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Blood and Honey Director on His Winnie-the-Pooh Horror Movie

Feb 19, 2023


The horror genre has always mined nightmares from innocence, taking childhood imagery like dolls and clowns and turning them into disturbing villains. As far back as 1932, when Tod Browning transformed the circus and carnivals into the haunting discomfort of Freaks, horror films have feasted upon childlike joys and regurgitated them as menacing monstrosities. This trend has gotten much more specific as of late, with distinct characters and intellectual property being downright transmogrified into gleefully sick horror films.

Call it a cinema of the public domain, if you will, or ‘copyright horror’ — whatever it is, it seems to have sparked great interest. There has been The Mean One (which uses parody law to turn The Grinch character into a horror villain), Arthur, malédiction (which is a spin-off of Luc Besson’s fantasy stories for children), and The Banana Splits Movie (taking the ’60s Hanna-Barbera show into morbid new territory). One film, though, has generated more hype than all of these combined — Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.
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For whatever cultural reason, Blood and Honey has become a viral sensation, becoming the second-most anticipated film of 2023 on IMDb and garnering nearly eight million views for its trailer. It’s an interesting, gory twist on the usual nostalgia craze, turning Pooh and Piglet into hulking slasher killers after Christopher Robin abandoned them. Rhys Frake-Waterfield, the film’s writer, director, and co-producer, spoke with MovieWeb about Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, copyright horror, and nostalgia.

Rhys Frake-Waterfield and the Horrors of Copyright

Waterfield is quickly becoming the Roger Corman of our day, with an even heavier emphasis on horror. Like Corman, he’s a relentlessly prolific producer (he and his team have released 23 movies in the past two years, with a dozen more on their way in the next year or so), and similarly revels in schlocky, delightfully camp subjects (titles include Dinosaur Hotel, Easter Killing, Firenado, Pterodactyl, and the exclamatory monosyllable Croc!).

Waterfield hit a nerve with Blood and Honey, though. A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh property from the 1920s is in the public domain, meaning that there are no copyright or licensing fees. Waterfield, with his zest for horror, couldn’t resist transforming the childhood characters into nightmarish murderers hunting down a group of pretty college students, but he had to stay close to Milne’s original creation, not the later Disney variations on the Pooh property.

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“I made a choice when I was directing this, that I would not look at any Disney material,” explained Waterfield. “So I got the book, that 1926 book, and I worked off of that. I just wanted to forget everything else I’ve ever remember of them, any material Disney has ever done, any of those films, because I didn’t want to get subtly influenced, even like subconsciously, into a certain direction […] I was doing something for the first time, and people haven’t really done this, so we needed to basically play it safe and just be sure that the ideas I was coming up with were kind of original relative to that book.”

In a sense, Blood and Honey is a sort of testing ground to see if copyright horror can succeed (especially without any litigation). If this works, a bigger-budgeted sequel is possible, and Waterfield is also working on Bambi and Peter Pan horror films.

The Abandonment of Winnie the Pooh

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Again, though, it all mostly hinges on Blood and Honey’s performance. It’s an interesting, morbid concept that blends childhood fantasy and gory slasher films to the point of entertaining excess. “I’d say there is definitely like a slasher, ’80s-ish vibe to it, and it’s meant to be a bit like a satire, and fun,” said Waterfield. He elaborated:

There’s a lot of grounded or elevated horror out there, and they’re very, very serious, and they don’t want to embrace the fantasy side of it. And this is like a complete contrast to that. Because you’re going into these concepts, like Winnie the Pooh, like The Mean One, like Terrifier, you’re going into it to have fun. Don’t go into it wanting a very deep, dramatic undertone with all of it. It’s just going to be fun. It’s going to be cool.

“Now, there is something underlying it all, and I don’t really talk about it too much, because I just want to embrace the fun side of it,” added Waterfield, “but the central kind of theme of the movie is going to be abandonment. I kind of likened Winnie the Pooh to a pet, and thought, if you had a pet, and you’re looking after it, loving it, nurturing it, it’s basically a wild animal which has been contained.”

Blood and Honey Finds Pooh Feral

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“Then one day,” continued Waterfield, “if you left, and you left it in the woods, or you abandoned it, it would completely change its mentality, and it will become something different. Because it’s necessary for it to do that to survive, and it will go back to its kind of animalistic, feral roots. And I thought it could be really interesting if one of these creatures have a bit more intelligence, and how it would kind of play between the emotions of love and hate, really.” He elaborated:

On one hand, it’s like, “You looked after me for X amount of years, we had this bond growing up. However, you did then just drop me, and put me in this situation where really horrible things have happened. And those horrible things have now created a lot of resentment and hatred.” And then you’ve got the two emotions kind of conflicting, which is why in the film, the only person he ever really struggles to kill is Christopher. He’s the only one who there’s a bit of back and forth with, because of those emotions, and I’ve created certain scenes where the film would dip into that.

