In 1973, Warner Brothers released a film of such unremitting horror that it caused outrage across the world. Directed by William Friedkin and adapted from his own novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist depicted the possession of a 12-year-old girl by the demon Pazuzu and subsequent attempts at an exorcism by two Catholic priests. Featuring some of the most shocking sights ever seen on screen, the film was condemned by many prominent figures in society and its terrifying nature even led some to believe that the very celluloid the film was printed on was somehow possessed.
Yet, Friedkin’s masterpiece of terror pales in comparison to the soul-chilling, bone-trembling evil of Disney’s 22nd animated classic, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Winnie the Pooh and the Childhood Memories
The mind is a strange and confusing thing. We can endure some of the most life-altering events imaginable and forget everything but the major bullet points, but go through some of the most disposable, inconsequential things and have them stick like flies on fly paper. What’s more, while those memories may be of ostensibly happy and wonderful things, they can somehow get mashed up in our heads into being something uncanny or scary. Such is the case with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
When I was a kid, I had the film on VHS recorded off the television. As kids do, I watched it over and over and over again with my sister, alongside the likes of The Goonies and a handful of Donald Duck cartoons. This, I believe, is a critical part of a child’s development. The desire to rewatch a film is a desire to re-experience and understand emotions and, perhaps more significantly, a display of empathy for characters: by rewatching films, kids aren’t just interested in reliving the plot, but spending more time with the people in the film, even if those people are doing exactly the same thing they’ve already done before. (It’s why I passionately defend Disney’s direct-to-video sequels in the 90s. Even the weakest examples allow kids to develop stronger bonds with characters they love, but now following them through new and different adventures).
The problem with rewatching films in your youth (aside from driving your parents mad) is that they become lodged in your head in really strange ways. One of the Donald cartoons I remember watching is 1939’s Sea Scouts, in which Donald and the nephews set out to sea (obviously) and come across a shark. Donald – because he’s a dick – wear’s an admiral’s hat, denoting his clear superiority over his nephews and Poseidon himself (probably). Obviously he comes a cropper and his hat gets wet in the process. I watched the short a few months ago for the first time in years and what stuck with me isn’t the narrative or any of the jokes, but the sight of Donald’s hat, wet and deflated, as he struggles against the shark.
Perhaps as a kid I had a preternatural understanding of Freudian imagery and recognised Donald’s hat as an unmistakably phallic symbol, associating it with my own burgeoning manhood in some sort of weird moment of primal acknowledgement.
Or maybe the shark just really scared me.
Either way, that moment has stuck with me, and so too has The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Impressionable minds are there to be shaped and Pooh (much more than Trainspotting or Terminator 2: Judgement Day, both of which I was banned from watching by my parents) shaped mine.
Winnie the Pooh and the Extreme Weather Warning
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh consists of three shorts and a brief epilogue. The first (Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree) finds Pooh seeking out honey, winding up at Rabbit’s house, feeding his habit, and getting stuck in Rabbit’s door because he’s too fat to fit through it. The third (Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too) brings Tigger into the mix and sees Rabbit trying to ditch his hyperactive friend before the poor sap ends up bouncing all the way up to the top of a very tall tree and struggling to get down. Both are very charming stories told with beautiful painterly animation, lovely Sherman Brothers songs, and a pleasingly silly sense of humour.
In the middle of these two delightful tales is a story of Edgar Allan Poe-esque horror. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day may sound like an easy watch, but don’t let the title fool you. In reality, it’s a horrifyingly gritty tale of lost homes, the unremitting brutality of Mother Nature, and the worst hallucination in cinematic history. (Except maybe ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’, but there’s no need to bring that into it. I can only deal with one childhood trauma at a time thanks very much.)
Blustery Day details a terrible storm in The Hundred Acre Wood. It blows over Owl’s house, leading Eeyore to hunt down a new abode for the feathered gasbag. As day turns to night the winds turn to rain, creating a torrent that floods most of the wood and Pooh’s house in particular. Piglet gets caught in the flood water, meaning Pooh needs to save him from almost certain death. Terrifying, right? And then at the end, just when you thought the horror was over, Eeyore misreads a sign at Piglet’s house, believing it to say ‘Owl’. This, therefore, must be Owl’s house, so Piglet’s turfed out and is forced to live with notorious addict Pooh in a life of almost certain honey-induced squalor and degradation.
