David Dastmalchian’s smooth talk show host comes undone in this retro-styled horror.
Synopsis: A live television broadcast in 1977 goes horribly wrong, unloosing evil into the nation’s living rooms.
Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is poised for superstardom, having secured a name for himself as a knowledgeable and affable talk-show host. The late night show status he craves seems within his reach as his current show Night Owls looks to make an impact on Halloween night. With guests assembled and trusty sidekick Gus (Rhys Auteri) at his side, everything looks set for a memorable evening, but soon events take a sinister turn.
Directing and writing team Cameron and Colin Cairnes drop the viewer straight into the unrest and paranoia of 1970s America, including the Satanic Panic (a popular topic at SXSW this year with the documentary Satan Wants You also screening). That early background sets the scene for Jack Delroy’s ascension, explained through collage and voiceover in the film’s introduction. Offering clips of his evolving career and personal life, by the time we get to the night of the broadcast, we already feel like we know Jack, which helps in keeping an early buoyant pace.
David Dastmalchian is utterly perfect here, crafting an image of the host who has seen and most importantly, can handle it all. That smooth surface and easy rapport appears to come so easily that the little cracks he allows to appear in the showman veneer all the more impressive. For a film with some very big, fun and graphic moments, it is the smaller looks and actions from Jack that have left the largest impression.
The construction is a lot of fun, departing from the early montage style to provide a view of the show and behind the scenes. Use of split-screen and switches to black and white cleverly weave the viewer between the two modes with those shifts allowing the overall film to play with tone. This is not a gag-a-minute show but the moments that do indulge in horror really commit. There are, at times, returns to a slower pace but this is a film unafraid to become deliciously unmoored for more heady sequences.
The supporting cast are excellent too, made up of various figures that would have been on the talk show circuit during the 1970s. Christou (Fayssal Bazzi) plays a medium, working with both Jack and the audience to introduce the supernatural concepts into the audience. This gives way to the James Randi-style skeptic Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss) who maintains a strict manner, talking down the spooky happenings. Dr June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and Lily (Ingrid Torelli) appear to bridge that gap between the supernatural and study. Torelli, in particular, is able to capture important small moments that all add to the overall disruptions of the talk-show as it progresses.
Late Night with the Devil feels like it should become essential Halloween viewing with a capable mix of fun, frights and play with the format that delivers a pleasingly spooky package.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Late Night With The Devil played as part of SXSW 2023.