There’s a zany magic to late-night television when the stars shine before an applauding live audience and the rules of propriety seem relaxed in a studio environment modeled after a crisp, clean living room. We know that every guest is there to promote themselves and their latest product, but between the practiced smiles and the strategic banter, there’s the heady possibility that something dirty and genuine — even shocking — might slip through if we look at the approaching witching hour . This is the salacious, surreal space of television to party in Late night with the devila clean and shaky horror film where talk shows and terror collide.
Writers/directors Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes (aka the Cairnes Brothers) position their film right in the 1977 sweet spot. On television, Johnny Carson, with his big smile and sharp wit, was the king of the late night, a charming ambassador for all of Hollywood and his glory-seeking shenanigans. As Carson mercifully expanded his living room into our own, so did the homemade horrors of ’70s cinema. Terrible movies like carrie And The Exorcist terrorized theatergoers with twisted tales of innocent-looking young girls irrevocably turning to evil and devastation right before our eyes.
With Late night with the devilThe Cairnes Brothers bring these worlds of fear and fun together in one sleek, mean, and sickly satisfying ride.
what is Late night with the devil around?
Character actor David Dastmalchian (The Suicide Squad, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) steps into the limelight as talk show host Jack Delroy. A suave talent with a gift of gossip, his late-night show might have rivaled Carson’s stranglehold were it not for a personal tragedy the previous year that broke Jack’s heart and derailed the show’s popularity. To revive his sinking prospects, he plans a Halloween show that the world will never forget.
Along with a psychic (who could be a con man) and a professional skeptic (who lives to cause trouble), Jack books a controversial interview with a mysterious young girl. Lilly (Ingrid Torelli) was once part of a satanic cult dedicated to a dangerous demon. When they went up in smoke, she was the only one who survived. Now, under the care of her guardian/therapist (Laura Gordon), Lilly has stayed up late to tell her story…and perhaps introduce us to her special friend, Mr. Wriggles.
Late night with the devil is a review in the best sense.
Planting their storyline as a precursor to the satanic panic of the ’80s, the Cairnes Brothers are quick to instill a sense of foreboding in their hep viewers, who know all too well the wild rumors of devil worshipers, ghouls, ghosts and pigs named Jodie(Opens in a new tab) who should follow. The precursor to moral panic and paranoia is naivety steeped in pervasive fear. And what cozy bubble can be punctured better than the feel-good atmosphere of a celebrity talk show?
A sophisticated production design carefully recreates this era. Warm but muted tones of brown, yellow and orange swirl around the set. Sharp suits and denim overalls transport guests to a time of swinging style and apparent innocence, when a teenage girl was dressed like a doll, not a supermodel.
Meanwhile, the cinematography is reminiscent of the video age, complete with analog glitches that could be nothing…or could be a warning that something is going wrong. All of these details capture the era so carefully that if you don’t recognize the actors, you could be wrong Late night with the devil for a forgotten cult classic as once found on coveted VHS cassettes.
But the most important ode to that era is the tone of the talk show. With an airy bravado, Dastmalchian struts into the role of unflappable host. Whether he’s flashing a fake smile at the crowd or joking with his quarreling guests, he feels deeply immersed in this lively brand of conversation and salesmanship. Embedding the first act in the familiar realities of the ’70s chat show, the Cairnes Brothers and Dastmalchian crawl under our skin to give goosebumps as they summon hell.
Late night with the devil delivers restrained but ruthless horror.
Be warned: this movie doesn’t get as sprightly in its demonic spectacle as it does carrie or The Exorcist, who boasted about buckets full of pig’s blood or loud vomit. But that’s part of the charm of this film. How Rosemary’s baby, it’s an atmospheric brew simmering with emotional trauma. Don’t fret; There will Outbursts of bile, blood and some culminating carnage. Those gory bits wouldn’t be so hard, however, if it weren’t for the dramatic tension that unfolds behind the scenes of Jack’s troubled talk show.
In a way, Dastmalchian has to fill two roles: the consummate professional and the personal trainwreck. Beneath his tailored suit is a trembling heart that longs for more than big ratings from this diabolical publicity stunt. He longs for proof that there is something more than this life, something beyond. And he risks everything, even his soul, to pursue this revelation.
Dastmalchian has frequently played spooky men (see prisoners) and cranky criminals (Pick an ant manany ant man). His signature intensity stirs beneath the surface, even when Jack plays well for the studio camera. A chaotic fire of sadness, hope and ambition flickers in his eyes that cannot be extinguished. And it’s reflected in the unnerving look of a little girl who claims to be harboring a demonic spirit. They are a game made not in heaven but in hell. And witnessing their clash is exciting fun.
homage to the horror of the 70s, Late night with the devil is steeped in the aesthetics of that era and its rising moral angst, as well as the methodical pacing that draws us in, holds us tight and doesn’t let go until that final chilling moment. Tune in and stay tuned. Dastmalchian and his demon come for you.
Late night with the devil was reviewed after its world premiere at SXSW 2023. (Opens in a new tab)