Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey Director on Turning Children’s Stories Into Straight-Up Horror

Back in May of last year, we started hearing strange reports of a strange, underground production called Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey (now streaming exclusively on Peacock). A mere four months after the beloved literary character (created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard) had entered the public domain, filmmaker Rhys Frake-Waterfield was already deep into post-production on a slasher flick centered around Pooh and Piglet going on a murder spree in the Hundred Acre Wood.

“There’s loads of ideas out in the public domain, which you can use like The Little Mermaid and Cinderella … but they don’t all have the same X factor [where] you’re like, ‘That could be amazing and that could be done really, really well,'” the writer-director tells SYFY WIRE. “I felt like there was a lot of potential in Winnie.”

He was right. As soon as the first look images made their way online, “it just blew up,” Frake-Waterfield says, while citing Wrong Turn, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Strangers, and Halloween Kills as the biggest influences behind Blood and Honey. “It was getting posted everywhere and then I was like, ‘Ah, okay, we need to do some reshoots, and we need to make this amazing.’ So then we did reshoots [to the point where] we were happy with the film and now it’s just gone absolutely crazy.”

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The “micro-budget production” enjoyed a global rollout on 4,000 screens, netting just over $5 million at the box office. And when a movie lands in the black, that can only mean one thing — a sequel — which Frake-Waterfield assures us “was always” part of the plan.

“We instantly knew, ‘Okay, this is something which can now get established into a bit of a franchise,” he says. “So we need to just start preparing for Number 2. In the background, we’re thinking of different ideas and seeing what the people would want. I’m asking a lot of people that. I want to know what their feedback is from [the first movie]. What did they like? What didn’t they like? What do they want more of? What scenes would they be really excited for?”

The prospects of a sophomore slasher for Pooh were never in doubt, but there is a lingering question of who will direct it. Frake-Waterfield doesn’t want to commit to the sequel just yet, given the fact that his newfound representatives at Echo Lake Entertainment continue to set up meetings with producers and studios across Hollywood.

“There is a chance [of a] big project coming along that I’m right for,” muses the filmmaker. “And that would be a substantially higher budget than Pooh would be. Money isn’t everything, but budget does have a significant impact on the quality of the film, too. It’s not that Pooh 1 is getting bad reviews. A lot of people are telling me it’s one of their favorite films from the last year. But I’m very excited about what can be done with even more money.”

But the fun doesn’t stop at the boundary line of the Hundred Acre Wood. Frake-Waterfield and his producing partner Scott Jeffrey have big plans “to create a bit of a multiverse of these different retellings [with] these different characters,” the director teases. “There’s a load of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, which can all be retold. We just need to find the right ones, the ones people are excited for rather than just shooting anything in the public domain.”

One of the confirmed projects now in development is a Cujo-inspired twist on pop culture’s favorite fawn — Bambi. In terms of designing the creature, Frake-Waterfield points to the “monstrous deer” creature in David Bruckner’s The Ritual as a major source of inspiration.

“It just gave us some really good vibes for Bambi,” he explains. “We’re gonna make Bambi a bit mutated and kind of like it’s on rabies and it just kills humans in horrible ways. Someone was saying to us they want it to stamp on someone’s head and we were like, ‘Yes! Okay! We’ll do it!’ We’re gonna make a scene where Bambi stamps on someone’s head.”

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While most audiences associate these classic characters with their animated Disney counterparts, Frake-Waterfield insists that that these productions are not meant to capitalize on or antagonize what the Mouse House has accomplished over the last century. 

“The intention wasn’t to essentially rip off their IP and lean on the back of their branding and their work. It was to try and make something completely different,” he says, going on to explain that this was partly the rationale for why his versions of Pooh and Piglet are human-sized. “I don’t want them to be what you imagine them, these cute little bears. I want to make them imposing and massive because then it lends itself to a lot more interesting horror scenes with them being able to grip sledgehammers and knives and drive cars.”

He was also “very, very selective” about Winnie talking and consciously avoided using the bear’s famous catchphrase.

“Because a lot of people, if they go to see a Winnie the Pooh horror film, would instinctively want him to say phrases like, ‘Oh, bother’ and all of these,” he concludes. “But that’s not what I’m doing. That’s Disney’s IP — no one can make or should make Winnie the Pooh say ‘Oh, bother.’ It should be different and more original.”

Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is now streaming on Peacock.

Originally published Feb 14, 2023.