The new slasher film Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey became an instant cause celebre for its horror spin on a beloved children’s character. The film has captured the public attention in a way that few low-budget horror films do. After it’s UK premiere at Glasgow FrightFest, we spoke to one of its stars Amber Doig-Thorne about indie filmmaking, queer representation, and trying to act through a face full of honey.
You’ve just been in Glasgow for FrightFest, part of the Glasgow Film Festival. Are you still in the city?
No, so it was a very, very quick trip! I wish I could have stayed longer because I have Scottish heritage and every time I get to Scotland I feel like I’m going home, so it would have been lovely to stay more days but I had other film shoots to come back for.
Was this your first time at the Festival?
It was, yes! I’ve been to Glasgow before but I’ve never been to any FrightFest, so I’m a FrightFest newbie and I haven’t been to the Glasgow Film Festival before either so it was really exciting and obviously the UK premiere. It’s a predominantly English cast and we filmed in England, so the fact we get to celebrate the UK premiere in Scotland was really exciting for us and the whole GFF Team were just so welcoming, so lovely. The audience were fantastic. When I heard it was going to be showing in Glasgow I was so excited because Glaswegian people have the best sense of humour so I knew they’d love the film.
How did you first hear about the project and what were your reactions?
I’d worked with the production company on a film previously called Krampus: The Return so I was aware of their work and I saw the casting call online for Blood and Honey. I read the synopsis and my first thought was, ‘OK, this is really different, this is really unique!’ I grew up loving Winnie the Pooh and I’m a huge fan of horror films, I just never thought I’d have the opportunity to merge those two things together. So as soon as I read the synopsis I was like, ‘OK, this is amazing.’ It’s a genuinely unique idea which I feel is quite difficult to come across nowadays because so many films are either prequels, sequels, remakes… There aren’t that many films out there that you can genuinely say is a completely original idea. So that was the first thing that attracted me to the project. Then I read the character bio for Alice and she’s in an LGBTQ+ relationship and straight away I thought, ‘Representation – yes! Sign me up.’ So I applied and was offered the role of Alice. She was a really great character to play. She’s got a wonderful arc throughout the film. She’s one of the only human characters to successfully take on Pooh or Piglet – I’m not gonna give too much away – so that was great fun to film.
The film created a buzz months ago. Why do you think it’s garnered so much attention?
Whenever you take something that is so typically aimed at children and you put a horror spin on it, obviously it’s going to spark debate because I feel like there are three groups of people out there: the people who’ve never heard of Pooh who are just up for a new film; the people like me who are very familiar with Pooh but they also love horror films and they’re excited at the prospect of bringing these characters into a new setting; and then there’s the people who are really precious over their childhood and they grew up with Pooh and they don’t want to see him as a serial killer, which is totally fine – just keep watching those Pooh films, don’t watch this. Problem solved.
The reception worldwide has been phenomenal. When we were filming, I had a really weird feeling and I remember after we wrapped one day, I rang my mum and said, ‘Mum, I have a weird feeling this film could really go places. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve just got this really great feeling in my gut that this film has potential.’
I also felt overwhelmed because I think it was about a year ago actually – we filmed in May and I think it was June or July when they released the first stills that went viral and then the trailer and it was just so overwhelming because even though I had that feeling, I didn’t expect it to get the amount of attention and love and publicity that it did and seeing these publications that I’ve grown up with like Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Rolling Stone, the New York Times – all of these different publications were talking about our little film. I thought, This is crazy.’ It’s a low-budget, independent film and it’s getting worldwide publicity. Honestly, I’m so honoured to be a part of it and all I can say is that I really hope this is going to pave the way for more independent films moving forward to get a cinematic release because I’m a big champion for low-budget filmmaking, especially independent films, so I’m really excited to see what this could lead to for everyone else in the filmmaking industry.
You’ve mentioned that Alice is a queer character. Why was that important to you to take on?
I feel like as time’s going on, the film industry is becoming more inclusive and they’re starting to champion diversity which, to be honest, it’s about time. Obviously I’m a white woman – I am not a minority and I understand that. I had a film a while ago where I was asked to apply for a role and when I got sent the script, I realised straight away it would be more suited to someone of a minority ethnicity just because of the way that the story was written and the struggles they were going through and I said to them, ‘I’d love to work with you, but I don’t think this is right for me as a white woman. I think we should give this opportunity to someone who is BAME.’ I just think it’s one of those things where we have responsibilities as actors and filmmakers to do everything that we can to push representation and diversity whether that’s gender equality or sexuality or ethnicity. Like I said, when I read about Alice, what I really liked about this script is that in films, and in horror films in particular, when there’s a queer character, it becomes their defining feature and it has to be projected and shouted about and it’s a really big deal in the film. This is the first script that I’ve read where it wasn’t. Alice’s queerness is just a part of her. It’s referenced a little bit throughout the film but it’s not projected onto the audience and it just felt so authentic to me and I thought – how wonderful would this be to have an opportunity to authentically represent this character which hopefully so many people will be able to relate to because it just felt genuine? I was offered the role and I was just over the moon and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. She’s such a brave, strong character and I was just honoured to be able to play her, honestly.
How was it working with a predominantly female cast?
