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FEATURING: Andrea Laing, Justin Miles, Charles Green, Tordy Clark, Brendan Patrick Connor
PLOT: It begins as an ambient shot of a Yule log, but then the cleaning lady walks into the frame, and soon enough we’re dealing with serial killers, aliens, occultists, flashbacks, and the Little Man: is this log haunted, or are the edibles hitting early?
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Considering the source, this prank probably caught no one off guard, but it is utter madness in seasonal horror. Don’t believe us? Read some responses on the Twitter thread.
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. The movie has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve. After a few minutes of a lightly orchestrated carols over hypnotic flames, the cleaning lady comes in tovacuum. 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. 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 fried chicken). What comedy there is arises naturally from the absurdity of the situation. But what impresses 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, more mentally-challenged killer selects a victim in the next room, creates horror tension 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 all competently enact slasher movie stereotypes, without ever winking at the camera. 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.
Casper Kelly caught the world by surprise with his interminable viral sitcom introduction spoof “Too Many Cooks” in 2014. That success encouraged Panos Cosmatos to subcontract Kelly to direct the memorable “Cheddar Goblin” sequence in Mandy. Still, although Kelly continued to work on short projects for the edgy/surreal “Adult Swim” block on the Cartoon Network, his feature film debut was kept secret, coming as even more of a surprise than the fact that Adult Swim’s version of a Yule Log would go terribly awry. Now that Kelly’s broken out of the TV short game, it will be interesting to follow his career and see if he indulges his imagination with more conventionally distributed—if never conventional—material. For those who missed the original broadcast, Adult Swim’s Yule Log can be seen on HBO Max or purchased VOD (it’s a true bargain at $2.99 to own—not just to rent for the usual 48 hours). Here’s hoping it also receives the physical media release it deserves.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“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)