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Late Night With the Devil (15)

Director: Colin Cairnes, Cameron Cairnes
Screenplay: Colin Cairnes, Cameron Cairnes

Starring: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss
Running time: 93 minutes

Cinema release

Review: RJ Bland

Hot off the heels of Deliver Us and Immaculate, we have another occult offering in the form of festival fave Late Night With the Devil. We may sound a bit like a stuck record, but with the upcoming release of The First Omen (5th April) we really are experiencing a glut of religious horror right now, not that we are complaining. Like many, anything that sounds vaguely like The Exorcist (1973) or Rosemary’s Baby (1968) or The Omen (1976) is guaranteed to pique our interest. Let’s be honest, the devil and cults had their heyday in the 1970s – a time when America was experiencing political and social upheaval. This truly was the golden age of spiritual horror, and it has yet to be topped. Although the current proliferation of global anxieties is perhaps part of why we are getting so many now, but that’s a conversation for another day. In the late 1970s and early 1980s however, the religious anxieties of the nation transferred from big screen to towns and communities and families. The ‘satanic panic’ that swept America had people worried that their neighbours or workmates (or even family members) might be satanists. That they might be involved in ritualistic murder and child abuse and worshipping the devil. These cultists were everywhere and were all part of a nationwide network. The flame that lit this moral panic was the publication of an autobiographical (and now discredited) book called Michelle Remembers, in which a young woman called Michelle Smith undergoes hypnosis and recalls years of repressed childhood memories – a lot of them including ritualistic abuse at the hands of satanists. This book may have been the trigger but concern that devil worshippers and evil cults were a real thing had been creeping up for a few years at this point. The Manson family in the late 60s had set that ball rolling. Late Night with The Devil is set in 1977, a time when these fears were beginning to cause genuine alarm…


Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is a successful talk show host who has been charming audiences for six seasons on Night Owls with Jack Delroy, a late-night variety show that seems destined to play second fiddle to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Rumours about Delroy’s private life (including an apparent Masonic Lodge membership) don’t help ratings and when his wife tragically passes away, production is halted indefinitely. A month later, much to the surprise of colleagues and TV viewers, Jack is back in the saddle but unfortunately ratings continue to suffer. In a desperate effort to turn the tide, Jack decides to crank things up a notch on the upcoming Night Owls Halloween special. Sure, there’s a bit of whimsy and fancy dress but this occult-themed ep needs to get the attention of the nation (well, of those who are awake at midnight that is). So Jack invites along several guests to spice things up a bit, including Christou, a psychic. Carmichael the Conjurer, a magician turned sceptic. And Parapsychologist and author June Ross-Mitchell, who has just written a book called Conversations with the Devil, which is about her interviews with a girl called Lilly, who is the survivor of a Satanic mass suicide. And who claims to be inhabited by a demon called ‘Mr Wriggles’. Lilly has even agreed to appear herself too. Jack was hoping for a show like no-other and that’s exactly what he gets.

The early reviews of Late Night With the Devil from SXSW in March last year were overwhelmingly positive. When Stephen King saw it a month later, he called it ‘absolutely brilliant’ – so there was always going to be a bit of hype around it. Our advice? Dial down your expectations just a tad; this is not Hereditary or It Follows. It won’t be part of that conversation. But the consensus is not wrong, it’s well worth your time and when King said he ‘couldn’t take his eyes off of it’, he wasn’t the only one.


Late Night With the Devil is also proof that there is still life left in the found-footage format. Just when you think it’s dead and buried something like this pops up and shows that with some creative ingenuity, it can work wonders. What we are witnessing is the show as it was originally aired, with some behind the scenes footage slotted in where commercial breaks would be. It’s a wonderfully absorbing and heady experience, bristling with that special energy and tension that only live broadcasting can conjure up. As the show goes on, these run-of-the-mill workplace anxieties and issues begin to morph into a quiet unease before descending into a palpable sense of dread. Delroy is desperate for the show to wow audiences both in the studio and back at home, but he gradually realises that the further he pushes, the more risk there is. It’s like watching a bag of popcorn bubbling up, about to burst. The Cairnes Brothers nail the 70s aesthetic too. From the beige clothes to the big hairdos and the warm muted colour palette, you are wonderfully lulled into thinking that what you are seeing on screen was filmed in 1977. It’s here where the found-footage aspect works its magic and helps break down that suspension of disbelief even further. And although we’re treated to some additional exterior footage, most of the film plays out on the one stage, like a play. It’s intimate but also oppressive and at times, suffocating.


At the heart of all this is David Dastmalchian, an actor who has appeared in a whole host of movies (including Oppenheimer and Dune) yet who has never really taken centre-stage. Until now that is. It’s no exaggeration to say that if the casting of this character was even a little off, the film may fall flat on its face. But this almost feels like the role he was born to play. Delroy may be fame hungry and smarmy but there is a humanity to him that makes him the perfect anchor. He has the air of a man running from something or hiding a secret and Dastmalchian’s portrayal is captivating. The quality of the supporting cast helps for sure  - especially Ingrid Torelli who is genuinely unnerving at times as the apparently possessed teenage girl. But this is Dastmalchian’s film.


Any complaints? A couple but they’re not particularly severe. The film is all about atmosphere and the build-up of dread. But those hoping to leave the cinema rattled or genuinely unnerved may feel a little let down. Late Night With the Devil is creepy in a fun and entertaining way and despite its rather heavy subject matter, it still feels accessible. That may suit some but others looking for genuine scares could feel a little short-changed. That’s not to say there isn’t any horror here, because there is – but there isn’t much that’s going to keep you up at night. The last ten minutes might be a tonal shift too far for some as well, as the film attempts to tie up its loose ends. And although some of the reveals and twists are a little too signposted, King was ultimately right; you’ll be too engrossed to care very much.

Late Night With the Devil is a fascinating blend of 70s talk show, found footage and religious horror and Dastmalchian delivers a career best performance. Ignore the hype and just let its groovy 70s aesthetic wash over you – and you’ll have a hell of a time.
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