Australia/UAE coproduction Late Night with the Devil won this year’s Audience Award for Feature Film at Overlook Film Festival, and quite deservedly so. This scintillating shocker is a spot-on depiction of a 1970s late-night talk show that goes horrifically off the rails, and it is an absolute blast.
Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is the host of the aforementioned television program, called Night Owls. He has done well for himself and overcome difficult times, but he still hasn’t been able to catch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in ratings and popularity. It’s sweeps week and Halloween night, and Delroy and company have a show themed especially for this evening, including celebrity medium Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and her young patient Lilly D’Abo (Ingrid Torelli) — the latter of whom was the only member of a satanic cult to survive a deadly event, and who is now allegedly possessed by a demon — and Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss), a James “The Amazing” Randi type of skeptic/magician.
Hunt tears apart Christou’s act and makes barbed remarks about Ross-Mitchell and D’Abo. Once the good doctor reluctantly tries to communicate with the demon for whom D’Abo is the vessel, things take an eerie turn. Crew members threaten to walk off the set, but audience members are fascinated. The show must go on, and fear-fare aficionados will be thrilled that it does.
Cowriters/codirectors Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes have crafted a brilliant 1970s-set horror feature that drips with authenticity. From the set design to the story and performance of each character, it’s difficult not to imagine that this pseudodocumentary-style work wasn’t actually filmed at the time in which it was set. Dastmalchian is outstanding as the desperate celebrity, and he is aided by a terrific supporting cast that also includes Rhys Auteri as the show’s announcer and sidekick to the host, and Georgina Haig as Delroy’s wife Madeline.
The entire film is a gas, but the climax takes things to a whole new level. The practical effects denouements look terrific, and my jaw dropped at them more than once.
Viewers who grew up with Johnny Carson and his talk show contemporaries, as well as younger viewers who are familiar with that era, will especially get a kick out of the accuracy on display. Scare-fare fans of all stripes need not have watched a moment of those shows, though, to get loads of enjoyment out of Late Night with the Devil, which has secured a place on my top 10 list of 2023 horror films.(4.5 / 5)
Late Night with the Devil screened as part of Overlook Film Festival, which took place March 30–April 2, 2023 in New Orleans.