It takes some chutzpah to announce a sequel before your movie has even opened in cinemas, but Rhys Frake-Waterfield had good reason to feel confident. His low-budget slasher movie Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey was an internet sensation from the moment its first poster was released last May, all but guaranteeing his murderous bear-of-little-brain would have a chance to come back for seconds.
“It just went ‘boom’ overnight,” Frake-Waterfield says from London, ahead of a 1600-screen release in the US and a smash-and-grab four-day outing on 87 screens in Australia from Thursday.
Winnie the Pooh has entered into the public domain and is now being released as a horror/slasher flick.
“I got woken by my co-producer at 4am, he was like, ‘check your phone’, and it was everywhere – Variety, Lad Bible, it was all over Twitter, there were people doing TikToks about it.”
When the trailer dropped in September, “it got even bigger, and I think that’s because people were like, ‘the concept’s really interesting and cool, and it actually doesn’t look shit’.”
By the end of the year, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey was the second-most anticipated film on imdb, behind only Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. “We beat Martin Scorsese, we beat Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. It was absolutely mad. I took a screenshot of that. It’s a career highlight.”
At 31, Frake-Waterfield is still finding his feet in the industry he joined less than three years ago. He used to work in corporate strategy “for quite a big energy company”, but when he grew bored of office work he followed his passion and joined Jagged Edge, a company that specialises in making straight-to-DVD features on micro-budgets. “The first one was approximately £16,000 [$28,000],” he says. “It was, like, nothing.”
Rhys Frake-Waterfield is the writer-director of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.
With titles like Dinosaur Hotel (imdb rating 1.9 out of 10), The Legend of Jack and Jill (3.2) and Curse of Jack Frost (a critical smash at 4/10), the formula was simple: take well-known characters not bound by copyright (from nursery rhymes, fairytales and public domain literature) and drop them into high-concept splatterfest scenarios, at as little cost as possible. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Frake-Waterfield has an astonishing 25 titles to his name as producer since 2021. But when he discovered AA Milne’s loveable bear was about to enter the public domain for the first time – under US law, copyright in works created before 1978 generally expires after 95 years – he decided he wanted to take the reins as writer and director too.
“No one has been able to do this previously, it’s the first time he’s been available, and I was like, ‘here’s a big opportunity’,” he says. “When you tell people there’s a Winnie the Pooh horror film, everyone has the same reaction – ‘What the f—?’ Nursery rhyme characters don’t really have that same impact.”
He won’t reveal the exact budget, but says it was less than $US250,000. It’s opened in Mexico already – “it was between Avatar and M3ghan on the box-office chart” he says delightedly – and it has already more than made back its costs. The sequel, he says, will have “a minimum of five times the budget”.
That will allow him to push further into the comedic-gore territory he loves, and which he thinks there’s too little of as the genre has swung towards “elevated” horror.
“We want heads exploding. Pooh will be coming out of the 100 Acre Wood. I’m making a big list of the places you can go. I think a rave could be so fun, with lasers going all over the place and he just comes in and starts killing everyone and it’s a big bloodbath. So, yeah, we’ve got loads of crazy ideas flowing.”
The poster that set the internet alight.Credit:Umbrella
If this all sounds rather too much like a desecration of a beloved childhood icon, brace yourself. Frake-Waterfield has ambitions far beyond Pooh.
“We want to create a bit of a universe of these crazy concepts,” he says. “The next one we’re looking at is Bambi. Make him really big, biting people, stamping on their heads. That’s got a lot of people excited too. We’ve obviously got the sequel to Blood and Honey, and I have a Peter Pan one too.”
One character he won’t be tackling is Mickey Mouse, whose first iteration, in Steamboat Willie, is set to enter the public domain next year. “With that one, you have to be super careful, because he’s so closely linked to Disney, and when you make a film like this you need to get insurance for it.”
Doing that was “really difficult” for Pooh, costing five times what it would normally for a project of this scale, due to concerns about the potential for a copyright dispute. Doing it for Mickey, he readily acknowledges, would likely be impossible.
He does, though, have an idea for a horror spin on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “where Shredder actually shreds people, or they cut people up and serve them on their pizzas”.
But, he adds, pausing for breath, “at the moment, we’re riding this Pooh wave”. All the way to the bank.
Winnie The Pooh: Blood and Honey is in cinemas February 16-19. For locations see umbrellaent.com.au
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