Cult Cinema: Adult Swim Yule Log (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Warner Brothers Discovery
Surreal primetime television subsidy of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim or [adult swim] has been pumping out some of the strangest, most bizarre psychedelic horror-comedy fare the world of the small screen has ever known.  From the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters in 2005 to Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, the network has produced if not influenced the creation of numerous television and theatrical films for the midnight movie/TV crowd.  

Among its most studious content creators is writer-producer-director Casper Kelly, best known for co-creating the series Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell and especially the Adult Swim Informercials episode Too Many Cooks.  Designed to look like an 80s sitcom replete with curtain calls, a hit theme song and a Married with Children ensemble cast, the faux informercial gradually turns sinister as a threatening bearded figure played by William Tokarsky starts invading the sitcom which erupts into pandemonium.

So immensely popular was the viral smash hit Too Many Cooks, garnering well over 2 million views within a few days of airing, the Squidbillies and Aqua Teen Hunger Force writer decided to cook up something not even the most dedicated after-hours viewership of Adult Swim was ready for: a hidden viral horror movie simply entitled Adult Swim Yule Log (or The Fireplace).  

Designed to look like WPIX-TV’s 1966 The Yule Log Christmas special which simply presented a fireplace with Christmas music playing on a television screen before turning into the Adult Swim version of Evil Dead II, Adult Swim Yule Log is one of the year’s most surprising and original horror movies chock full of Easter eggs fans of the network will eagerly eat up.  In theory there are loose connections and shout outs to the viral Too Many Cooks video but even seasoned adult swimmers will be surprised by the insane places this thing goes.
Young couple Zoe (Andrea Laing) and Alex (Justin Miles) are vacationing in a cabin with Alex filming the fireplace intending to make a yule log YouTube video.  Their love lives are interrupted initially by the local sheriff warning of a killer in the area but soon after another group of vacationers show up unannounced with the guests conflicting over the rental agreement ala the opening scenes of Barbarian.  

Soon however someone dies mysteriously, and then things get progressively weirder and more oddly demonic in form, turning somehow into an even wilder surreal shape shifting monster than the Too Many Cooks informercial that seemingly generated it in the first place.  Trying to explain or describe what happens in the remainder of this sneaky Twin Peaks infused viral horror movie is an exercise in futility.
Rather than try and pick apart the calculated madness and mayhem, let it be said Casper Kelly’s first feature-length effort as a writer-director for what it aspires to be is exceedingly well made.  Handsomely photographed in digital amid effects-heavy green screen sequences and practical effects gore by Alex Allgood (The Murder Podcast) with incidental music by Shawn Coleman designed to either augment or contradict the proceedings onscreen, Adult Swim Yule Log aka The Fireplace looks and sounds nice with just the right amount of unrealistic effects to make it feel off kilter.  The ensemble cast, largely led by Andrea Laing who is ostensibly the film’s scream queen, is generally solid and a chunk of the surreal comedy stems from the actors playing it dead seriously.

Pure cinema in the sense that it stemmed from a minimalist idea before ballooning into an out and out freak show, Casper Kelly’s Adult Swim Yule Log is one of the more certifiable yet surprising “hidden” horror films to come out of last year let alone mainstream network television.  The logical extension of what the [adult swim] brand and network is known for and a truly original piece of comedy-horror from one of the network’s most brilliant creative minds, this full-blooded quasi-Christmas horror takes what we think we know about the disparate subgenres and mashes them together in ways we never thought of before.  Yes it is deliberately strange, peculiar and even incoherent but like Kuso or more recently Give Me Pity!, that is precisely the point.  Now, just check your ears in case Adult Swim Yule Log causes your brain to melt out of them.

--Andrew Kotwicki