The Horror Is What It Does to IP

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For more than 40 years now, moviegoers have lined up to see the spectacle of people being slaughtered by a psycho with a chainsaw, a psycho in a Halloween mask, a psycho in a goalie mask, a psycho with burnt skin and a striped shirt and fedora, or a psycho with S&M nails in his face. So why not a psycho Winnie the Pooh?

“Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” raised a few hackles — otherwise known as free publicity — for having the scuzzy temerity to take a couple of beloved children’s characters and place them at the center of a slasher film. Yet the stunt concept was about all there was to it. The movie, made on a budget of $50,000, was too logy and inept to be a real scandal, or any sort of theatrical sleeper hit. (It opened on 1,652 screens and wound up grossing a total of $1.7 million.) On paper, “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” sounded like an extreme TikTok video, yet it was amateurishly staged and badly paced, neither scary nor funny. A measure of how uninspired it was is that the movie never even made good on its satirical hook and convinced you that you were seeing killer versions of the legendary characters created by A.A. Milne. In essence, you were just watching a slasher in a rubbery Winnie the Pooh mask that didn’t even look like Pooh. (It looked more like Christopher Cross.)

And yet, in its very existence, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” announced a brave new world of where horror could go. The rights to the Winnie-the-Pooh characters had been owned by the Walt Disney Company since 1966 (at that point, Disney was eating up children’s classics as greedily as Pooh licking out the insides of his honey pot). But the first of the Pooh books, published in 1926, entered the public domain in the U.S. on January 1, 2022, and Rhys Frake-Waterfield started shooting his horror-hack curio just three months later.

His big idea mirrored the sort of thing you used to see in porn videos — when they’re riffs on real movies and have titles like “Pulp Friction” and “Legally Boned.” “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” wasn’t porn, but it was a kind of blood-soaked exploitation cosplay. Its only real horror was to demonstrate how blithely you could reduce cherished IP to trash.

I’d be less cynical about all this if the “Winnie the Pooh” horror films were made with a hint of the transgressive skill that infuses Damien Leone’s “Terrifier” films. But they aren’t. At heart, they’re generic slasher movies. You could say, as early reviewers have, that “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” is “better” than “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey,” because it’s got a bigger budget and more story. But story is what Frake-Waterfield and his screenwriter, Matt Leslie, are not so hot at. The film certainly sprawls, with more deluxe lensing than the first film, and there’s actually a name actor onboard — the ancient ham Simon Callow. Looking spooked and speaking in a Scottish brogue, he explains to Christopher Robin how Winnie the Pooh and his fellow beast creatures got that way. It seems there was some sort of mad doctor who abducted local children and infused them with animal DNA. All very “Island of Lost Souls,” only this backstory completely contradicts the backstory that was told, in imitation A.A. Milne drawings, in the first film.

There may be a lot more going on “Blood and Honey 2,” but let’s not kid ourselves; it’s mostly a shambles. One year after the 100 Acre Massacre, everyone in the town of Ashdown blames Christopher for it; they think he committed it. Why anyone would pin this crime on such a nice fellow is beyond me, and the film doesn’t really follow through on that anyway, except to make the point that Chris is now a walking trauma case. In the first film, he was played by Nikolai Leon, who was actually right for the part. Now he’s played by Scott Chambers, who comes on like he’s auditioning to star in “The Ed Sheeran Story.”

There are more creatures this time, and a lot more mayhem — more dismemberings and decapitations and face gougings, especially during the climactic rave sequence, which lays waste to everyone on the dance floor. There are three mascot demons this time (Piglet makes a brief appearance, then drops out of the movie). Pooh (Ryan Oliva), who has been redesigned, still wears his signature overalls and red flannel shirt, but his face looks even gnarlier; he now resembles a homicidal version of Jim Carrey’s Grinch. Owl (Marcus Massey) looks like someone in a royal crow costume out of “Eyes Wide Shut” (and speaks in a voice of aristocratic evil), and Tigger (Lewis Santer), who doesn’t show up until that rave sequence, has a face that (for no good reason) is nearly identical to Pooh’s. But he’s got claws that slash like knives, and his Tiggerish energy may be the closest thing here to a quality linked to the character of legend.

Rhys Frake-Waterfield is, I suppose, a filmmaker, but really he’s a British schlock maven who, in 2021, left his job at an energy company to package low-budget horror films. Within two years, he’d produced 36 features with titles like “The Loch Ness Horror,” “Snake Hotel,” “Alien Invasion,” and “Medusa’s Venom.” Somewhere up in drive-in-theater heaven, Herschell Gordon Lewis and Ed Wood are smiling, though Frake-Waterfield makes them look like Scorsese and Spielberg. Yet he’s a canny and ambitious packager. He has announced grand plans to launch the Poohniverse, which will include such movies as “Pinocchio Unstrung,” “Bambi: The Reckoning,” and “Poohniverse: Monsters Assembled.” I doubt audiences will be very unsettled by any of this. But you can bet the IP is trembling.

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