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Canadian director of Mickey Mouse horror film: ‘We kind of shook the world’

The film was shot in eight days at Funhaven, an amusement centre in Ottawa
A still image from the film “Mickey’s Mouse Trap” is shown in this handout photo. A Canadian horror director is riding a wave of viral buzz for turning Disney’s most famous character into a gruesome slasher flick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jamie Bailey **MANDATORY CREDIT **

Here’s Mickey!

A Canadian horror director is riding a wave of viral buzz for turning Disney’s most famous character into a gruesome slasher flick.

The trailer for “Mickey’s Mouse Trap” was released on Jan. 1, the same day the earliest iteration of the beloved animated rodent entered the public domain, and it’s been making headlines.

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“We kind of shook the world,” says Toronto-based filmmaker Jamie Bailey, 46, who has been fielding interview requests from the likes of ABC News and Rolling Stone over the last few days. “It’s been a wild ride. One of the craziest weeks of my life.”

“Mickey’s Mouse Trap,” directed by Bailey and written by Simon Phillips, who also plays the titular mouse, sees a group of friends throw a birthday party at a Dave & Buster’s-esque venue, when “someone becomes possessed by Mickey Mouse and goes crazy and starts killing people.”

The film was shot in eight days at Funhaven, an amusement centre in Ottawa, “on a super low, micro-budget,” says Bailey. He refuses to disclose just how much money was spent.

Bailey was born and raised in Cape Breton, N.S, before moving to Toronto in 2007 to pursue a career as a filmmaker. He began gravitating towards the horror genre because the films don’t always require major stars and can be made on the cheap.

“The great thing about the Mickey Mouse thing is we’re kind of injecting the two things — the genre of horror and taking a big name, which is Mickey Mouse — but we don’t have to pay for it, which is the magic sauce right now,” he says.

The film was strategically shot in September so Bailey could drop the trailer as soon as the copyright expired for “Steamboat Willie,” the 1928 Disney animated short that debuted the characters of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

“I’m shocked that we were the first people that actually jumped on it,” he says. “I’m shocked because anyone could have done this that makes movies. Anybody could have done it.”

While Bailey’s film was indeed the first, an as-yet-untitled Mickey Mouse slasher was announced on Jan. 2 by director Steven LaMorte, who previously helmed a horror parody of “The Grinch” called “The Mean One.” On Instagram, LaMorte described the film as: “A late-night boat ride turns into a desperate fight for survival in New York City when a mischievous mouse becomes a monstrous reality.”

Bailey’s crew had to tiptoe around legal limitations — only the “Steamboat Willie” version of Mickey Mouse is public domain, not the modern-day Mickey with the gloves and oversized shoes. The killer in the film dons a Mickey Mouse mask that looks exactly as the original iteration of the character was drawn, with pupil-less, small, black ovals as eyes.

At one point, Bailey had the killer doing Mickey’s iconic, high-pitched giggle, but he had to remove it because only later versions of the mouse did the laugh.

“The lawyer said, ‘Take that out, you can’t do that.’ It’s little things like that that can get us in trouble,” he says.

Bailey was inspired by “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey,” a horror film by British director Rhys Frake-Waterfield released in 2023 after the original version of the beloved fictional bear entered the public domain.

“They never got sued,” he says. “They’re making a sequel now.”

He points out that the copyright for the original version of Peter Pan — based on J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play about the character’s adventures in Neverland — expired on Jan. 1 and Frake-Waterfield also has a horror film in the works based on him.

“I think this is going to be a trend,” he says. “It’s going to be the beginning of something. Maybe in five years we’re going to be heavily oversaturated with it.”

His film is not without its haters. Bailey admits the trailer has been getting skewered online for its campiness, but he believes the backlash is just par for the course.

“I find especially with ‘Blood and Honey’ and these low-budget horror movies that there’s a certain market for people who love to hate it,” he says. “Like, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone say, ‘This looks terrible. I can’t wait to see it.’”

And as for when people can see “Mickey’s Mouse Trap,” Bailey says he’s aiming for a March release, although he’s currently in talks with distributors. He says he’s been offered everything from theatrical releases to opportunities on streaming platforms.

“We have everyone knocking on our doors right now,” he says.

Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press