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“Poor men, when yule is cold,
Must be content to sit by little fires.”
—Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Holy Grail”
FEATURING: Andrea Laing, Justin Miles, Charles Green, Tordy Clark, Brendan Patrick Connor
PLOT: We open on a shot of a crackling yule log. After a few minutes, a cleaning woman enters and begins vacuuming in preparation for the arrival of a couple who have rented the cabin, but is interrupted by a ringing doorbell. More people arrive at the cabin—it turns out it has been accidentally double-booked—along with many unwanted guests, including the Little Man in the Fireplace.
- “Adult Swim,” the Cartoon Network’s late-night programming branch, dropped this feature-film special into their lineup on Dec. 11, 2022, with no previous notice or promotion.
- Yule log videos began in 1966 on NY TV station WPIX, which broadcast looped footage of a crackling log in a fireplace accompanied by Christmas music in place of normal programming on Christmas Day. The format was popular enough that enterprising companies eventually released “Yule Log” videos on VHS tape and DVD.
- Writer/director Casper Kelly caught the world by surprise with his viral sitcom introduction spoof “Too Many Cooks” in 2014. That success encouraged Panos Cosmatos to contract Kelly to direct the memorable “Cheddar Goblin” sequence in Mandy. He has worked on a couple of TV projects in the past year, but hasn’t scheduled another feature film project (yet?)
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Little Man Inside the Fireplace, a true Southern gentleman in a seersucker suit, lounging inside his room housed within the flaming log, attended by his stag-headed bartender. It is, the Man proclaims, like that meme with the dog in the burning house: “this is fine.” Only it’s not.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Nurse Nutmeg, flashback-quoting flying log
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A Yule Log that turns into a conflagration that blazes across genres, Adult Swim’s Yule Log is much more than a gimmick: it’s a truly weird horror film that mixes absurdist comedy, slasher movie parody, genuine tension, a truly goofy antagonist, and thoughtful criticism of America’s past. It’s always an unpredictable surprise. So accept your time privilege, grab a Nurse Nutmeg, and sit down by the fire to enjoy the soothing chaos of Adult Swim’s Yule Log. Yule like it.
First 3 minutes of Adult Swim Yule Log
COMMENTS: It would have been amazing if The Adult Swim Yule Log had managed to remain in that tight closeup on the crackling log for it’s entire 90 minute run time—a one shot, static found footage film—but that challenge exceeds even Casper Kelly’s ingenuity. He’s eventually forced to pull back and resort to a conventional omniscient third-person camera. Excepting a few haunted flashbacks, however, he does manage to stay locked into that perspective (with a small adjustment) for the entire first act.
But don’t be disappointed if you were looking forward to Yule Log pushing its fixed-camera conceit to the limit. This movie has plenty of tricks up its sleeve. After a few minutes of a lightly orchestrated carols over hypnotic flames, the cleaning lady comes in to vacuum. Then there’s a knock at the door, and a couple of strangers arrive complaining of car trouble. A bit later, the couple who’s rented the cabin for a romantic weekend come in, and the film briefly turns into a relationship drama. And then some other visitors arrive with a dire warning. And then a quartet of attractive young podcasters arrive.
And then things get… odd. Surprises abound, as the film addresses several different horror genres, including, most chillingly, surrealist horror. I’ll spoil as little as I can here, but if you want to go in blind, stop reading now (you already know too much for optimal surprise—sorry about that). The movie follows several threads at once, exploring a tragic backstory hearkening to the antebellum South, while introducing multiple inconsistent antagonists: serial killers, aliens, and the log itself, who puts in an inanimate performance nearly worthy of Robert the tire. And of course, there’s the dapper Little Man, who adds a real element of supernatural horror (and probably has a great recipe for finger-licking-good fried crow). What comedy there is arises naturally from the absurdity of the situation. But what is more impressive more is Kelly’s ability to create genuine unease and suspense amidst all the kookiness: a bit where a killer feeds a victim pimento cheese from a jackknife during a psychological cat and mouse duel, while another killer selects a victim in the next room, creates suspense worthy of a chef’s kiss. Then, of course, the scene resolves in the only way possible: through completely ridiculous deus ex machina. The unknown cast of local Georgia actors all competently enact slasher movie stereotypes, without ever winking at the camera.
Kelly’s script, while delighting in jumping all over the place to disorient the viewer, is tighter than it appears at first glance, while still retaining a significant margin of mystery. The log’s cursed origins, if not the source of its arcane power, are clearly spelled out. Seemingly random flashbacks are eventually woven into the narrative. There is a clever, seasonally-appropriate twist on the nihilist fantasy at the heart of It’s a Wonderful Life: would the world be better if I had never been born? There’s a nod, at least, to “elevated horror,” with Zoe’s elaborate backstory of guilt, low self-esteem and anxiety. But is there an explanation for the extraneous elements: the serial killers and aliens? Does any of this have anything to do with the edibles the entire cast (except Zoe) takes? And who is the true antagonist of the film? The log ? The Little Man in the Fireplace? (And while we’re at it, who is the Little Man—the log’s evil soul? A former victim? The devil Himself?) Or is the real enemy here generational American evil, as the cultists hint, a blood curse born from genocide and slavery? A nightmare can incorporate all these elements; the fact that you can’t completely lock down its meaning gives it more power. Since you can’t find the wound, no amount of therapy can heal the trauma. Adult Swim Yule Log is presented as a prank, it’s true; but the flames licking at that log just might be the fires of Hell.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…it’s surreal and complex, but knows how to have a goopy, good time, too. What more could you want from a subversive horror take on holiday ASMR?”–Alejandra Martinez, We Got This Covered (contemporaneous)
“Adult Swim’s first fright flick is in the vein of schlocky ‘80s midnighters, where chaos trumps coherency. Maybe burn this hallucinogenic strain after you already have the munchies?”–Matt Donato, IGN (contemporaneous)
OFFICIAL SITE: Adult Swim Yule Log– At the time of this writing, the entire movie is available to stream (full gore included) on Adult Swim’s site
IMDB LINK: Adult Swim Yule Log (2022)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Original Adult Swim announcement on Twitter – Gives no information on the movie, but the enthusiastic fan comments are worth a read
How Adult Swim Made Insane Horror Movie ‘Yule Log’ Without Warner Bros. Discovery Finding Out – The story of how Kelly got the film made, almost in secret
Convo x Fango: ADULT SWIM YULE LOG – Fangoria interviews Kelly on YouTube
‘Too Many Cooks’ Creator Casper Kelly Talks His New Adult Swim Holiday Horror | Dread Talks – Another video interview with Kelly
‘Adult Swim Yule Log’ Actors Talk Their Chaotic New Horror Comedy | Dread Talks – Short video interview with lead actors Andrea Laing and Justin Miles
APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE ADULT SWIM YULE LOG [AKA THE FIREPLACE] (2022) – This site’s original review of the film
HOME VIDEO INFO:
The Adult Swim Yule Log has not appeared on physical media (and possibly never will, although that would be a damn shame.) As mentioned above, it currently screens for free on Adult Swim’s site. If you’d prefer to donate some coin to the creators, it’s currently available for purchase (not rental) at Amazon for a totally-worth-it $1.99.