A Nazi Killer Heidi and a Serial Killer Winnie the Pooh: Why Have Children’s Classics Gone Ultraviolent?

A couple frolics naked in a bucolic setting in the middle of the Alps. The woman asks the man to stay a while longer, but he dismisses her: “Goats need love too. They call me Pedro el Cabrero for a reason”. This scene, which looks like the start of a porn parody of the cartoon series Heidiis really the introduction of a film that opens in theaters throughout Spain this Thursday: Mad Heidia gore version of the children’s classic where the endearing orphan from the mountains is now an anti-fascist guerrilla who stands up to the totalitarian regime established in Switzerland around the cheese monopoly, with which Pedro deals clandestinely.

With a marked movie style grind house (as American movie theaters that showed exploitation titles full of sex and violence were called, usually in double features), Mad Heidi establishes for its protagonist a story of revenge halfway between kill bill Y Damn bastardsby Quentin Tarantino, where Miss Rottenmeier, how could it be otherwise, is reimagined as the director of a concentration camp and Clara loses her legs in a fight.

Image of ‘Mad Heidi’, with its protagonist, Alice Lucy.

Swiss production and financed with three million euros obtained by crowdfunding, the film, in addition to Spain, is being released simultaneously in your country, in Germany, in Austria and in France. The villain, a dictator who exterminates the lactose intolerant for treason against the Swiss homeland, is played by an unleashed Casper van Dien, the protagonist of the cult film Starship Troopers: The Space Brigades (Paul Verhoeven, 1997). The operation may be distantly reminiscent of Our Robocop Remake (2014), a version of robocop carried out by dozens of fans who rewrote the eighties classic with comedy, animation and more action (for example, the moment in which the protagonist stopped an attempted rape by shooting the assailant in the penis became here in zombie movie scenewhere Robocop had to eliminate hundreds of rapists by neutralizing them all with shots to the crotch).

However, that film was distributed without profit as it did not have the rights to the character. In the case of Mad Heidithe adaptation can be commercialized because it is not referred to the animebut to the original book by the Swiss Johanna Spyri, from the 19th century and, therefore, in the public domain.

It is the same legal reason that has made it possible Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey (in Spanish, “Blood and honey”), a horror film scheduled for release in 2023, where the teddy bear from the Hundred Acre Wood becomes a psychopathic murderer due to the abandonment he suffers from Christopher Robin. The general public remembers Winnie the Pooh from the Disney cartoons, but it is a creation from a 1926 AA Milne novel and, since January of this year, its use in the United States has been free.

Winnie the Pooh, evil in'Blood and Honey'.
Winnie the Pooh, evil in ‘Blood and Honey’.

Pooh’s piggy friend Piglet will also make an appearance; not so other characters like Tigger, still under exclusive license from Disney for having been developed years later. The new adaptation emanates from the original model and cannot be reminiscent of the factory’s characterization or dialogue, which is still a private work. It is a similar case to Mickey Mousewhose entry into the American public domain is scheduled for 2024, but this does not mean that it will be able to be reproduced there in any way, but exclusively from its original black and white image (that of the original short film, Steamboat Williefrom 1928) and without using the name, which remains a registered trademark.

Horror variants of children’s classics are a whole subgenre. In the last decade, for example, up to six adult feature films have been produced based on Hansel and Gretelthe story that the Grimm brothers collected and published in 1812, among which the bloody Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), produced by comedian Will Ferrell and directed by the director of nazi zombieseither Gretel and Hansel: A Dark Fairy Tale (2020), a serious horror proposal that enjoyed a certain cult thanks to the impulse given by the streaming during the coronavirus lockdown. The slasher American Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996), in what seemed like a reaction against the hegemonic sweetened version of the tale offered by Disney in 1940, put an argument into the mouths of various characters to justify their own existence: that, in the original published by the Italian carlo collodi between 1882 and 1883, Pinocchio was not all kindness, but, among others, he killed the cricket (his conscience) as soon as he met him.

