Mike’s Review: Late Night with the Devil (SXSW 2023)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

🩸🩸out of 🩸🩸🩸🩸🩸 for mild gore. 

Directed by Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes.

If you’ve even run across Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, or Dinah Shore you’ll know that they all roiled in a very specific talk show space in the 1970s. Talk shows were smarmy, boozy, and informal affairs that gave audiences time each day to let their hair down and forget about the doldrums of the Viet Nam War and the crushing presence of socio-economic injustice in America. 

These talk shows were also incredibly competitive. Johnny Carson was king, but there was a lot of room under him to vie for advertisers and Nielson ratings. Late Night with the Devil follows that exact storyline, by exploring frustrated talk show host, Jack Delroy, played pitch-perfectly by David Dastmalchian

The conceit set forward in Late Night with the Devil is a wonderfully developed faux-found footage construct. Talk show host Jack Delroy has been fictionally riding Johnny Carson’s coattails for years with his “Night Owls” show. He’s well liked, but simply can’t crack the Carson code. As the years drag on, Delroy’s staying power begins to fade and he’s also faced with the tragic cancer death of his dear wife Madeline (Georgina Haig). Adding to the complexity of his already fragile constitution is the fact he’s been dabbling with a Bohemian Grove-like cult for years.

Scary DVDs! Woo!
Jack Delroy contemplating his future.

Broken, desperate, and starved for ratings Delroy and his producer hatch a plan to bring a young girl who has recently survived a true blue demonic possession on to the show for a Halloween ratings bonanza. The show does indeed air, but the uncut master tape has never seen the light of day. Until now…

Filled to the brim with all the muted colors and sounds of the 1970s, the sets, costuming, and attention to dialogue are nothing short of brilliant. It’s clear that directors Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes have a studied penchant for the era and the talk show/variety show format. This is a loving presentation of the era and each scene reeks of authenticity and beige thoughtfulness.

After the first two combative guests — a psychic (Fayssal Bazzi) and a psychic debunker (Ian Bliss) — take the stage, Late Night with Devil slowly begins to dribble out the idea that something’s amiss and Jack may not have a full grasp on the demonic spirits that he’s has conjured as a part of a rating grab. 

When teen Lilly D’Abo (Ingrid Torelli) and her psychiatrist June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) come on as the final guests it’s clear that this show will be a rating success story, but Jack never stops for a moment to contemplate the blinded nature of his thirsty show biz ethics. The acting by the young girl (Ingrid Torelli), who Satan clearly has a stronghold over, is a chilling and understated bit of performance in a sea of demonic possession also-rans. She’s a horrifying mix of distant stares, sexually provocative behavior, and child-like innocence. Taken together it’s equal to, if not more terrifying, than Regan MacNeil. 

Interspersed through the master tape is the behind-the-scenes commercial break chaos that begins to unfold amongst the cast as the talk show itself is infiltrated by the devil. Jack is undeterred, but the staff and the guests clearly begin to show their panicked faces. 

The latter half of the film’s final act heads down a rather unexpected path. While you might question where it’s going, be sure to stick around to the very end because it definitely delivers something you will NOT expect. 

In an era where found footage films have lost their footing, Late Night with the Devil is a fresh but frightening take on the future of the sub-sub-genre. There will be those out there that will try to crib this seemingly simple formula, but we guarantee that they won’t be able to replicate this studied bit of yesteryear-based horror. From the opening sequence — with an incredible narration and music by proto-Metal freaks Pentagram — to the “In Search Of” style interludes, Late Night with the Devil is a smart and inventive piece of faux-found footage horror. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the late-great Mike Douglas or just need to have your wits scared out of you, then this is the talk show ticket that you’ve been waiting to see. 

Late Night with the Devil is likely Rated R and had its premiere at SXSW 2023.

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