Make no mistake, the virally infamous provocation Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is a dreary, dispiriting movie. It’s meant as a sort of cheeky, transgressively gruesome sequel to A.A. Milne’s classic 1920s children’s books Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner — stories inspired by Milne’s own young son, Christopher Robin Milne, and his beloved stuffed animals. Since the 1960s, those stories have been kept in the public eye by Walt Disney Animation’s animated adaptations and extensions, which mine gentle adventures out of the interactions between a chubby, hapless teddy bear and his friends.
Blood and Honey was made possible in 2022, when Milne’s copyright on Pooh expired, and writer-director Rhys Frake-Waterfield saw an opportunity for a clickbait-worthy horror twist on the character. (Disney’s copyright over its own version of Milne’s characters remains in effect.) In the horror-movie version, Pooh and his timid friend Piglet are all grown up and have become serial killers. That’s pretty much the entire movie right there: a couple of goons in grotesque Pooh and Piglet masks, silently hacking their way through a bunch of all-but-anonymous victims. There’s barely any framing or narrative; it’s just a series of repetitive murders, mostly spaced out with scenes of Pooh lurking in the woods or stalking victims.
Blood and Honey does have a few things going for it, for viewers in love with practical-effects gore and classic exploitation cinema. It isn’t an innovative movie or a particularly surprising one, but it does a few things well:
- Screaming. For people who are into horror less for storytelling tension or a sense of real threat, and more because they really enjoy watching gnarly levels of human suffering, Blood and Honey has plenty of that. The acting is often stiff and the script is repetitive, but the cast uniformly pulls off screams of agony and terror convincingly as Pooh and Piglet are menacing, torturing, or killing them. There is a lot of screaming, wailing, pleading, and begging in this movie.
- Gore. Given the movie’s micro budget, it’s no surprise that it leans on practical effects for its head-smashing, throat-slitting, face-rending violence. There’s nothing here horror mavens have never seen before, but there are sure enough close-ups of splitting skulls and dripping brains to give exploitation fans a thrill.
- Grotesquerie. Frake-Waterfield leans hard into the “honey” part of Blood and Honey, with Pooh repeatedly taking breaks from the slaughter to cover his inexpressive face in dripping, sticky slime, which he sometimes drizzles over his victims as well. The whole film has a distinctively raw “Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974” vibe, from Pooh’s woodsy cabin filled with antlers and bones to his Leatherface-style silent, bulky menace to the focus on the grotesque. There’s plenty of stomach-churning extreme imagery designed to repulse and shock the audience, and it is effectively unsettling.
But all of that is still pretty thin grist for a movie that never gives its killers any reason to exist, or its audience any reason to root for the victims. Early in the movie, a now-grown Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon) and his wife, Mary (Paula Coiz), head to the Hundred Acre Wood to reunite with the childhood pals he abandoned, and find only horror. From there on, the movie supplies Pooh and Piglet with fresh, shrieking meat at mechanical intervals.
The pacing is leaden, the visuals are murky, and there’s pretty much no reason to care about anyone on the screen, except to idly wonder how they’re going to die, and what their innards will look like when they do. The only real tension in the movie comes from a flashback, as lead victim Maria (Maria Taylor) describes a series of escalating encounters with a stalker, and for once, the audience doesn’t know exactly what’s about to happen.
But as an exploitation film built around turning beloved childhood figures into terrifying monsters, Blood and Honey is missing a lot of the core elements it needed most:
- Recognition. There’s no sense that the filmmakers behind Blood and Honey have ever read a Winnie-the-Pooh story, or have any idea what goes into one. There’s no sense of nostalgia, parody, satire, or even basic recognition humor here. Apart from Pooh and Piglet, all the other Hundred Acre Wood residents are missing in action. (A background memorial — seemingly scrawled in blood on a slat of plywood — reads “Eeyore RIP.”) Pooh and Piglet are generic baddies instead of specific ones, apart from Pooh making it clear that he resents Christopher Robin abandoning his old playmates after childhood. There’s virtually nothing meaningful to tie these characters to their past — or to the audience memories this film is supposed to be skewering.
- Dialogue. Frake-Waterfield may be avoiding having his characters talk because the voices of Disney’s Pooh characters are so iconic and memorable, and he can’t use them. Or maybe he thinks muteness just makes them more opaque and alien. But it leaves them without any sense of personality or specificity. They could literally be Leatherface fans in weird masks. Apart from brief Christopher Robin flashbacks, there’s nothing in this movie to distinguish the villains from any backwoods horror-movie psychopaths carving up intruders.
- Humor. C’mon, the idea of figures as cuddly and bumbling as Pooh and Piglet turning into slaughter-monsters is inherently a bit hilarious. And even the most po-faced horror movies usually use at least a little humor to reset the tension between dramatic sequences. But Blood and Honey is so straight-faced and unrelievedly grim that the audience is inevitably being set up to laugh at it instead of with it. Particularly during clunky moments like the one where a group of women find the words “GET OUT” scrawled in blood on the windows of their rental cabin. When one of them squeals in fear that there’s a lurking figure outside, another responds, “Whoever it is probably wrote that!”
- Any sense of purpose. The idea that innocent childhood daydreams inevitably become darker over time is a pretty poignant one. So is the idea that kids’ fantasies have weight and meaning that outlasts childhood. (Look at how much emotional mileage Pixar’s Inside Out gets with its imaginary friend Bing-Bong.) Even the vague resonance between Maria’s stalker and Christopher Robin’s murder-happy friends hints at a bigger story about the distressing feeling of other people feeling entitled to more out of you than you’re willing to or capable of giving them.
There’s no theme to Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, no bigger idea at work, and barely even a story. There’s nothing in it you can’t get from a trailer or the poster, except the screaming and the blood — and for ’70s exploitation fans, a sequence where a woman improbably gets her shirt ripped off in a fight, so she goes to her bloody death topless.
Blood and Honey ends with another old-school touch: A title card reading WINNIE THE POOH WILL RETURN. Before that, though, Frake-Waterfield is focused on creating a whole “childhood-horror universe” focused on other public-domain classics that got Disney adaptations. Peter Pan’s Neverland Nightmare and Bambi: The Reckoning are already in the planning stages. That prospect is scarier than anything that actually happens in this movie.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey runs in theaters as a limited special event from Feb. 15-21, with a streaming release to follow.