WINNIE THE POOH: BLOOD & HONEY Director Is Happy To Ruin Your Childhood

And has his sights set on BAMBI next.

By Cass Clarke · @cass__clarke · February 16, 2023, 6:30 PM EST

Before Disney put Cinderella in glass slippers with singing furry friends, The Grimm Brothers depicted her step-sisters cutting off their heels and toes to fit into the Prince's gold shoe. Whereas the animated Ariel in 1989's The Little Mermaid rode off to domestic bliss with Prince Eric, Hans Christian Andersen's version had her sisters drowning sailors for fun and a sea witch slicing off Ariel's tongue. The House of Mouse's sanitization of these often morbid myths and fables isn't new news to horror fans, but beckoning these childhood tales back into a darker form is. That's exactly what director/writer/producer Rhys Frake-Waterfield has set out to do – first with the upcoming revenge slasher Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey and its greenlit sequel, with his eyes on crafting a version of the doe-eyed Bambi.

Frake-Waterfield sat down with FANGORIA to discuss what carnage viewers can expect in his upcoming feature film and how he decides which kinds of fairy tales make the cut in what's shaping up to be a macabre universe of subverted monsters, sadistic glee, and plenty of killer visions to come.

I'm curious, do you remember your first memory of Winnie the Pooh?

It was when I was 'round my nan's and granddad's. When they went out, they used to always put these really nice childhood cartoons on for me when I was younger. Pooh was one of them, along with Care Bears. But I kind of twisted him since then [laughs].

I read that a part of the premise for this film is Christopher Robin returning to see Winnie the Pooh after years of being away to introduce him to his wife. Why choose that point for their reunion?

So the idea at the start was he had this relationship with them when he was younger. He used to feed them and nurture them. He always treated them a bit like a pet, so he was responsible for their well-being. Eventually, he grows up and moves away – a bit like in Toy Story. So when he moves away, it creates this massive change and dynamic: Pooh and his friends no longer have this constant food source. They need to fend for themselves. Things progress from summer to winter. In one particularly cold winter, the food resource gets more and more diminished. They resort to their animalistic instincts and traits, and the only way the group can survive is by eating Eeyore.

So they eat him, and then it twists and changes their mind. It's a big shift. Prior, to that, they were kind and more humane. Eating Eeyore upsets their mental state so much that they become a bit more feral and develop this hatred for humanity – because they blame Christopher. He's the reason they've had to eat their friend. He was supposed to love them and stay with them. He's moved on with his life, left them, and abandoned them, which is the general theme of the film: abandonment. They've had to become monsters, and they've embraced their animalistic side. Now, they set out to become cannibals and kill all humans.

Christopher, unaware of everything which has happened, gets engaged. But she's not convinced by these stories, which no one would be. If someone was like, "Oh, I met this half-man, half-bear," you'd be like, "No, no, you didn't." He wants to convince her. So he takes her with him back to the Hundred Acre Wood where he eventually comes across them, and then all hell breaks loose. Pooh and friends come back in contact with Christopher, which triggers them, and they start this rampage. That rampage leads to the film's core cast, who go to a rural cabin for a bit of a break from the city and disconnect from social media. While they wanted this peaceful weekend, they then have a half-bear and half-pig turn up – Pooh and Piglet – and just get absolutely destroyed. And then it becomes a bit of a home invasion story, kind of like The Strangers and Halloween vibes.

My favorite Pooh character growing up was Eeyore. On a scale of 1-10, how sad will I be here?

Well, he's the catalyst. His death is what sets them on this trajectory. So it's not shown in a way that is too graphic or detailed, it's more implied. A lot of people have told me his death is their favorite segment of the film. So it's a nice one. I will say I'm quite happy that I retrospectively picked him to die. He's one of the characters from Winnie the Pooh that I wanted to introduce, but I couldn't imagine how he would look. I struggled to think how I could portray him. Because this is a micro-budget production, you can imagine my choices. If I wanted him to be a bit donkey-like, which is what everyone thinks about, I would do it with cheap VFX, which would look absolutely terrible. People hate VFX. Horror fans are like, "Don't do VFX, it's all got to be practical." So they would have hated that route.

On the other hand, if I tried to do it practically, I didn't have the money to do that convincingly. So it would have been like a guy or two in a donkey outfit. And then get sued for that as well! [laughs]. So he's the perfect character to just get killed and slaughtered and set them on this horrible path. I'm quite happy that he was picked. And it's added to the viral nature of it. I think a lot of people, because of his attitude of being quite glum and gloomy, were saying, "Put him out of his misery." It's like, well, now he is! He's gone now, at least in this version of Winnie the Pooh.


You have the unenviable task of taking these familiar characters and adjusting the designs to not at all fall under the IP. What were some rules you had in place to navigate that?

The one thing I had to consider massively was whatever decisions I make and whatever path I want to take them down, double-check that is nowhere near Disney's version of it. I can't go near that at all. So even if something coincidentally happens, I have to change it and make sure there are no question marks. Then the next part was, I've got two routes with him: I make him really small like Chucky and he could just run around looking a bit strange and stabbing people or make him really big and menacing. I thought, "Okay, if I go down that route and make him small, it'd go down more of a practical route. I would have to do it with VFX, and then they can't be in the film much." If you want to watch a Winnie the Pooh film, I feel like you want to watch a lot of Winnie the Pooh. You don't want to watch a lot of people talking about him and then the occasional shot of him. So I thought, "Okay, I got to go down the bigger menacing route."

