The Movie Waffler New Release Review - LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL | The Movie Waffler


Late Night with the Devil review
A 1970s late night talk show's Halloween special takes a dark turn.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Colin Cairnes, Cameron Cairnes

Starring: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Ingrid Torelli, Fayssal Bazzi, Rhys Auteri

Late Night with the Devil poster

An Australian horror movie posing as an American chat show, Late Night with the Devil harks back to a very British tradition, that of the fake TV show. Think of Alternative 3, Ghostwatch and that infamous Paul Daniels Halloween special in which the magician faked his own death live on air. Of course, the audiences for those notorious productions had no prior knowledge that they were about to be taken for a ride. Few will be similarly fooled by Cameron and Colin Cairnes' film, but they'll certainly be entertained, especially those viewers old enough to remember the sort of TV history the writer/director brothers are referencing here.

The Aussie siblings previously explored the idea of unscrupulous content producers crossing lines for ratings with their 2016 film Scare Campaign. With Late Night with the Devil they're taking the same idea and giving it a retro spin by taking us back to the golden age of the talk show, the 1970s.

Late Night with the Devil review

A Michael Ironside narrated opening prologue fills us in on the back story of Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), the host of a late night talk show ("Night Owls") who found himself constantly lagging behind Johnny Carson throughout the '70s. We're told that Delroy may have been involved with a cult, but little was thought of it in that pre-Satanic Panic era where celebs were happy to be photographed hanging out with the likes of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVay. When Delroy's wife Madeleine (Georgina Haig) succumbs to terminal cancer, he invites her onto Night Owls just weeks before her passing, resulting in record viewing numbers that still fall short of Carson. Following Madeleine's passing, Delroy takes some time off but eventually returns to a show that is struggling to stay on the air.

Late Night with the Devil then informs us that what we're about to see is constructed from a combination of the transmission of the October 31st, 1977 edition of Night Owls and behind the scenes footage filmed on that fateful night.

Delroy has a special Halloween lineup consisting of Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), a melodramatic psychic; Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), a magician and professional skeptic, clearly modelled on James Randi, right down to his standing offer of a cash sum for anyone who can prove the existence of the supernatural; and Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), a psychiatrist accompanied by her most infamous patient, 13-year-old Lilly D'Abo (Ingrid Torelli), the sole survivor of a mass suicide conducted by her father's cult.

Late Night with the Devil review

The night begins with Christou initially stumbling in his attempts to contact the dead live on air, until he claims to communicate with an audience member's late husband. There doesn't appear to be any trickery afoot, but Haig dismisses it as smoke and mirrors, even when Christou is rushed to hospital after suffering a fit of convulsions and projectile vomiting. The ratings really start to rise however when Delroy brings out June and Lilly, the latter of which claims to be possessed by a demon. At Delroy's urging, June reluctantly agrees to tempt the demon to appear before a studio audience. It's at this point that all Hell literally breaks loose.

Like no other genre, horror offers meaty lead roles to character actors and those who aren't blessed with conventional movie star looks. A classic "that guy," Dastmalchian has appeared in small roles in movies for directors like Christopher Nolan, James Gunn and Denis Villeneuve, but his screen time is usually severely limited or he's buried under makeup. With Jack Delroy he's finally given the chance to inhabit a lead role, and he's excellent in channeling the unique persona of the classic American talk show host, a curious mix of smarm, charm and insecurity. You can see a lot of Dick Cavett in his mannerisms, but also of Garry Shandling's fictional creation Larry Sanders, constantly betraying his nerves and apprehension by straightening his tie. The influence of The Larry Sanders Show extends to Delroy's sidekick Gus (Rhys Auteri), who with his mustache and sides combo is clearly modelled on Jeffrey Tambor's Hank Kingsley. The Australian supporting cast does a great job of not only convincing us that they're Americans, but that they're 1970s Americans. Gordon is a standout, and it will be no surprise if she becomes the next Aussie actress to crack Hollywood.

Late Night with the Devil review

The evocation of '70s TV is spot-on, with garish set design and era specific intertitles. Even the kitschy yet funky music played by Delroy's house band sounds just right. There's an undercurrent of seediness to the whole thing, and you wouldn't want to examine Delroy's stage under a black light for fear of what you might uncover.

Late Night with the Devil pulls you into its meticulously recreated world from the off and keeps you gripped up to a point. Things go off the rails in the final act in both a good way, with an explosive climax utilising vintage FX, and in a not so good way, with a bit of business involving Carmichael playing a trick that takes us out of the moment by explicitly reminding us we're watching a movie rather than the footage of a real event. It's difficult to find your way back into the conceit after that misjudged moment, which is a shame as up to that point Late Night with the Devil makes a compelling case for becoming a future Halloween classic.

Late Night with the Devil is in UK cinemas from March 22nd.

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