but finds he can’t prove it one way or other. While Blowup’s existential murder mystery was indeed compelling, it was its backdrop of swinging mod London that captured the most attention. Many felt the main character was modeled on the real-life jet-setting photographer David Bailey, and actual models Jane Birkin and Veruschka wander in and out the film’s world. At the party scene, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page of The Yardbirds play on stage (as themselves), and local personalities like Michael Palin (later of Monty Python) pop up in the crowd. The whole mishmash captured the London scene like nothing else had. Andrew Sarris called the movie "a mod masterpiece.” Playboy’s Arthur Knight went further by suggesting that in the future Blowup will be as “as important and germinal a film as Citizen Kane, Open City and Hiroshima, Mon Amour – perhaps even more so."

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