Honestly, it was lovely. I’m a big champion for women in the film industry and I’ve been very fortunate – I’ve worked on about 25 British horror feature films and normally it’s either a fifty-fifty split men to women, or sometimes it’s male-dominated and this is one of the first times where I’ve worked with a predominantly female cast and it was so nice. There was just a lovely feminine energy on set and I think there were so many different issues that were addressed in the script and when I read the script the first time I felt like each character represents something different so, for example, Alice is obviously struggling with her relationship, she’s out of the closet, she’s very comfortable. Her girlfriend is in her first queer relationship. Then for Maria there’s her anxiety, then for Lara’s character there are insecurities coming through and it was really interesting because I thought this is cool; there’s so much going on under the surface with these different characters which is going to hopefully come out.
You get to be on the active end of violence in one or two scenes – how was that to dish some out?
Oh my goodness, it was amazing. I never in a million years thought that I would be filming myself having a stand-off with Piglet! It was definitely my favourite scene to shoot. I think it’s very rare in horror films for someone who’s experienced a loss to be able to avenge that loss and seek revenge on the person who caused it. So the fact that it does happen in this film… obviously I’m not going to say who wins that fight. You’ll have to watch and find out! But the fact that I got to stand up and we do have a bit of a scene there – it made me really happy and, like I said, there’s not many characters who have that opportunity so I felt very blessed. Chris Cordell who plays Piglet was such a great scene partner. It’s not something I thought I’d ever have in my acting repertoire.
What was it like having Winnie’s honey dribbled all over you? It had a great effect on the audience – it was so gross but was supposed to be gross.
It was so weird. I think we did about four takes of it. I don’t think this is a spoiler because in the trailer we can see Piglet taking her away to their lair. So I’m tied up and Pooh’s leering over me and he’s dribbling honey in my face and there were so many takes because the honey was getting into my eyes so I’m trying to act scared and keep a straight face but at the same time there’s this six-foot Winnie the Pooh dribbling honey in my face. It was hilarious. The director kept telling me to stop moving but I was like, ‘I can’t see!’ So there were many scenes where the director himself kept chuckling away and then we’d have to cut and go again because someone was giggling. It was such a funny scenario to be in and I think that’s the beauty of this film – there are so many really great moments where, especially at FrightFest, I was laughing and the whole audience was laughing and it’s just an enjoyable film. So it made me uncomfortable but at the same time I was cracking up.
The film is horror but it clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously. Can you tell us about the direction on set. Were the actors always playing completely straight or were you working with humour in mind?
We weren’t really told that there was humour involved so we weren’t told to play it that way, but I do a lot of comedy anyway so when I read the script I knew there was great potential for some great comedic moments. It wasn’t something we were really directed by. I don’t think it’s something anyone was actively thinking of, but personally, because of my experience in comedy, I thought the way I want to play it is completely straight because obviously for people watching it, it’s funny, but for the people in those scenarios sometimes people play it for the comedy too much and I think that can take away from it. It’s meant to be fun and it’s kind of taking the mickey out of itself in a way which I think is really nice, because I grew up with films like Scary Movie, Epic Movie – all of those parody films and I really liked them so I thought, ‘Oh, if this is kind of in that vein of filmmaking, that would be amazing.’
Have there been any unexpected or unusual responses to the film so far?
I’ve been really lucky. I’m receiving goodness knows how many messages every day from people saying a variety of, ‘Oh my God, I love the film’, ‘It was so scary!’ and ‘Yes! You took on Piglet, I’m so proud of you. Strong women, represent!’ So I’ve been quite fortunate, I’ve received some really positive responses. I think some people have received responses of different kinds depending on the characters that they played and what they went through in the film. Overall, I think from an audience point of view people are just really enjoying the film. My parents came to FrightFest and I’d already warned them because although we love horror films as a film I’d warned them it was really gory. We’d watched Saw and I knew they’d be fine and I said, you know, it’s funny and even though it’s a horror film, there are jump scares but it’s not a psychological film, it’s not super super-scary. It’s more like ‘Oh there’s Pooh! Oh, there he is again!’. So afterwards they were like, ‘Oh I know you warned us but I really wasn’t expecting the gore!’ And that’s probably the response I’ve had the most because the majority of the death scenes had some form of CGI so whether that’s CGI blood or a CGI eye popping out, but there are a couple which are completely practical effects and I think those are the ones where people were like ‘Oooh!’ That really gets you because you can see it’s real and it makes you squirm a little bit and those were the ones where my parents said, ‘Oh I wasn’t ready, I shouldn’t have had dinner before it.’
Lastly, what other children’s or fairy tale characters do you think could undergo a horror treatment?
Oh my goodness, there are so many. I love this question! All of them! I’m originally from the North of England and I have a very dark sense of humour so my parents thought it would be a good idea to show me the Brothers Grimm fairy tales which are very very dark and the roots of the stories are not pretty. You could say they kind of have horror elements as they are. I grew up watching the Disney films but I was also very aware that all of these Disney princesses and the fairy tales actually have origins in much darker stories. So for me, I’d love to see those Brothers Grimm characters like Snow White, Rose Red, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood – I’d love to see those in a horror setting just because I think there’s so much potential already because of their dark origins. There’s a comic book series called Fables by Bill Willingham so that’s the fairy tale characters in modern day New York, trying to deal with their magical past but in a human non-magical environment and it’s very noir and dark and they deal with a lot realistic issues and I remember reading the comics thinking it would be so easy to push this just a little bit further into a horror spin-off. I’d also love Scooby-Doo. That would be hilarious – it would have to be a horror-comedy. I was talking to some of my friends the other day. How funny would that be if Scooby-Doo was rabid and frothing at the mouth and the only way to get him away from you is throwing him some treats?
Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is in selected cinemas now and screened as part of Glasgow FrightFest 2023