If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise… especially if you bump into Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. The depressive bear and his perky sidekick – originally created by author AA Milne and illustrator EH Shepard in 1927 and further popularised by animated Disney adaptations since 1961 – have undergone a gruesome makeover. In the thrifty new horror movie Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, the beloved duo have been reimagined as terrifying serial killers with slightly wonky masks. They work out their abandonment issues in various wince-inducing ways when a grown-up Christopher Robin belatedly returns to Hundred Acre Wood with his stressed wife and some other imminent victims in tow.
The idea of a hulking, mute Pooh tipping some poor woman into a woodchipper sounds like a sick joke, and by all accounts this wilfully transgressive B-movie goes for the full shlock-and-eurgh approach with gallons of blood, buckets of gore and the occasional popped eyeball thrown in for good measure. The incongruity of turning childhood favourites Winnie the Pooh and Piglet into nightmarish monsters is all part of the transgressive fun, and whether you enjoy cheap slasher flicks or not, some respect is due to young writer/director Rhys Frake-Waterfield.
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The Essex-based film-maker – who cut his teeth producing lurid straight-to-video movies called things like Croc! and Dinosaur Hotel – had the foresight to realise that the original Winnie the Pooh stories entered public domain in 2022, granting him the freedom to do whatever he wanted with globally recognised characters. That he chose to have a menacingly tusked Piglet pour honey on someone’s face before eating it might not exactly chime with Milne’s original vision of a roly-poly teddy bear bumbling around in bucolic woodland but from a legal standpoint, Frake-Waterfield is free and clear. That audacity appears to have paid off handsomely. Even before its UK release, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey has made over £2 million at the global box office from a reported budget of around £80,000. That nudges it into the same lucrative bracket as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity: buzz-driven horror films made for buttons that banked serious moolah. Unsurprisingly, Frake-Waterfield has been talking up a Blood and Honey sequel and pitching twisted new takes on similarly copyright-free works like the original Bambi and Peter Pan stories.
You might think Disney – who did so much to solidify the Pooh shtick we all love – would have something to say about all this. But having previously lobbied US legislators to extend copyright laws, the mega media-corp now seems to have accepted that it cannot maintain a stranglehold on its intellectual property forever. It seems like fair turnabout, especially since Disney has a long history of leveraging public domain works to make hits like Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. (Also Snow White, although admittedly Disney punched up the Grimm tale by adding cool names for the dwarves.) The company’s recent pivot to live-action remakes of its animated film library might feel like an attempt to cling on to copyright protection but basically once 95 years have elapsed pretty much everything is up for grabs.
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So will the notoriety of Blood and Honey inspire other filmmakers to exploit works that have recently become public domain? Frake-Waterfield may have verbally bagsied Bambi but there are other options out there. Teen sleuths the Hardy Boys might not have quite the same brand recognition but if you wanted to turn Frank and Joe into fraternal thrill-killers no-one can stop you. Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi benchmark Metropolis also became public domain this year, which might explain why Apple TV+ have announced a flashy reboot. Songs are also fair game so now is the perfect time to pitch a slushy slasher movie based on the 1920s novelty hit I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice-Cream. (Tagline: “Cold as ice and willing to sacrifice …”)