I was a nervy kid when I was young (and remain a nervy adult now) and once got terribly upset when my Dad momentarily lost his way on a family outing. We were lost, my anxiety-riddled brain told me, and were never going to get home. As someone who’s always seen my home as my centre, the one place I could flee when times got tough, this prospect really terrified me, and that’s probably why Blustery Day gets to me so much. The idea that the weather – something no-one on Earth can protect you from – could take your home away was genuinely horrifying, and remains so to me now. Owl’s house swaying from side-to-side in the wind still puts me on the edge of my seat and when Piglet drifts through the flood water, I’m about ready to hide behind my sofa. Come on Christopher Robin, nobody needs this
Winnie the Pooh and the Heffalumps of Terror
But that’s not the only pulse-pounding, nerve-shredding, sweat-inducing horror that Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day delivers in its effort to warp the minds of children the world over. Oh no, no, no.
May I introduce you to Heffalumps and Woozles.
These demons of the night appear to Pooh in a dream. Tigger has just been round and warned his honey-obssessed chum of the dangers they represent. Naturally Pooh doesn’t really listen until their interest in honey is mentioned, then he gets really terrified that he’ll lose his stash and decides to go on guard duty, marching up and down his little house to make sure that none of the honey-thieving bastards appear and spirit his supply away.
Naturally, being a willy-nilly-silly old bear, Pooh falls asleep and hallucinates about Heffalumps and Woozles. A gigantic mistake, because if these fuckers actually existed and invaded Pooh’s home wearing Donald Trump masks and armed with AK-47s and a mobile phone that opens only Breitbart News they’d still be less scary than what Pooh dreams up.
Here, in full and in glorious 1080p definition, is the most terrifying thing in cinematic history…
You may think I’m being silly. That I’m somehow exaggerating for comic effect. Firstly: how dare you, this is my blog, and I don’t accept civil criticism. Secondly, let’s rundown exactly what happens in this 3 minutes 40 seconds of gruelling terror, and then see if you think I’m over-reacting.
- The sky is without end or form. There are no clouds, there’s no horizon. It’s just an infinite haze of blues, blacks, and whites from which we will never escape.
- The people singing sound like they’re from a Dr Seuss book, if those people happened to be the devil himself.
- “They come in ones and twozles,” we’re told. Okay, fine. I can take one or two Heffalumps. “But if they so choozles, before your eyes you’ll see them multiply-ply-ply-ply.” What?! They can just multiply endlessly? And quite randomly too – just, if they so choozle? Just like that?! First of all, choozle is not a word. Second of all, at least there was only one Pazuzu. There’s an infinite supply of Heffalumps and Woozles.
- “Because they guzzle up the thing you prize.” Hey, you leave my Ghostbusters House with Real Slime and Working Fireman’s Pole alone, you bastard Heffalumps!
- These things can morph themselves into anything they so wish, changing colour, shape, and form. They can be square if they like! They could be that square. Or that sofa! Or that dustbin! They could be anywhere and anything!
- The laughing honey pot really scares me and I don’t know why.
- A Heffalump is disguised as a gigantic bee. A gigantic bee, everybody. A gigantic bee sent from the depths of hell itself.
- Jack in the Boxes. They come in Jack in the Boxes as well. As if both Heffalumps and Jack in the Boxes weren’t terrifying enough already.
- The dancing Heffalump in the tux never blinks and never looks at anything. It just stares at the camera, through the screen, and into my very soul.
- As a kid, I thought the Heffalump that uses honey to create a harp with her trunk actually, biologically had a trunk/harp. It was body horror for children. If David Cronenberg made cartoons, this would be what he would come up with.
- How does Pooh turn so small he can fit into the snake-charmer’s honey pot? What demon magic is this?
- How is that Heffalump doubling up as a cannon? Why does the Woozle light his fuse? Why does he blow up?!
- WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUUCK…?
None of this makes sense! You may be thinking: Yes, but Paul, it doesn’t have to make sense. This is just a dream and dreams don’t make sense and, for that fact, are frequently scary. I accept that, but counter it with the fact that Tigger said Heffelumps and Woozles exist, and therefore that’s the truth. Tigger wouldn’t lie. These bastards are out there and they must be stopped. In fact, wait…
Is that one now? OH MY GOD, THERE’S ONE HERE. THERE’S A HEFFALUMP IN THE HOUSE.
The Mouse House Movie Club will return next time. Maybe…