latent fears

Regarding the idea that these films reintroduce horror elements that were supposedly at the source and had been lost or distorted due to the influence of Disney, María Victoria Sotomayor, tenured professor of Spanish Literature and Children’s Literature at the Autonomous University of Madrid, He has his reservations. “I don’t think the spirit of these tales was to terrify. In general, popular tales, by anonymous authors and coming from the most primitive oral tradition, were not created for children but for an audience that included everyone”, she explains to ICON. “Naturally, life is full of dangers, problems, joys and fears, encounters and misunderstandings, friends and enemies, and this negative, difficult or conflictive content is represented here, which sometimes hyperdevelops in some readings and adaptations, when its true The function, in my view, is to teach how to face it and overcome it”.

Promotional image for'Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters', 2013.
Promotional image for ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’, 2013.

In this sense, the teacher rejects the idea that Hansel and Gretel either pinocchio seek to dissuade children from leaving home by showing the disturbing threats from the outside world, such as the witch who wants to cook for the brothers in the first story or the transformation into a donkey suffered by the protagonist in the second for running away with a friend. “Hansel and Gretel don’t leave their home, but their parents leave them in the woods. And Pinocchio is also a learning story that goes far beyond warning children of dangers. According to many interpretations, Pinocchio is a faithful representation of the imperfect, contradictory and weak human being, but also good and noble, who stumbles towards his maturation. Like everyone, after all,” reflects Sotomayor.

Of Pinocchio, precisely, Netflix will release a new animated version next December, directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson. Not strictly horror, this adaptation fits faithfully, however, in the fantastic imaginary of the Mexican filmmaker, who presents Gepetto as a sort of tragic doctor Frankenstein overwhelmed by his creation. Del Toro, who also co-wrote the script, further relocates the context of Carlo Collodi’s story in Mussolini’s Fascist Italywhich gives a new meaning to the theme of education in obedience.

Although, obviously, Mad Heidi or, judging by its trailer and title, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey They are projects based on laughter and the morbidity that a part of the public feels when seeing characters from their childhood soaked in blood and dismembering their victims in the most atrocious ways, the purely childish elements inserted in a horror environment are something almost inseparable from the entire genre: he’s in the false invisible friend trope that pretty much every kid in a horror movie has (who actually turns out to be a ghost or demon) and he’s the embodiment of many famous threats like the clown It (That) or the porcelain doll Annabelle, from the saga Warren expedient.

An image from'Mad Heidi'.
An image from ‘Mad Heidi’.

“There could be a certain awareness that childhood fears are still present in one way or another in the fears of the rest of life and in the new myths that we forge for ourselves in a cultural system that questions and conditions us. Childhood is the origin of everything: fear, life and personal identity itself. It is logical that they return to it with the most varied meanings and purposes”, says Sotomayor. And remember a quote from the writer HP Lovecraft: “Of all human emotions, the oldest and most powerful is fear, and of all fears, the oldest and most powerful is fear of the unknown.”

Yes Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is successful, director Rhys Frake-Waterfield has already announced his intention to launch a cinematographic universe where the second link will be Peter Pan: Neverland Nightmare (“The Neverland Nightmare”), since JM Barrie’s tale is also almost in the public domain, except for a fee for a children’s hospital that the author arranged in his will and extended by the British government. And if, at a given moment, the exploitation of these characters does not go further, Professor María Victoria Sotomayor points out another possible site to explore: “In Spain, the hallelujahs and other popular readings that were widely read and appreciated by children and adults alike They circulated in the lowest social strata, many of which were gruesome as they could not be, with stories of crimes, deaths and all kinds of stories narrated in sheets of string and blind man’s romances. Children enjoyed these stories to the horror of educators as early as the 19th century. It seems to me that this is the closest thing to gore that we have in our native production”.

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A Nazi Killer Heidi and a Serial Killer Winnie the Pooh: Why Have Children’s Classics Gone Ultraviolent?