The mad genius behind the Winnie the Pooh slasher movie
When AA Milne first created the character of Winnie-the-Pooh, he probably never expected the lovable bear to slit the throats of four East Sussex truck 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 in Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honeythe micro-budget slasher film that reimagines the creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood as cannibalistic freaks.
If this concept sounds completely ridiculous, that’s because it is. From the design of Pooh to the intriguing script and performances, this movie truly gets 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, only to have it swept away by the windshield wipers. “This is supposed to be funny and silly,” he laughs, downplaying the barrage of negative reviews that are just as (if not more brutal) than some of the deaths in his film.
Released in select theaters last week ahead of a VOD release on Monday, blood and honey was universally slaughtered by critics. The Telegraph described it as “the most cretinous movie” the release is likely to cover this year, while The guard compared the experience of seeing it to swallowing honey with arsenic. Other reviews have been similarly scathing in terms of direction, writing and acting. However, Frake-Waterfield says he takes none 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’s never taken himself or his film too seriously – but it’s hard not to guess that he’s a bit annoyed by some of the things that are being said.
“It’s so stupid,” he says. “When I read some of the reviews, they say, ‘Like this or that is happening.’ [or] “It was so stupid that she made that decision.” But that’s the fun part! In horror movies, people sometimes make stupid decisions. Characters run away from the villain and suddenly trip over it for no reason. I consciously tried to bring elements like that into the film.” He’s referring to a scene where a woman sits in a hot tub, sees a deformed pooh and a piglet in the background of one of her selfies, and then inexplicably relaxes right back. “I just thought it would be funny,” he laughs.
It’s hard to gauge which parts of the movie are meant to be funny on purpose and which parts are just so bad they get hysterical anyway. For example, the East Sussex truck drivers mentioned above speak with an inexplicable mix of South American and Cockney accents. In another alarmingly horrific, comical moment, Pooh and Piglet scribble “Out” in blood on a window, prompting another character astutely to point out that the killers “probably wrote that.”
Again, Frake-Waterfield insists it was all part of the fun. With a cheeky twinkle in his eye, he says, “Classic cult films like this sometimes just don’t take themselves too seriously, and I really wanted to do that with this film. I wanted it to be a film where everyone hugs the camp when you see it in front of a big audience.”
When some critics try to be mean, you just have to ignore them
blood and honey became possible in early 2022 when Milne’s 1926 Winnie the Pooh debut copyright expired, meaning absolutely anyone could hop in and play around with the material. Frake-Waterfield – a former EDF Energy employee who only got into the film business two years ago – was looking for a horror concept at the time, and when he realized that this particular intellectual property was available he jumped at the opportunity like a wild animal .
His idea for the plot of the film was novel. After leaving college years ago, an adult Christopher Robin returns to the Hundred Acre Wood. There he discovers that his once domesticated friends Pooh and Piglet have turned into bloodthirsty killers after he abandoned them. They now torture, butcher and eat anyone who crosses their path – but mostly women. (Understandably, one of the most common criticisms of the film was that it indulged in violent misogyny — and considering Pooh unnecessarily stripping 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 names as main influences. He also didn’t have a free hand, as only certain elements of Milne’s original book 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 catchphrase “Oh, bothers” and even the character Tigger – whom Milne didn’t introduce until 1928 – were all off the table.
Frake-Waterfield then had to conjure up an entirely new look for Pooh, who, considering the film was running on an essentially non-existent budget, ended up being a heavily built man (actor Craig David Dowsett) with a motionless rubber mask Marigold- Gloves. A 2-foot VFX bear was originally considered, but budget and time constraints, as well as concerns about the character’s physicality, ultimately forced the film in a different direction.
Frake-Waterfield knew that these limitations would drastically affect the film’s quality, but also that it would not be taken into account by critics. “They’re expecting a multi-million pound film,” he says. “Something the size of cocaine bear30 million pounds [budget]. Horror isn’t a genre they rate well anyway. There are certain kinds of expectations and tropes that one has to lean into with horror, and often they just don’t like it. So not only do we have the genre against us, we also have the budget and everything else against us. You have to have a thick skin for that. If some [critics] Try to be mean, you just have to ignore them.”
In any case, the cheaper anthropomorphic designs for Pooh and Piglet opened up more cruel and silly possibilities. They could now hold things like machetes and chains and sledgehammers with their hands and thumbs. In one scene, Pooh even gets behind the wheel of a car and slowly drives over the head of one of his helpless victims, popping him like a particularly juicy grape. “I hope no critic thinks I’m dead serious about Pooh driving a car,” laughs Frake-Waterfield. “There are many moments in the film where hopefully [people] realize I’m not dead serious.”
But he doesn’t just have to contend with critics. When stills from the film went viral last year, horror fans were immediately divided. While many were thrilled at the mere sight of an axe-wielding half-human half-bear, others were outraged. There were petitions 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 probably tainted wrote him: “You son of a bitch. I’ll kill you, you scumbag!”
However, the combined discourse served as a free form of marketing. The film has since been released in cinemas around the world and is currently on track to gross US$6 million (£4.9 million) at the global box office, making it easily one of the highest-grossing films of the year makes. Because of this, a larger-budget sequel (ten times larger, in fact) has already been put into production. Frake-Waterfield will also work on other reinterpretations of the classic intellectual property, including Bambi: The reckoning And Peter Pan’s Neverland Nightmare.
Regardless of what critics think, Frake-Waterfield believes his film’s buzz and subsequent box office success show his faith in the project was justified. “I loved seeing that this concept, which I believed in, had this level of market expansion and viral nature,” he says. And could this be the future of low-budget filmmaking? Turning quaint, copyright-free intellectual property into sleazy horror and then watching it generate Twitter chatter and ticket sales? Perhaps. It’s also difficult to know how it makes you feel. On the one hand, it’s cynical and depressing. On the other hand, it’s kind of weird. But if anyone’s really laughing, it’s the guy who just made a million-dollar hit thanks to a Halloween mask and a pair of washing-up gloves.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey will be available to rent and buy starting March 20th