Friday, April 12, 2024

Late Night With the Devil

Written and Directed by Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes

Starring: David Dastmachian (Jack Delroy); Ingrid Torelli (Lily); Laura Gordon (Julie); Ian Bliss (Carmichael); Steve Mouzakis (Szandor); Rhys Auteri (Gus)

It's Halloween Night 1977 and fledgling talk show host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) knows he must pull out all the stops if he's going to beat Johnny Carson during sweeps month. Thus, the premise of Late Night With the Devil, a playful conjuring of 1970s horror and pop culture.

The found footage premise purports to show the infamous episode in its entirety. Among Delroy's guests will be a medium, a skeptic, and a parapsychologist with teenage girl "Lily" in tow who escaped a Satanist cult and claims to be possessed by a demon. 

Dastmalchian really nails the bland talk show host persona of the era, just as the production design flawlessly replicates the aesthetics of 1970s gabfests. The film opens with a documentary on Jack's backstory. Initially, his unassuming hip style made him a challenger to Carson, but his personal issues led to a decline in ratings, hence the big Halloween show.

Things quickly begin to go haywire as supernatural events begin to happen on the set. At first, the phenomena appear staged and innocuous - until things get sinister for real. There's a hypnotism scene that's especially effective. In the wake of The Exorcist phenomenon, television latched on to demonic possession as a ratings bonanza, and the film skillfully channels the satanic panic mania taking over corners of the culture.

The script is also well versed in the mythology of late night television. First, there's the idea of late night being a zone where TV could let its hair down, push the envelope of good taste. Steve Allen staged outrageous stunts and Jack Paar battled with censors. Carson's affable Midwestern persona masked his well-documented dark side. Jay Leno and David Letterman both broadcast their eccentricities to viewers every night. Dasmalchian hits all these discordant notes as Jack, the entire film subtly suggesting he's not who you think. Lastly, there's the put upon sidekick, ably played by Rhys Auteri as "Gus."

At around 90 minutes, Late Night with the Devil never overstays its welcome. Effective as a period piece and a horror movie, highly recommend. 

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