After I dedicated myself to that, there were some considerations like: "Do I make him an actual massive bear?" Some people were trying to convince me to do that and just make him more hairy and furry with paws. I thought, "No, I don't want to do that because if he's got paws like big bear claws, it's just gonna look like a really bad werewolf outfit." And he also loses the ability to grab weapons and knives and things. That was quite important to me because, in a slasher, you want people to die from weapons. Yes, you can have claws and like Freddy Krueger's hands and bits like that, but it would have just been a bear pawing a lot of the time. Now he's got thumbs! He can actually do things, and it allows for a lot of creative and crazy deaths.


So, for example, you probably saw one of the pictures going around where he's driving a car, so that wouldn't really have been possible if he had paws. It'd look even more stupid. And that scene is some people's favorite death scene. It's almost a little bit of satire. I didn't want the actors to feel that. I didn't want anyone to treat it as a joke. I wanted them to really imagine he's there – replace Winnie the Pooh with Michael Myers, and the humor and the satire and the fun will come from it just being Winnie the Pooh. So they all played it dead serious.

Visually, the head is what everyone links with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. So it was really important for me that Winnie the Pooh's head was yellow and that he had those little pointy ears because that's what you synonymously link to a bear. That was in the 1926 version, he did have those, so I was like, "Okay, I can do that."

In terms of how he moved, I wanted it to be a bit like Michael Myers. A lot of people were probably going in expecting him to talk a lot. But for me, I think that can take away from the horror. It works for Chucky, but Pooh's going down this bigger, more imposing, and eerie vibe. If I had them speaking all the time, it probably would take away from it a bit. So I've been very, very selective about that. It also stops any issues with going near Disney as well, because I can't use their catchphrases. If I do that, I'll get sued. So I made him be very, very selective about what he says. Give him the hands, give him the big menacing, lumbering look, and make him have a big stomach. I got him to eat loads of honey as well. So there's a bit of fanservice in there.

Since the sequel is greenlit, and technically Mickey Mouse shows up in the Pooh universe, would you ever consider having a version of Mickey in your sequel? Like a feral-like mouse?

We're gonna build up a bit of a multiverse. But I don't want this multiverse to be like one of these retellings of childhood characters and fairy tales and bits. I don't want to have like a mock version of Mickey and just take Disney's IP and do that. My idea is to go into other realms and other areas. There are loads of other spaces you can go into, which can have some really interesting retellings.

There are a lot of childhood legends and nursery rhymes which you can twist and change. There are certain ones which would be really, really interesting. But I also want to be selective, not take a concept just because a concept is in the public domain. For example, if Cinderella was made into a horror film, it hasn't got the same X factor to it. For me, as a horror fan, it doesn't give me that same sort of buzz when I hear Cinderella horror as when I hear Winnie the Pooh horror. There's something that takes me in that direction. So I'm trying to find ideas that spark this inner excitement for me. And then I know it will have that for other people, too.

In terms of the other Disney ones, I'm still of two minds about that. There are loads out there you can do, like The Little Mermaid, for example. But I do believe in Bambi. I think Bambi sounds crazy. That sounds like one of the things that would make me say, "Yes, that sounds really cool." I'm still a little bit 50/50 about Peter Pan. I think there's potential but there's been a lot of Peter Pan twists and changes and different versions. So I'm kind of on the fence about that one. I think Bambi and Pooh are more special.

I love that you take a sanitized Disney tale and then subvert back into horror. There are also these elements of playfulness and powers of imagination – with Pooh and Peter Pan – in there, too. Does that feel like topics that speak to you? That sense of putting the fun back into horror?

Yeah, they're very twisted realities with strange stuff going on, and that's really fun for me in horror because it allows you to do a bit of world-building and come up with these crazy concepts. And if you were trying to do this in a bit of an elevated horror way, or realistic horror, you can't really have those elements, because instantly, they're not real. That doesn't happen. But with this, you can really stretch things, and there are a lot of really cool elements you can play with, and it becomes more fun.

A lot of horror films have become repetitive to me. I love horror. I watch all horror. But they're becoming copycats, and it's just the same thing on repeat. With Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey, I love the fact that in the original book, he loved honey. I thought it was really weird, but I wanted to incorporate that into the film because it makes him a unique villain. He's not just someone with a weird mark and a knife turning up at a house wanting to kill people who will just be forgotten in a second. He has these traits and elements about him that really stand out. I think that's part of what's drawing people. Everyone knows these stories and these characters and there is something scary in their undertones. Like Peter Pan, he's quite scary. He's a person creeping into someone's bedroom and kidnapping kids. These stories have these darker tones to them. A lot of the fairy tales originally did before they were twisted into a child-friendly and fun version. We're twisting it back, taking it back to what the origins used to be.

As a lifelong horror fan, what's an '80s horror film that you think not enough people talk about?

One film from the 1980s which I would love to remake is The Fog. It's not a super underrated one, but I think it's really creepy and has a bit of the Evil Dead vibe going on there with the fog and the zombies.

Yeah! Those zombie fishermen with their hooks, ugh!

[laughs] Yeah, yeah. I'd love to do something with that.

Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood and Honey is now in theaters. For a complete list of theater locations, visit the Fathom Events website. [This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]