Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey’s central gimmick is that it features author A.A. Milne’s beloved children’s characters as rampaging murderers. If that doesn’t sound, on the face of it, like your cup of tea, you’d do well to avoid Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s low-budget slasher, whose novel ideas don’t extend beyond that basic premise. Those who are intrigued by such a gory reimagining, on the other hand, can look forward to some of the chintziest and most uninspired exploitation cinema this side of Sharknado. It’s a lose-lose no matter which way you slice it.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, which is now in theaters, only exists because Milne’s original 1926 book, Winnie-the-Pooh, entered the public domain last year. That allows anyone to adapt it without first receiving permission from Disney, who own the rights to their version of Pooh and all the supporting characters introduced in subsequent Milne books.
Thus, to avoid copyright-infringement violations, Frake-Waterfield’s Pooh doesn’t utter any of his famous exclamations (“Oh, bother!”), nor does he hang out with springy Tigger. What he does do is bludgeon, stab, and stalk his prey like a monster, which is crushingly juvenile and groan-worthy. It all renders the proceedings as drearily twisted as The Banana Splits Movie and The Mean One, two kindred spirits (the latter based on How the Grinch Stole Christmas!) that also turned popular kids properties into the stuff of nightmares.
It takes mere moments to comprehend why Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey’s distributors didn’t screen it for critics in advance of its theatrical debut.
A shoddily animated prologue explains that, as a boy, Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon) discovered and befriended magical creatures in nearby Hundred Acre Wood. When he grew up and left for college, Pooh and company suffered through a horrible winter that eventually compelled them to eat one of their own: Eeyore. The ensuing trauma was so severe that it drove Pooh (Craig David Dowsett) and his loyal minion Piglet (Chris Cordell) mad, warping their minds and convincing them to reject their human instincts, including speech. They became marauding beasts with a burning hatred for mankind and, in particular, for Christopher.
That’s too bad for the young Mr. Robin, who, five years later, shows up in Hundred Acre Wood with his wife, Mary (Paula Coiz), eager to introduce her to his old magical buddies. Mary thinks that Christopher is incapable of letting go of his adolescent imaginary pals, so she’s downright astonished when they discover Pooh and Piglet’s bizarro lair—it’s part clubhouse, part distorted-tree-branch maze, and part trailer park hang-out—and are then set upon by the duo.
Mary winds up perishing at Piglet’s hands (feet?) in what may be one of the limpest murder scenes in horror history. Christopher, meanwhile, is abducted by Pooh, this after he screams and wails like a baby about what’s become of his soft-and-cuddly friends.
Christopher is appalled that Pooh and Piglet are now wannabe Jason Voorhees, but that’s not the only strange thing about the pair. Despite having ostensibly reverted to carnivorous animals, Pooh still wears denim overalls, a flannel shirt, and work boots; he and Piglet write messages in English and wield man-made weapons; and, at one point, Pooh even drives a car!
Moreover, though they own a slaughterhouse with a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style meat hook, they don’t seem to eat their kills; rather, they’re just doing this for sport. Pooh gets nutrition from guzzling down honey that drips off his face along with copious drool, snot, and tears. Such absurdity is emblematic of Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, as Frake-Waterfield’s script boasts neither general nor internal logic.
Nonetheless, when it comes to ridiculousness, nothing tops Pooh and Piglet’s rubber-mask faces, whose quality is more Spirit Halloween than Rick Baker.
Barely able to open and close their mouths, and wholly incapable of moving expressively, Pooh and Piglet look idiotic, especially since Pooh’s orange visage is frozen in a goofy grin. They come across as two guys in thrift store costumes, lumbering about with an ungainliness that makes them resemble Frankenstein’s grandpa. Undoubtedly, their wooden gait and stiff movements are a byproduct of trying to avoid having their headgear fall off, but that doesn’t change the fact that their oh-so-slow pursuits of their targets are intensely ludicrous.
Most of Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey concerns Pooh and Piglet hunting a group of women who are on a weekend getaway at a remote cabin because Maria (Maria Taylor) has been persistently menaced by a creep. Alas, that tormentor isn’t Babar, Curious George, or another storybook icon, but just some anonymous weirdo. These female characters’ every utterance is an exercise in inanity, and they barely boast a single personality trait between them.
Unsurprisingly, it’s only a matter of time before they all fall victim to the overgrown bear and pig, who murder them in vicious ways—a giant knife shoved through the mouth, or repeatedly thrust into the top of their heads—that are so hostile and humorless, they invariably resonate as misogynistic.
Frake-Waterfield exhibits minimal skill at framing a unique or unnerving shot, effectively transitioning between scenes, or eliciting jolts through canny cuts or audio cues. He’s not helped by Vince Knight’s muddy, shaky cinematography and Andrew Scott Bell’s comatose score, which loses steam at precisely the moments that it should be punctuating the action.
It’s difficult to fault the musicians for their lethargy, however, in light of the omnipresent amateurishness on display, almost none of which can be blamed on production constraints; though it’s clear that Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey was made on a shoestring budget, its failings have to do with a simple lack of talent both in front of and behind the camera.
In the weeks leading up to Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey’s premiere, the writer/director has expounded on his plans to film a series of additional children’s-lit horror shows, with Bambi and Peter Pan next in line for the grimdark treatment. On the basis of this fiasco, however, that feels like so much wishful thinking. For all of Pooh’s kills, the greatest casualty of his rampage may just be Frake-Waterfield’s career prospects.