Late Night with the Devil

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that Late Night with the Devil is one of the most original horror movies I’ve ever seen. Sibling filmmakers Cameron and Colin Cairnes have devised a premise that puts a whole new spin on the “found footage” concept. I thought I’d lost the ability to be impacted by that played-out format, but the way it’s done here kept me waiting with bated breath to see what was going to happen next. For my money, this is the first don’t-miss-it film of 2024.

The story is structured as the ill-fated Halloween 1977 episode of a late-night talk show called Night Owls, hosted by Johnny Carson wannabe Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian). For this special night, he has assembled a series of what he hopes will be ratings-grabbing guests: psychic Christou (Fayssal Bazzi) and professional skeptic Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), along with psychologist/author June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and her client, adolescent Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), who was supposedly a victim of demonic possession. As alleged paranormal activities are displayed, sidekick Gus McConnell (Rhys Auteri) becomes deeply uncomfortable, as do some of the crew members. Jack insists on pushing ahead until things go disastrously wrong.

The movie’s most clever idea is to tell the story in real time. We see the broadcast of Night Owls as it theoretically aired, with black-and-white behind-the-scenes footage during the commercial breaks. What this does is emphasize the downward spiral Jack falls into. The program becomes increasingly out of control, and since it’s airing live, there’s no cutting, no editing, and no second chances. Each segment is therefore more intense than the one before. Christou doing a psychic reading is amusing, as is Haig’s pompous effort to expose the trickery of it. Everything grows menacing from there, especially once Jack convinces Lilly to demonstrate her ability to summon a demon. Then all hell breaks loose.

Universal

Late Night with the Devil is scary in large part because of its accuracy. The set, the costumes, and the camera angles are all 100% authentic to the 1970s talk show circuit. So are the guests. Christou is a Kreskin-like figure, Haig is reminiscent of the Amazing Randi, and Ross-Mitchell has a distinct Dr. Joyce Brothers-type vibe. You can enjoy the picture even if you weren’t around during that time period, but if you were and you remember those talk shows, the level of detail will stun you. If we ever felt this was fake or a cheap re-creation, the whole film would fall apart. Spot-on veracity lets viewers easily buy into the illusion.

A magnificent performance from David Dastmalchian helps, too. Early scenes find him credibly playing a ratings-hungry host who jovially banters with guests and takes part in cheesy comedy sketches. Watching his later attempts to hold the show together as it descends into madness drives home how bad the situation really is. The actor makes Jack’s desperation palpable. He is ably backed up by a supporting cast whose members are just as committed.

In no universe would I ever spoil any of the wild twists and turns the story takes. Let’s just say that to call it nightmarish would be an understatement. Prepare to be jolted. Blood and gore is not the payoff, though. The concluding scenes complete Jack’s arc in a manner that makes sense and is satisfying, albeit very, very dark. Give the Cairnes brothers credit for taking their idea to its logical extreme.

Late Night with the Devil isn’t all creepy stuff. A hint of humor runs throughout. The movie is well aware that imagining a demonic catastrophe in the middle of a ‘70s talk show has baseline comedic value. That quality is one more way that this inventive, exhilarating horror masterpiece leaves you with your mind blown.


out of four

Late Night with the Devil is rated R for violent content, some gore, and language including a sexual reference. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan