The Public Domain is a wonderful thing.
Thanks to the natural expiration of copyright, Hollywood has been able to adapt hundreds of classic literature’s most beloved works and characters to the big screen. Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, The War of The Worlds, The Wizard of Oz; all these and many, many more have become media staples thanks to the unfettered rights to bring them to cinemas without any legal hurdles.
And we’re now entering a brave new world of public domain adaptations, thanks largely in part to the fact that now, enough time has passed that much larger, much more modern intellectual properties have reached the end of their copyright period. Year after year, more and more relatively contemporary pieces of media become available for the public to use as they see fit, further expanding the film and television industry’s ability to mine these notable works for new material. Just this year, classic works from authors like Hemmingway and Lovecraft, as well as the iconic films The Jazz Singer and Metropolis, have all become fair game for anyone to twist and shape to their own image. Disney be damned, copyright can only last for so long.
Speaking of Disney, although the House of Mouse has been, notoriously, the staunchest defender of copyright extension in the modern media landscape, not even they can escape this fate. At least, as the laws are currently written. In 2023, several of Walt Disney’s original animated shorts become public domain, and as of January 1st 2024, so does Steamboat Willie, the first appearance of Mickey himself. Whether or not the public is willing to play chicken with the media mega-conglomerate on the rights of their fiercely-protected mascot remains to be seen, but if the expiration of another Disney property’s copyright is anything to go by, expect to see some… interesting takes on the character this year.
For those of you out of the loop on last year’s big entry into the public domain, I’ll give you one guess: He loves honey, doesn’t wear pants, and lives in a forest named, rather uncreatively, for its exact square-footage:
Winnie the Pooh.
Sorry, don’t know how that slipped in there.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, everyone’s favorite dim-witted and possibly diabetic ursine friend is now in the public domain. Granted, there are caveats, of course: This only refers to the character as depicted in A. A. Milne’s original children’s stories. Disney’s own depiction, red-shirted and round as he is, is still strictly off-limits. But one daring horror filmmaker decided that this small lapse in copyright was good enough for him, and decided, for reasons alien to both me and God himself, that what the world truly needed right now was a Winnie the Pooh slasher film.
Sure. Why not?
Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is the brainchild of writer, producer, and first-time director Rhys Frake-Waterfield, and was made for a microbudget of well under $100,000. And if you’ve seen the film, like I have, you’re probably shocked that even that much money went into this adolescent fever dream.
Look, no one in their right mind expected this film to be good. Bizarre and goofy? Sure. But definitely not good. Somewhere in the sweet spot between the unintentional awfulness of The Room and the deliberate cheese of Sharknado. Something you could have a few drinks and a few laughs to. Something fun.
Reader, that is not what this film is.
It’s very clear that, apart from the shock value of having Pooh and Piglet be killers, not a single other rational thought went into the 100-minute eyesore that I paid actual US dollars to see last night. It’s quite possibly the most generic, bland slasher film I’ve ever seen.
And I saw both Black Christmas remakes.
The premise itself is actually pretty interesting, told via a whimsical animated segment at the film’s start: A young Christopher Robin befriends and cares for a group of outcast human-animal hybrids that live in the forest near his childhood home. Eventually, he grows up and moves away, leaving the helpless creatures to fend for themselves. In a moment of desperation, at the peak of their starvation, Pooh, Piglet, Owl, and Rabbit decide to eat Eeyore (who, let’s be honest, probably welcomed this with open arms), mentally scarring them and causing a deep, savage psychosis to manifest within them. Since then, they’ve developed a hatred for humanity, and defend their territory with bloody efficiency.
Now, had this movie been about a bunch of feral animals styled after children’s characters, killers with personalities and unique appearances, it may have been easy to overlook the more low-effort aspects of Blood and Honey. That, at least, would be a somewhat unique gimmick. Instead, the film decides to engage in a total cop-out plot that reimagines these figures into essentially just standard human rednecks wearing cheap rubber animal masks. Also, the killers don’t speak. So instead of having a twisted, dark fantasy spin on some beloved literary animals, we instead get an unimaginative knock-off of Friday the 13th and Wrong Turn.
The cheapness of the film’s villains extends to the rest of the film as well. While the cinematography is competent, the set design looks as though all the props and décor were purchased at a Spirit Halloween ten minutes before the cameras began rolling. Plastic skulls, fake chains, and cartoony skeletons populate the background at all times. The basecamp for the film’s murderous animal-men, which could have been an atmospheric, claustrophobic cave or thicket of some kind, instead takes the appearance of a hipster trailer park, complete with vintage airstream trailers and warm string-lights crisscrossing the entire area like the outdoor patio of a college bar. If you had told me this was a real neighborhood park in Portland, I would have believed you.
From a horror standpoint, it falls utterly flat. I’ve been more frightened by actual Winnie the Pooh cartoons than I was of Blood and Honey (those Heffalumps are no joke, man). There’s no tension, no suspense, and nothing even approaching the realm of the spooky or creepy. I kid you not, there’s a five minute chase sequence through a chest-high pool that measure maybe twenty feet in length. It’s laughably bad. The film doesn’t even give the audience the small dignity of a few cheap jumpscares, which is pretty much the bare minimum effort for low-budget horror. If, tonally, the film leaned into its more ridiculous elements and made the cheese a deliberate choice, then there may have been something there to salvage this uninteresting slog. Instead, it plays it painfully straight, giving no indication whatsoever that it’s in on the joke.
Fans of gore may find a few nuggets of their preferred brand of nastiness here, with some fairly gnarly kills using all manner of surprisingly-suburban instruments of death. Yet even that small satisfaction is largely ruined by some terrible CG blood and some random, gratuitously-unjustified and unexplained nudity.
If it feels like I’m forgetting to talk about the rest of the film’s cast and characters, it’s only because the film itself does too. Blood and Honey’s selection of borderline nameless, cookie-cutter victims are maybe the most uninteresting thing about the film, which is really quite the accomplishment. With the exception of Christopher Robin, who a single person in this film was. There was a lesbian couple, a nerd (because she wears glasses, obviously), the token slutty one, and a few more that were just kind of… there, I guess? There’s also a ‘protagonist,’ if you can call her that, who gets a nonsensical backstory about a stalker, complete with flashbacks, that has absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever. Some characters randomly appear in the third act for no reason. Others disappear and reappear at will with similar aimlessness. It’s very, very clear that they’re only here to be killed by the film’s villains.
Unfortunately, the villains are so completely forgettable that it ultimately means there’s nothing in the film whatsoever of note.
I went into Blood and Honey, drinks in hand, ready to have a good – if dumb – time at the movies. Instead, what I got was an hour-and-a-half of checking the time on my phone to see if it was ending anytime soon. At least it has the decency to not overstay its welcome any longer than it absolutely had to. That’s about the only good thing I can say for it. If there was ever an argument against letting copyright expire, this is surely it.
Maybe the Disney lawyers are heroes after all.
Skip this altogether and go see Cocaine Bear next weekend instead.