FilmReview

Late Night with the Devil

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers and Directors: Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes

Seemingly inspired by BBC’s Ghostwatch, the infamous mockumentary which terrified a whole generation in 1992, comes Late Night with the Devil by Australian brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes. Nowhere as scary as the BBC show which had Michael Parkinson being tormented in the studio by a poltergeist, the Cairnes’ movie is altogether more kitsch, telling the story of a late-night talk show in America in 1977 that goes horribly wrong.

Late Night with the Devil begins like an overblown documentary, its subject TV host Jack Delroy who is desperate to match the ratings of the legendary Johnny Carson. Even the appearance of his wife, dying from cancer, can’t boost Night Owl’s audience numbers for long. He needs a hit if the show isn’t to be cancelled. On Halloween, his prayers are answered, but at what cost?

After the five minutes or so of introduction, the episode of Night Owls is presented in full, with newly found backstage footage. Rather than chills, the Cairnes brothers focus on period details from the nicotine orange-painted set where Jack receives his guests – on this night all connected to the dark arts – to the leaden patter he directs at his co-star and fall guy Gus. The studio audience laughs and gasps guilelessly at all the right moments perfectly representing the time when TV was king.

When the scares come, they are a little underwhelming but it’s fun watching them play out in real time, knowing that if such incidents of fainting mesmerists and levitating chairs were to be seen on live TV now the broadcast would be halted instantly. Here, the horror is only interrupted by commercials referred to by Jack as “messages”. When the adverts play, we witness the drama playing out in the studio with technicians dealing with broken lights and arguments amongst the crew about whether the gore and rising spookiness have been manipulated by Jack to gain more viewers.

As the desperate, grieving TV personality, David Dastmalchian is a solitary figure attempting to retain his cheerful celebrity sheen for the camera while Rhys Auteri is excellent as the put-upon Gus, the butt of Jack’s jokes and the hapless victim of a hypnotist’s prank. Ingrid Torelli’s performance as a young girl who claims that the Devil resides within her is reminiscent of Sissy Spacek in Carrie and Heather O’Rourke in Poltergeist. Why were blond girls so terrifying in the 70s and 80s?

But like most horrors, the journey rather than the destination is more interesting and unsettling as it’s what we don’t see that scares us the most. Late Night with the Devil loses its edge when it reveals the monsters. But more than making a horror film, the Cairnes brothers have captured all the cosiness of 1970s TV shows. The presence of the hosts on the small screen was reassuring like a regular guest visiting the family home. In an era where TV is in decline, Late Night with the Devil is a nostalgic glimpse into the past. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

LateNightWith The Devil will be in UK Cinemas from 22nd March.

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Go into the light, Jack Delroy

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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