After only five months of Winnie The Pooh’s lapse into the public domain, a man had both made an entire horror film from the character, and begun that film’s release strategy. That man is UK filmmaker Rhys Frake-Waterfield, who until recently worked for an electricity supplier while making micro-budget horror films on the side. Now, on the back of his directorial debut, Waterfield is responsible for what may turn to be one of this year’s most profitable film releases. Originally intended as a streaming release with a single-day theatrical showing in the US, now, on the back of its poster and trailer’s unexpected online virality, the film is being rolled out in cinemas across the world. In Mexico, where the film received its global premiere on 29 January, the film went to number 4 at the box office in its first week, taking in a reported $700,000. (Waterfield hasn’t disclosed the film’s specific budget, though indicated in a recent interview with Variety that it was made on less than $100,000). Those are good omens for this week’s release in the US, where it is screening in more than 1,500 theatres.
The genesis of a bizarre idea
Alongside Scott Jeffrey, a frequent collaborator as well as the film’s producer, Waterfield had been “trying to come up with ideas that hadn’t been done before”, something “extremely different and strange”, he tells BBC Culture. “What fairytales and monsters are there that we can twist in a different direction? Or change something that was never a monster into a monster? That sounded really interesting and cool.”.
As soon as Waterfield realised that Pooh had lapsed into the public domain in the US, he began racking his brain for ideas.
Waterfield had also noticed a surfeit of over-serious horror films in the current landscape; elevated horror, like The Babadook or Men which deployed “metaphors” as their bogeymen – films that, as The Guardian’s AA Dowd wrote last year, “strive, loudly and unsubtly, to be about something scarier than a sharp knife or sharp fangs, something real and important”. Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, on the other hand, strives to be nothing but a slasher film starring Winnie The Pooh and a couple of friends. The film, which is reliant on well-trodden slasher tropes throughout (think: an invincible villain on an unbending vendetta; attractive women in bikinis coming to an unfortunate end) won’t exactly move the genre forward, though it’s good, simple, bloody fun all the same.
Waterfield’s first issue: how to make Winnie The Pooh scary? “Then, I very quickly got the idea that the film’s main theme would be abandonment,” Waterfield says. Blood and Honey opens with a now-adult Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred Acre Wood, many years after departing it for college. There, he finds his once domesticated friends Winnie the Pooh and Piglet turned feral; scavenging for flesh, blood and drool hanging from their muzzles, ready to go on a killing spree, and ultimately wreak revenge upon Robin for abandoning them all those years ago.