If you haven’t yet seen Too Many Cooks, Casper Kelly’s short film for Adult Swim, here it is:
Too Many Cooks compels and rewards/punishes its audience not because of its comedic elements, but rather for its horror. Kelly has made one of the finest little horror films I’ve ever seen.
The central techniques of Too Many Cooks–repetition, collage, and genre parody—are fairly obvious and wonderfully synthesized. The film relies on an understanding that its audience has a particular way of seeing. The intended audience of Too Many Cooks has:
1) An understanding and acceptance of the postmodern tradition of repeating a punchline (or set-up) past the point of humor. And–
2) A particular ironic vision that delights in seeing commercial TV genre conventions of yore skewered.
Too Many Cooks succeeds by disrupting both ways of seeing. Its audiovisual repetitions (oh my lord the song!) become insane tics in a horror story that the viewer did not expect to happen—despite a number of early clues.
In his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Edgar Allan Poe suggests that when “men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect.” Let us substitute “Horror” for “Beauty” (Poe would not mind, I think) and we have a fair description of what the filmmakers behind Too Many Cooks have created: A short piece of art that, by its arrangement, editing, of particulars—including its audience’s preconceptions—creates the effect of horror.
That horror emanates from the secret protagonist of Too Many Cooks, a mad-eyed killer who haunts the film first from its peripheries before eventually overtaking it. (He bears a slight resemblance to the philosopher Slavoj Žižek).
The Killer is the organizing principle of Too Many Cooks. He’s right there from the beginning, a specter whose agency throughout the piece subverts audience expectations. It’s not the uber-Father (who begat too many Cooks) who is the film’s central figure, but the infanticidal Killer.
Here is the first time we see The Killer, just 20 seconds in. He’s there on the right, sweater-vested (like a dad):
And then a few seconds later, lurking on the Brady/Cosby/Bundy stairs, still obscure:
The Killer next shows up about 90 seconds in; this is, unless I’m wrong, the first time we see his visage. It’s also the moment when Too Many Cooks’s early joke on corny nineties sitcom intros really starts to wear thin—the filmmakers offer us repeated images of cooks as if to underscore the tedious point.
And there’s The Killer in the second family photo: