WWhen AA Milne first came up with the Winnie-the-Pooh character, he probably never imagined that the adorable bear slit the throats of four East Sussex lorry drivers. It’s also unlikely he ever imagined a scenario where Piglet would bludgeon someone to death with a sledgehammer in a swimming pool. However, these are things that actually happen Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honeythe small-budget slasher movie that reimagines the creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood as cannibalistic freaks.
If that concept sounds completely ridiculous, that’s because it is. From Pooh’s design to the captivating shabby script and performances, this movie really produces more laughs than your average comedy. But according to writer-director Rhys Frake-Waterfield, it’s meant to be. He points to a scene where Pooh throws a decapitated head at a car, after which it is wiped out by the windshield wipers. “That should be funny and stupid,” he laughs, downplaying the many negative reviews that are just as (if not more brutal) than some of the deaths in his movie.
Released last week in select cinemas ahead of a VOD release on Monday, Blood and Honey has been universally butchered by critics. The Telegraph described it as “the most idiotic movie” the publication is likely to cover this year, while The protector compared the experience of watching it to swallowing arsenic-infused honey. Other reviews were equally scathing about the directing, writing, and acting. However, Frake-Waterfield says he’s not taking any of it to heart. Calling via Zoom from his home in London, he actually seems to be giggling at the whole situation. He insists he never took himself or his film too seriously, but it’s hard not to suspect he’s a little annoyed by some of the things being said.
“It’s so stupid,” he says. “When I read some of the reviews, they said, ‘Like this happens or that happens’. [or] “It was so stupid for her to make that decision.” But that’s the fun of it! In horror movies, people sometimes make stupid decisions. Characters run away from the bad guy and suddenly stumble for no reason. I deliberately tried to introduce those kinds of elements into the film.” He refers to a scene where a woman sits in a Jacuzzi, clocks a deformed Pooh and Piglet in the background of one of her selfies, then inexplicably goes right back to relaxing. “I thought it would just be funny,” he laughs.
It’s hard to judge which bits of the film are intentionally funny, and which bits are so bad that they become hysterical anyway. For example, the aforementioned East Sussex lorry drivers speak with an inexplicable mix of South American and Cockney accents. In another alarmingly amusing moment, Pooh and Piglet use blood to scribble “go away” on a window, leading another character to astutely suggest that the killers “probably wrote that”.
Again, Frake-Waterfield insists this was all part of the fun. With a cheeky glint in his eye, he says, “Cult classics like this, sometimes they just don’t take themselves too seriously, and that’s what I really wanted to do with this. I wanted it to be a film that, if you watch it with a large audience, everyone embraces the camp.”
Blood and Honey became a possibility at the start of 2022, when the copyright on Milne’s 1926 Winnie-the-Pooh debut expired, meaning absolutely anyone could swoop in and play with the material. Frake-Waterfield – a former EDF Energy employee who only got into the movie business two years ago – was looking for a horror concept at the time and when he noticed this particular intellectual property was up for grabs, he jumped at the opportunity like a wild beast.
His idea for the film’s plot was new. An adult Christopher Robin, who left for college years ago, returns to the Hundred Acre Wood. There he discovers that his once-domesticated friends, Pooh and Piglet, have turned into bloodthirsty killers after being abandoned by him. They now torture, slaughter and eat anyone who crosses their path – but especially women. (Understandably, one of the film’s common criticisms was that it revels in violent misogyny — and since Pooh unnecessarily rips off a victim’s top before feeding her into a wood chipper, it’s hard to disagree.)
With a budget of just £20,000, Frake-Waterfield knew his film wouldn’t be next Halloween kills or The Texas Chainsaw massacre — two titles he cites as major influences. He also had no free reign, with only specific elements of Milne’s original book that could be used and abused – Disney’s later interpretation of Milne’s work was not. That meant Pooh’s signature red shirt, his voice, the “Oh, trouble” catchphrase, and even the Tigger character — who wasn’t introduced until 1928 by Milne — were all off the table.
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Frake-Waterfield then had to come up with an entirely new look for Pooh, who, given that the film was operating on a virtually non-existent budget, ended up being a heavyset man (actor Craig David Dowsett) in an immobile rubber mask and Marigold gloves. A 2ft VFX bear was initially considered, but budget and time constraints, as well as concerns about the character’s physicality, eventually forced the film in a different direction.
Frake-Waterfield knew that those restrictions would drastically affect the quality of the film, but also that critics would not take them into account. “They’re going to expect a multimillion-pound film,” he says. “Something the size of Cocaine Bearis £30 million [budget]. Horror is not really a genre that they rate highly anyway. There are certain kinds of expectations and tropes that you have to lean against in horror and they often just don’t like that. So not only do we have the genre against us, we also have the budget and everything else against us. You must have super thick skin for this. When some [critics] try to be mean, you just have to ignore them.
Anyway, the cheaper anthropomorphic designs for Pooh and Piglet opened up more gruesome and silly possibilities. With hands and thumbs they could now hold things like machetes and chains and sledgehammers. In one scene, Pooh even gets behind the wheel of a car and slowly runs over the head of one of his helpless victims, making it pop out like a particularly juicy grape. “I hope no critic thinks I’m dead serious when I let Pooh drive a car,” laughs Frake-Waterfield. “There are a lot of moments in the film where, hopefully, [people] realize that I am not deadly serious.”
But it’s not just the critics he’s had to deal with. When stills from the movie went viral last year, horror fans were instantly divided. While many were excited by the sight of an axe-wielding half-man, half-bear, others were outraged. Petitions sprang up against the film’s release, and Frake-Waterfield received death threats almost daily. He still does. One person, whose fond childhood memories of Winnie-the-Pooh were supposedly tainted, wrote to him: “Son of a bitch. I’m going to kill you, you dirty sack of shit!”
However, the combined discourse served as a free form of marketing. The film has since been shown in cinemas around the world and is currently on track to take a record $6 million (£4.9 million) at the global box office, easily making it one of the highest-grossing films of all time. the year will be. For that reason, a sequel with a larger budget (actually 10 times larger) has already been put into production. Frake-Waterfield will also be working on further reinventions of classic IP, including Bambi: The reckoning And Peter Pan’s Neverland Nightmare.
Regardless of what critics think, Frake-Waterfield believes the buzz surrounding his movie and subsequent success at the box office shows that his faith in the project was justified. “I was thrilled to see this concept that I believed in have this level of expansion in the market and this viral nature,” he says. And could this be the future of low-budget filmmaking? Transform strange, copyright-free IP into grungy horror and then watch as it generates Twitter chatter and ticket sales? Maybe. It’s also hard to know how to feel about it. On the one hand, it’s cynical and depressing. On the other hand, it’s kind of hilarious. But if there’s anyone who really laughs, it’s the guy who just made a million-dollar success thanks to a Halloween mask and a pair of dishwashing gloves.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is available to rent and purchase from March 20