“I think something’s wrong with Piglet! He just killed my wife!”
In two sentences, Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon) manages to silence anyone who complains that we don’t produce iconic movie quotes anymore while pretty much summarizing everything that’s worth knowing about “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.” It’s Pooh and Piglet, but they’re evil.
We all know the story of Christopher Robin and his anthropomorphic animal friends who play in the Hundred Acre Wood. But A.A. Milne’s beloved children’s books never address what happens after Christopher inevitably grows up. Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s microbudget slasher flick attempts to fill that gap in the mythology, complete with an animated opening sequence revealing that Pooh and Piglet began starving to death after Christopher left for medical school and eventually made the decision to kill and eat Eeyore to stay alive.
But it’s very hard to commit just one murder, and Pooh (Craig David Dowsett) and Piglet (Chris Cordell) have gradually turned into cold-blooded killers who take their feelings of abandonment out on any humans unlucky enough to visit the Hundred Acre Wood. When a grown-up Christopher Robin brings his new wife back to meet his childhood friends, Pooh and Piglet will stop at nothing to deliver him a painful death. Even if that means killing the five young women vacationing at a cabin in the woods who happen to be in their way.
“Blood and Honey” feels like a throwback to a simpler era of filmmaking. Not an era where movies were better — because it’s not particularly good — but a time when a film could be produced, marketed, and turn a profit just by promising audiences an image they hadn’t seen before. In the same way old women-in-prison movies would blatantly advertise a nude shower scene and knockoff slasher flicks would list the types of dismemberment that they showed on their posters, “Blood and Honey” makes no attempt to hide its simple value proposition. You’re paying to see Winnie the Pooh and Piglet brutally murder a bunch of people, story be damned!
The benefit of setting a low bar is that it’s easy to clear, and nobody can accuse “Blood and Honey” of not delivering on those promises. The film punches above its weight on craftsmanship, with decadently gory strangulations and decapitations that could have been ripped from a much more expensive production. (Also, it would be journalistic malpractice not to report that blood and honey are hardly the only two of Pooh’s bodily fluids that we’re forced to look at. Don’t say you weren’t warned.) The trade-off is that the script makes an enormous amount of what can charitably be described as “narrative compromises” to make all of the violence fit into a world that feels remotely coherent.
We’re told early on that Pooh and Piglet became killers because they were starving after Christopher Robin stopped sneaking them food from his kitchen — fair enough, we all gotta eat — but that doesn’t explain why they would go through all the trouble of equipping their forest hideaway with a series of complicated torture devices, let alone where they would have acquired the skills and materials to do so. Pooh’s ability to drive cars is equally puzzling, even if it results in some splendidly gory kills.
All of these little plot holes — combined with the fact that Pooh and Piglet have the bodies of grown men who never even attempt to mimic animal mannerisms — add to the sensation that this is just a generic slasher movie with Pooh masks slapped on it. Frake-Waterfield seems determined to shock audiences, yet the lack of effort is considerably more offensive than the blasphemy. But while he missed the opportunity to really maximize the horror potential of the “Winnie the Pooh” franchise, the beauty of public domain is that anyone else is now welcome to give it a try!
For decades, media critics ranging from libertarians who like free speech to socialists who like public ownership have lamented the way American copyright laws allow Disney to retain an iron grip on stories that are deeply embedded in our culture. Critics allege that Disney’s legislative maneuvering has allowed the company to control modern fairy tales like “Winnie the Pooh” for far longer than should have ever been permissible, turning stories that exist in our shared consciousness into private property.
It’s a serious debate that’s only going to get more heated, as populist sentiment on both the political right and left in America all but ensures that Disney will end up in everyone’s crosshairs at some point. But regardless of how things play out politically, it’s highly amusing that something as deliberately imbecilic as “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” is destined to become a major event in public domain history. Every rumpled media studies professor is going to have to familiarize themselves with a movie where Pooh uses Eeyore’s severed tail to whip a shirtless Christopher Robin like a dominatrix.
The absurdity of the situation isn’t lost on the film’s production team. Addressing the audience at the Regal LA Live in Los Angeles at Wednesday’s one-night-only screening, the film’s cinematographer and associate producer Vince Knight found himself in the rare position of trying to tamp down the hype surrounding his film. “Don’t expect too much,” he said with a laugh. “We spent a lot of time working on it but not a lot of time shooting it. It’s … you can have a lot of fun with it.”
Reasonable people can disagree about his use of the term “a lot,” but there’s definitely fun to be had. It remains to be seen if the “Disney characters, but scary” genre has any staying power beyond the initial novelty factor, but Frake-Waterfield and his team are certainly betting on it.
A sequel to “Blood and Honey” is already in the works (which Knight teased could include Tigger, who didn’t enter the public domain in time to make the first film), and they’re also developing horror takes on “Bambi” and “Peter Pan.” Some might view that as a business decision akin to liquidizing your assets to invest in bell bottom jean manufacturing in 1967, but the viral response to “Blood and Honey” suggests they’re off to a good start.
Maybe after a century of Disney-fication, fans are ready to see their favorite childhood characters get a little freaky. And even if they’re wrong, it’s not like cinephiles who like to watch bears misbehaving have anything to complain about. After all, “Cocaine Bear” is just a week away.
Fathom Events released “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” in theaters for one night on Wednesday, February 15. The film’s producers are seeking a wider theatrical release before it hits VOD this spring.
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