“I loved Winnie the Pooh as a kid!” exclaims Rhys Frake-Waterfield. “I think everybody does.” Indeed, most people would agree with that statement about the guileless toy bear who embarked on imaginary adventures with his fellow plush animals and human pal Christopher Robin.
But then again, not everybody is making their feature film debut with Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey. The movie stars Craig David Dowsett and Chris Cordell as Pooh and Piglet, who are now all grown up and bent on revenge against Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon) after he left them to starve in the Hundred Acre Wood. Fueled with a hatred of all things human, the duo go on a murder spree that terrorizes a group of teens (played by Maria Taylor, Natasha Rose Mills, Amber Doig-Thorne, among others) who foolishly decide to party and the Wood.
Of course everyone has the same question when they hear about Frake-Waterfield’s movie: How can you get away with this?! The answer comes down to a quirk of copyright law. The Walt Disney Company still owns the rights to their depiction of Pooh Bear, including the now iconic image of the cuddly fellow in a red shirt sans pants (hence Blood and Honey’s fully clothed Pooh). However, the character himself was created in 1926 in the children’s book, Winnie-the-Pooh, which is in the public domain as of Jan. 1, 2022.
Written by A. A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepherd, Winnie-the-Pooh introduced the world to the Hundred Acre Wood where young Christopher Robin sees his stuffed toys come to life. That first book found Christopher Robin playing with Pooh, Piglet, Owl, and Eyore (crucially, Tigger did not come along until 1928’s The House at Pooh Corner). So when the original book entered the public domain, it became legal for anyone to reprint Winnie-the-Pooh or use elements as they see fit. However, only those elements from the 1926 book are fair game. That means that creatives like Frake-Waterfield cannot use Tigger, nor can he give Pooh the signature red shirt he’s been donning since businessman Stephen Slesinger redesigned the character in 1933. Those aspects are still the property of Disney.
Although Frake-Waterfield insists he holds no animosity towards the House of Mouse—“They’re amazing at what they do,” he declares)—his take has nothing to do with them.
“My Pooh is a massively different type of character,” Frake-Waterfield explains. “He’s over six-foot tall; he’s a half-man/half-bear hybrid; he wears pants, which I was very insistent upon when we were going around the set.” That should come as good news for those offended by the very idea of a killer Winnie-the-Pooh. The character in Blood and Honey in no way replaces the stories told by Milne and Shepherd, nor those from Disney. “They’re still there,” the director reminds fans. “This is an alternative story, unlike any other concept.”
That emphasis on telling his own story meant that Frake-Waterfield didn’t really worry about stepping on Disney IP while making Bloody and Honey. “It’s not really that limiting, to be honest,” the director admits. “He’s a completely different type of character.” To be sure, the director and his team did occasionally double-check to make sure they were drawing solely from the 1926 book. Nonetheless, the filmmaker insists he wouldn’t have used the elements he was legally prohibited from, anyway.
“The red shirt, saying ‘Oh bother,’ Tigger, the tone of voice—none of that is in my movie!,” the director boasts.
Of course Pooh’s history was a big part of the appeal for Frake-Waterfield, as the clash of gentle children’s character and heartless killer made for an irresistible idea: “For me, concept and hook drive everything memorable in the story.” That’s especially true for a slasher story, where the variation comes in the form of who is doing the killing. So when he discovered that Winnie-the-Pooh had entered the public domain, Frake-Waterfield saw his chance.
“This is amazing!” he recalls thinking barely a year ago. Instead of simply producing the movie, as he has often done, Frake-Waterfield decided he needed to take full control of the camera. “This is my one,” he told his producing partner at the time.
It’s hard to think of a better time for Frake-Waterfield to make his directing debut. Since news of the film hit the internet in 2022, it’s become a viral hit, earning both shock and excitement from fans. Despite working from a budget of less than $100,000, Blood and Honey has made the fast-track from direct-to-streaming to wide theatrical release. Although the movie doesn’t open in the U.S. until this week, the response has already been tremendous. Having only premiered in Mexico (on Jan. 26) as of press time, the movie’s already earned $1,001,644.
Just one year ago, such a response would have been a great surprise. But this one is releasing after the ultra-gory Terrifier 2 was a box office hit, which apparently spelled good news for Blood and Honey. For Frake-Waterfield, it’s easy to see why these movies have had such a great response. Where so-called “elevated horror movies” like Midsommar and Get Out have been dominating the conversation, those who want something a bit more trashy have been left behind. As much as he respects that “elevated” approach to horror, it doesn’t excite his slasher-loving heart
“I want to see Michael Myers destroying and killing!” Frake-Waterfield says, referring to the more artsy take in Halloween Ends.
Terrifier 2 and Blood and Honey are “filling a niche,” according to Frake-Waterfield. “They’re opening up possibilities. Giving directors a chance to say, ‘Maybe I’m going to take this in another route.’”
For the time being, the director intends to keep following the route of nasty fairytale creatures, and getting a bigger budget to help him do it. With this money, he’ll get to “open up the world in exciting ways.” In particular, the director promises a movie “more creative and exciting,” with “cool masks, more characters, bloodier kills.”
But why stop there? The director already plans to take in “all the feedback and critique” to make his next movies even more effective. In fact, he’s already announced movies about Bambi and Peter Pan. What comes after that remains to be seen. But whatever childhood favorite Frake-Waterfield sends down a dark path, he wants you to know he’s doing it out of love.