Casper Kelly Discusses the Horrors of the Adult Swim Yule Log

TV

This article contains spoilers for Adult Swim’s Yule Log.

If it’s taken you eight years to get the Two Many Cooks theme song out of your head, I’m here to break that track record! In 2014, Casper Kelly (Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell) released the now viral 11-minute video, sending the internet ablaze with fervent fan reactions. If you somehow managed to escape its catchy grasp, Adult Swim’s Too Many Cooks is an experimental short film, blending sitcom parody, surrealism, sci-fi, soap opera, and police procedural commentary with a madcap serial killer deconstructing all its branching storylines.

If that sounds weird, it’s because it is. But that’s what Adult Swim does best – delivering irreverent comedy that gifts us odd delight and daring discomfort.

Now Kelly has taken the reins on a new project for Adult Swim – a Yule Log film – that will equally inspire questions, fan theories, and merriment for viewers. What begins as a seemingly typical yule log video quickly shifts its tone to bring in a zany and out-of-this-world (literally) cast of characters to a cabin in the woods. What could go wrong when a seemingly cursed log takes center stage? A lot.

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Den of Geek sat down with writer-director Kelly to discuss his process for crafting Adult Swim’s first feature-length horror film. Like his work on Too Many Cooks, this project plays with the viewer’s expectations through a careful balance of kills, self-aware humor, and a mysterious setup. An uncensored version of the project drops on HBO Max on Dec. 12, containing more gore, brief nudity, and adult language.

Since this is Adult Swim’s first live-action horror feature. Were there any parameters they had for you about what they were looking for? How much creative autonomy did you get with the project?

Casper Kelly: It’s their first live-action feature of any kind. But there were no parameters. Really. Just try not to be boring [laughs]. I pitched him the very loose idea of what if there’s a Yule Log, and then you hear noises off-screen like someone’s entering. You see blurry legs crossing the screen, and then it becomes a story. And they said, “Yes, let’s do it!”

I love the opening kill sequence that first clues us into the fact that something is off in this world. I would love to know, did you always anticipate it to be an off-screen kill so that we focus on the log going into the film?

Yes… I don’t have a lot of experience with horror. I come more from comedy. So it was new to me – what I felt right showing and not showing. I felt like it’s more scary to not show it. It’s sort of like in Reservoir Dogs. You don’t actually see him cut off the ear. It’s off-screen. But everyone thinks that they’ve seen it. So yeah, I’m glad you like that.

There’s a censored and uncensored version of Adult Swim Yule Log. Did you go in seeing two different cuts in your head? Or was it something where after you made it, then decisions were made about what to keep in either version? Adult Swim lives in this murky territory where a lot of kids watch the channel and a lot of adults do too. So I’m curious what that process was like for you.

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Well, I wrote it thinking of it as uncensored. The censored version, it’s not dramatically different in terms like there are no whole scenes or shots removed. It’s just that some words are bleeped or removed. There’s a little bit of very brief nudity that is blurred. So you’re basically getting a very similar experience.

Too Many Cooks definitely has some horror elements. But this project is more horrific – for sure. What was it like for you when you were approaching showing more body horror on screen? There’s one elongated scene in a shower that’s pretty graphic. I thought it was great. But I would love to know how you approached that and what kind of effects you wanted to use – especially since this is a newer terrain for your work.

Oh, yes. There were a lot of conversations. One of the producers at Media Team, Tim Reis, and Shane Morton, who is [the head of the film’s] practical effects, talked about the idea of the camera going toward the target, and then you can use that to do a cut. So when you pull back, the face is different. And then when you push it again, you can tell a story that way. That sounded great, so that’s what we did for that sequence. I’m glad you liked it. I loved it, too. And then even the way it’s different. It’s worse still when you see it later. [Laughs]. Like he wasn’t even done! Yeah, that feeling of escalation more while trying not to repeat too much.

Horror and comedy are a lot alike in that they rely on tension and release to work. Sometimes you laugh at what makes you uncomfortable to calm yourself – like in Too Many Cooks. But this Yule Log feels more horror-focused. I’d love to hear about what rules you had to keep that balance between horror and comedy, as it’s a tricky balance to maintain!

Yes! I wish I had a good answer for that. But I think it was really working intuitively and then in editing, showing it to people like, “What do you think? Does this work? Do I need to cut this comedy back? Is it too horrific?”

It’s a little bit of trial and error – sort of like baking. You add an ingredient and then it’s like, “That’s a little too much cinnamon! Ok, I’ll add more of this.” If you watch it unspool, you feel a certain way, and then you know as you’re watching it, “Okay, now we can cut to this.”

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There are many players here. But I love that the log itself is a character. It had me thinking of Twin Peaks’ log lady – what if her log could talk? Would it be like this one?

I love that.  Yeah, I’m definitely a big fan of David Lynch, which is probably apparent here. He’s a big influence on me for sure. So I love that you’re thinking that way, too.

With the log, we get these different vignettes. Did you have a certain one that you liked the most?

In terms of the time travel stuff?

Yes!

I love the collision of it. But I guess I spend the most time with and love the stuff with Isaac and Rosa – although it’s very delicate. But as a Southerner, it’s on my mind, and I was kind of interested in exploring it.

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Discussing lynching in a horror comedy film is difficult but I think it works. 

Oh, good! I was concerned.

What were some concerns you had about that aspect? I do think the way it’s handled works because of how the main Black character in the movie gets to talk about it and reacts to it. And it feels like it’s making more fun of white people’s discussions…

Well, I don’t want to talk about it too much because I want people to think about it. But I guess I partly think about history, and our place in it – in terms of “what would I be like If I lived 200 years ago?” “What type of person would I be?”

Also, I think I’m a good person now. But what will people 100 years from now think about? Maybe they might go “he was terrible.” He didn’t do enough about global warming, or whatever. So I think that’s an interesting idea to explore.

I feel like this log has a lot of stories it could tell. Would you ever have any interest in returning to it – maybe in a horror comedy anthology format?

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I would definitely be interested in doing it. I haven’t thought about it because we just barely finished this one. If it was a painting that we sent you, the paint would still be drying. But yeah, it’s an interesting world. I do think there’s more there possibly. I would love that.

That would be really fun!

Tell your audiences that are executives or hedge fund managers. [Laughs]

Since this is a film about a yule log and people who watch yule log videos – in a way – I have to ask: What do you think of them? Are you a fan?

I have played them. You know it’s fake, but they do give you a feeling of coziness and warmth on unconscious levels. So yes, I support them.

Is there anything about this project that you’re dying to talk about that I haven’t asked yet that you’d like to share?

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I don’t think so. I think you asked really great questions. I guess I could say the ending song, [“The Fireplace”] is original. It’s [written by me, with music by Shawn Coleman and performed by Big Mike Geier] and going to be on Spotify. Adult Swim Yule Log [aka The Fireplace] is going to be on HBO Max. But if you don’t have HBO Max, I think you can also buy it digitally if you want the movie. There are a lot of ways to see it, and I hope people enjoy it.

Adult Swim’s Yule Log will be available to stream on HBO Max today.

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