Of course, entertainment and visceral horror fun is Waterfield’s go-to goal, though he may pursue these deeper themes of abandonment further depending on the response to the film. “Everything else is just meant to be kind of fun and silly,” clarified Waterfield.

Related: Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey Review: Childhood Favorites Become Subpar Slashers

“So yeah, there is a kind of deeper undertone with all of this, which I’m going to try and judge if people really liked from the first one and get everyone’s feedback and critique. And then once I’ve gotten that, I can start to really figure out what direction to take the second film, because I didn’t want to just jump into the second one. That’s my process with it, and if people really like those movements, and they really like the kind of deeper side of it and the more story-driven elements, the more dramatic moments in the film, then that will be something we’ll look to expand out.”

Blood and Honey in the Age of Nostalgia

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The response to Blood and Honey will say a lot to Waterfield and any filmmaker looking toward copyright horror. Regardless of how well it ultimately does at the box office, the film has passed the first test (recognition and anticipation) with bright and sky-high flying colors. Waterfield has some hypotheses as to why.

“I think there’s a nostalgic element of these old characters everyone loved when they were younger, growing up with them, and now seeing them as an adult in a completely different manner,” said Waterfield. “So that’s a really fun element. One of the big things is like the contrast of it. That’s what we’re trying to do — we’re always trying to look for films and concepts which make people basically go, ‘What the [expletive]? That sounds really interesting.’ Because you never expected, I never expected, Winnie the Pooh to turn into this. There’s a lot of potential for a lot of these characters. They’re very, very deep and involved, and they’re very interesting and quirky and strange.”

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The wheels in Waterfield’s mind are always spinning, and his experiments with copyright horror will certainly not end with Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, and Peter Pan if Blood and Honey does well, not to mention a disturbing twist on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “I really want to look at some of the other ones, and start to expand them out as well, even some of these other ones that are still kind of copyrighted. I’m going to start to try and find some now which are possible to license and just go that way,” explained Waterfield. He continued:

The public domain is really, really useful for very low-budget, for micro-budget options, because it’s a free resource. It’s a strong IP, it’s free, you can take it and then adapt it. These other licensed ones, they come at maybe quite a large cost, depending on what the concept is, but they are more recent, and they probably have more interest, and that opens up like another 70 years worth of concepts out there. And there’s some really strong ones.

Towards a Cinema of the Public Domain

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Technically, a cinema of the public domain doesn’t have to remain confined to the horror genre. Frankenstein could become a rom-com. The Art of War could be an experimental documentary. The Count of Monte Cristo could easily be an erotic thriller. Don Quixote as an indie comedy, The Prince as a political drama, a mumblecore Ivanhoe, Leaves of Grass as an LGBTQ+ western — the possibilities are endless. This cinema will have to thrive outside Waterfield’s productions, though, as the filmmaker is strictly interested in horror.

Related: Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey Director Plans to Bring Other Beloved Characters Into a ‘Twisted Alternative’ Cinematic Universe

“I almost exclusively watch horror, and it’s the genre I love. That’s kind of what my mindset’s always in. It’s like, what can I bring into this? What interesting things can I pull into this world?” asked Waterfield rhetorically. Some people may look on from the theatrical sidelines, aghast in disgust over what an iconic childhood character like Winnie the Pooh has been transformed into here, such as the people who signed the ‘Stop the Winnie the Pooh Horror Film’ petition on Change.org. However, no horror story (public domain or otherwise) is off limits for the filmmaker if he can bring something interesting to it. “There’s literally nothing,” said Waterfield, who had a message for anyone who considers Blood and Honey to be an ‘inappropriate’ use of beloved characters:

The view I have, for the people who were talking about this, is that you don’t have to watch the film if you don’t want to. Like, it doesn’t infiltrate your mind, it doesn’t get in there and break your memories. You’ve got to make an active choice to watch it, and then you’re making that choice to watch it because you want to see something different. You want to see an adult version, or it’s really fun, and you want to be entertained […] Everyone — do what you want.

In a way, this is the spirit of the public domain — it’s all available if you want it, and no one is excluded; it’s up to you what you’d like to do with it. Fortunately, if you want to see Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, it’s available in more than 1,500 theaters, which is quite a public domain indeed. From Altitude Film Distribution and produced by Jagged Edge Productions and ITN Studios, you can find the nearest tickets at Blood and Honey’s website here.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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