ComingSoon spoke with Yule Log, Too Many Cooks, and Final Deployment 4: Queen Battle Walkthrough creator Casper Kelly about Adult Swim’s newest horror comedy special and how much Kelly enjoys messing with genre conventions. Yule Log is now available to stream on HBO Max.
Though it begins as a simple holiday yule log video, the special quickly becomes a surreal and frightening experience that goes in directions viewers could never predict.
Spencer Legacy: Yule Log is substantially longer than your previous works. What challenges come with maintaining that tension and unease for a full hour and a half?
Casper Kelly: Yes, it’s hard to say except it’s longer. It’s longer, but also you want to have character arcs and payoffs. I played around with not paying off things, like putting in red herrings and then breaking the rule and never doing anything with them, but … I guess I don’t have a great answer to that. I just … intuitively, it was a huge challenge.
Yule Log also has a few different monsters or villains. How did you go about fitting these different types of antagonists into one story?
A little bit of trial and error and just a little bit … I just am drawn to it. It might be partly insecurity, like, “Is this enough? Do I need to put more in here? I want to people to enjoy this. Am I giving them enough? I probably should put in something else.” I’ve been doing mostly comedy, so I’ve been kind of pent up and not able to do horror. So now that I can, it’s like, why don’t I try to do three movies at the same time?
Similarly, there are a few different types of horrors too in Yule Log. How difficult was it to balance these distinct subgenres? Alien horror, historical horror … how tough was it to almost do multiple different genres?
It was tough and, I mean, honestly, when I wrote it, I wasn’t sure if it would work. There are a few things I just took risks on. Also, would it work to have the camera locked off that long, where the camera is still? I think it was really just crossing my fingers and jumping into the abyss. I wasn’t sure if it would work. Hopefully it did!
The themes of Yule Log can actually be pretty heavy. What inspired you to explore things like historic racism and mental illness in this one?
I think it’s because they relate to me in a sense of like … I guess I do have anxiety and can relate to Zoe in that regard. In terms of historical racism, I’m from the south. My parents are southerners. I grew up here and it is on my mind. When you just think about a place … I was led to that because when the camera’s locked off on a place and I can’t move the camera, I start thinking about time travel as a way to add things. Then if you include time travel, you’re going to think about history. But it’s something we all think about when you go to an Airbnb or go to a park, you wonder what’s happened here in the past, like where I’m standing right now. What has happened here and how does it affect us now in ways we don’t know? It’s just a concern of mine, I guess. And I hope I did it justice.
The scenes in the fireplace are really excellent. How early did you decide on that unsettling, almost Twin Peaks-esque aesthetic?
I think immediately, because I am such a superfan of David Lynch that I knew if I had a chance, I would take it. I think it’s also a little insecurity of … I want to make sure I have enough in the movie for people to enjoy and be surprised. I try hard to just pack it in. It’s probably an insecurity thing.
You also are really good at very natural, realistic dialogue between characters. Does that come naturally to you or do you go out of your way to make these almost mundane conversations that feel like you’re watching a live video?
That’s a great question. I think I really wrote it just how I imagined I might say it or someone I know might say it. I wondered if that was the right move. I wondered if I should have done a more stylized form of dialogue. But it seemed like in this idea where you’re almost spying in on people, it felt like it should be natural.
The podcasters especially seemed very accurate. Did that come from personal experience knowing podcasters?
Well, I do podcast interviews. I love podcasts. I listen to them all the time. Of course I did Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, where Henry Zebrowski has a huge podcast called Last Podcast on the Left. So it just was on my mind.
William Tokarsky also makes a little cameo. What was his response to appearing in Yule Log?
He’s game. He’s like, “Yeah, I’m up for anything.” He’s having the time of his life. He’s doing so many movies and TV shows. He was happy to come back and reprise the role. I wish I could have given him a bigger role with lines, but the way I used him just seemed [like] the right way to do it.
Like with Too Many Cooks and Final Deployment 4, there’s a meta element to Yule Log. What do you think makes meta such a good fit for horror?
I guess I’m just drawn to it. I definitely like horror that is not meta plenty and meta can be overdone, but I guess I just end up putting it in there. I just love it.
Another big theme in your work is playing with established conventions of genres and mediums. Where does this affinity for messing with tropes come from?
Even as a little kid, I loved to do that. I guess I read Mad Magazine and would make my own little parodies of commercials as comic books as a kid. I just always loved doing it. I don’t mean to compare myself to him at all, but I was a big fan of Robert Altman, who would take a genre like the 40s film noir, and he did a 70s version with Elliott Gould called The Long Goodbye, where he would send up the film noir tropes, but all in the 70s. I always loved the way he would do stuff like that, so maybe that was an influence.
You’ve also written on plenty of animated shows before, like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and CatDog. How does the writing process change from an animated series to a big live-action project like this?
I don’t know if the writing process … I guess the writing process is different in that you need to be a little more cognizant of the number of locations in live-action. But really, the difference is the execution and the post, the after you’ve made it process … because of course, in animation, it’s easy to get a new line or change something after the fact while, when you shoot something, that’s the material you’ve got. Unless you can afford reshoots, that’s what you’ve got to work with. So that’s the biggest difference. In animation, it’s easy to go, “Can he enter the door a little later and have his leg creep out a little further as he’s creeping in?” With live action? No, that’s the takes you’ve got.
What would you say to people who don’t really know about Yule Log but are interested in checking it out because of your past works?
Expect the unexpected.