There’s a crazy magic to late-night TV, where the stars come out to shine in front of a live, applauding audience, and the rules of decorum seem relaxed in a studio setting modeled after a crisp, clean living room. We know every visitor is there to promote themselves and their latest product, but amid the practiced smiles and strategic banter, there’s the intoxicating possibility that something unsanitary and real — something shocking, even — will slip out as we click more near the Witching Hour. This is the slippery, surreal space of television being celebrated Late night with the devila neat and chilling horror film where talk shows and horror collide.
Writer/directors Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes (a.k.a. the Cairnes Brothers) place their film squarely in the sweet spot of 1977. On television, Johnny Carson with his big smile and sharp wit was the king of Late Night , a charming ambassador to all Hollywood and its fame-chasing shenanigans. As Carson graciously extended his living room into ours, so did the horror movies of the 70s. Scary movies like Curry and The Exorcist terrorized viewers with twisted stories of innocent-looking young girls irrevocably bent to evil and destruction right before our eyes.
With Late night with the devilthe Cairnes Brothers bring these worlds of fear and fun together into a lean, mean and sickly satisfying thrill ride.
What is Late night with the devil about?
Character actor David Dastmalchian (The Suicide Squad, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) comes to the fore as talk show host Jack Delroy. A cute talent with the gift of gab, his show could rival Carson’s late-night suffocation if not for a personal tragedy the previous year that broke Jack’s heart and derailed the show’s popularity. Desperate to revive his downfall prospects, he plans a Halloween show the world will never forget.
Along with a psychic (who may be a con artist) and a professional skeptic (who lives to cause trouble), Jack holds a controversial interview with a mysterious young lady. Lilly (Ingrid Torelli) was once part of a satanic cult dedicated to a dangerous demon. Once they went up in smoke, she was the only survivor. Now under the care of her guardian/therapist (Laura Gordon), Lilly has come late at night to share her story…and maybe introduce us to her special friend, Mr. Wriggles.
Late night with the devil it’s a throwback in the best way.
Planting their plot as a harbinger of the satanic panic of the 80s, the Cairnes Brothers quickly create a sense of foreboding for their audience members, who are all too familiar with the wild rumors of devil worshippers, goblins, ghosts and pigs named Jodie.(Opens in a new tab) which are to follow. The forerunner of moral panic and paranoia is naivety pierced by piercing fear. And what better comfortable bubble to pop than the pleasant atmosphere of a celebrity talk show?
A clever production design carefully reconstructs this era. Warm yet muted shades of brown, yellow and orange swirl around the set. Sharp suits and denim overalls place guests in an era of swinging style and seeming innocence, when a teenage girl would do press dressed as a doll instead of a supermodel.
Meanwhile, the cinematography harkens back to the video era, with analog glitches that couldn’t be anything…the it could be a warning that something is wrong. All these details carefully capture the era so thoroughly that if you don’t recognize the actors, you might be mistaken Late night with the devil for a forgotten cult classic, the legitimate kind once found on coveted VHS tapes.
However, the most critical ode to this era is the tone of the talk show. With a cool thumbs up, Dastmalchian takes on the role of the hapless host. Whether flashing a fake smile for the crowd or bantering with his animal-loving guests, he feels deeply embedded in this dynamic brand of entertainment and sales. Grounding the first act in the familiar realities of the 70s chat show, the Cairnes Brothers and Dastmalchian get under our skin to romp as they raise hell.
Late night with the devil offers restrained but ruthless horror.
Be warned: This film will not be as unnerving in its demonic spectacle as Curry the The Exorcist, which boasted buckets of pig’s blood and foul-smelling vomit, respectively. But that’s part of the charm of this movie. Like Rosemary’s Baby, is an atmospheric brew brimming with emotional trauma. Do not worry. there I will be explosions of bile, blood and some climactic carnage. However, these gruesome bits wouldn’t be as harsh if it weren’t for the dramatic tension going on behind the scenes of Jack’s troubled talk show.
In a sense, Dastmalchian has to shoulder two roles: the consummate professional and the personal wrecker. Beneath his bespoke suit lies a trembling heart that craves more than big ratings from this diabolical publicity stunt. He longs to prove that there is more to this life, something more. And he will risk everything, even his soul, in pursuit of this revelation.
Dastmalchian has often played creepy men (see Imprisoned) and quirky criminals (Pick an Ant manAny Ant man). His signature intensity stirs beneath the surface even as Jack plays nice for the studio camera. In his eyes flickers a chaotic fire of sadness, hope and ambition that cannot be extinguished. And it is reflected in the gaze of a little girl who claims to harbor a demonic spirit. It’s a match made not in heaven but in hell. And watching them deal with it is fun.
Paying homage to 70s horror, Late night with the devil it’s steeped in the aesthetics of the era and its emerging moral uneasiness, as well as methodical pacing that pulls us in, grips us tightly, and doesn’t let go until that final awful moment. Tune in and wait. Dastmalchian and his demon are coming for you.
Late night with the devil revised from its World Premiere at SXSW 2023. (Opens in a new tab)