SXSW 2023 REVIEW! A struggling late-next talk-show host goes to drastic measures for ratings in Colin and Cameron Cairnes’ horror feature, Late Night with the Devil.
It’s October 31, 1977, and Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is a syndicated talk show host on the verge of cancellation. That is unless he can impress sponsors during Sweeps Week. Up to this point, Jack has not even come close to toppling the late-night king, Johnny Carson. As the years pass, he resorts to cheap stunts, aggressive treatment of his staff, joining a woodland cult, and exploiting the death of his wife, Madeleine (Georgina Haig).
The film presents the recently discovered final episode of Jack Delroy’s show, Night Owls. Joined by his long-suffering co-host Gus (Rhys Auteri), tonight’s special Halloween show features an array of guests. There’s medium Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), professional skeptic Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss), paranormal psychiatric June Ross-Mitchell as well as the subject of her book, Conversations with the Devil, and former child cult survivor Lilly D’Abo (Ingrid Torelli). To reveal much more of the plot lands us squarely into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, when the “formerly” demon-possessed Lily is encouraged by her host on live television, things go horribly wrong.
Late Night with the Devil is a terrifying thrill ride meant to give us the feel of The Tonight Show during the 70s. To achieve this, the filmmakers use black-and-white footage of the backstage shenanigans during the break. The Cairnes brothers do an incredible job of making the television show feel as authentic as possible, from the feel of old videotape to the gaudy set design.
“…Jack resorts to cheap stunts, aggressive treatment of his staff, joining a woodland cult, and exploiting the death of his wife…”
At first glance, I don’t know if you’d think Dastmalchian could play a TV host with his unique personality. But, for this horrific story, he is absolutely perfect. There’s so much dimension to Jack as the television personality desperate to stay in the public spotlight who makes one compromising and dangerous choice after the other for rating points. Yet, the actor conveys that constant need to be on top with charm.
Dastmalchian is aided by an incredibly elaborate script that wastes nothing. Late Night with the Devil is more than just a demon-possessed girl unleashing her “potential.” The role of Ian Bliss as the “Amazing Randi”-like skeptic provides the perfect counterbalance to what the show’s audience is seeing. That’s not even mentioning the personal twist in Jack’s relationship with Dr. Ross. Though the story seems predictable, it isn’t. Once the s**t hits the fan, we’re left on our own to figure out what’s happening next.
While the authenticity of a television show from that era may dampen the intensity of the scares, the film is still just plain fun to watch. The effects are wonderful, with the vast majority of them being practical. The Cairnes brothers lean on fun over terror, which may irk some. But, what fun is had!
I wish I could describe more of the plot, but you must find a way to see Late Night with the Devil with as little knowledge as possible. There’s fun in experiencing this for the first time.
Late Night with the Devil screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
"…[Dastmalchian] is absolutely perfect."