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Late Night With the Devil (2023)

What special guest would guarantee late-night ratings for a struggling show? Let’s see… Who could it be… Oh, I don’t know… Could it be SATAN??!?!?!
Our Rating

Genre(s): Horror

Director: Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes

Actors: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi, Ingrid Torelli

Year: 2023

MPAA Rating: R

Country: Australia / United Arab Emirates

I love the setup of Late Night With the Devil. Portrayed as a solemn, late-70s contemporary documentary, the film’s POV uses “original footage” of a long-lost episode of late night TV that caused shock and sensation to live viewers in 1977. In the days before the internet and even VCRs, such images could easily be buried, never to bee seen again. But this story takes that footage and compiles it with previously-unseen backstage moments as the host and television crew scramble to go forward with a very, very bad decision. Inviting the devil onto your talk show may not, after all, have been the best idea.

The film focuses entirely around the episode in question on Halloween Night, 1977. Familiar character actor David Dastmalchian gets his moment to shine as struggling late-night talk show host Jack Delroy. A man once predicted to be the new Johnny Carson, his career has been beset by personal troubles including the recent death of his wife. The guests for that night’s Halloween show seem pretty typical, reflecting the media buzz of the time: There’s an exotic psychic (Fayssal Bazzi), who claims to commune with the deceased; a psychologist author (Laura Gordon) and her unstable young ward (Ingrid Torelli), whom the doctor believes is channeling the devil; and the smarmy skeptic (Ian Harris), who is a master hypnotist himself, but can also unravel the tricks behind any believable paranormal stunt.

It’s clear early that something creepily unusual is going on in the studio when even the psychic’s regular theatrics culminate with him projectile-vomiting across the stage. But, hey, this is good TV, right? Jack rubs his hands in excitement at the early viewing numbers, as alarmed viewers call in droves to the studio. Heck, he hasn’t even gotten to the girl possessed by the devil yet. How could he not grasp this opportunity to do something wildly inadvisable on live TV (try to talk to the devil) and potentially relaunch his career? Let’s just say, it doesn’t go well.

The story plays out in a linear fashion—during commercial breaks, unseen “backstage footage” of the increasingly-nervous scrambling crew is edited in. This is a bit of a cheating narrative device (why would a commercial break conversation have multiple camera angles?), but that’s a small complaint. The straightforward, “real-time” momentum pulls you in with its growing mood of unease, and there is an unblinking earnestness to the whole proceedings. Unsurprisingly, the show completely derails by the end, and the film almost does as well. The last jumbling few minutes are kind of a mess and somewhat confusing compared to the straightforward momentum of the story up to that point. But it’s a relatively minor quibble.

Late Night With the Devil is a fun, retro mash-up of 70s horror, smashing together the real-life paranoia of demonic possession with the media’s frenzied coverage of the same. I’d like to think that it’s no accident that this indie (filmed for less than $2 million) made a surprise $666,666 (!!!) on its first Sunday in the theaters. I think it is best to not ask any questions…

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