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Don’t Touch That Dial! Late Night With the Devil is Must See TV


How far would you go for success? What are you willing to sacrifice? Who are you willing to hurt?

That’s the question posed by Late Night With the Devil, a new horror film from Australian brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes. It is framed as the long-lost master tape of the legendary live Halloween 1977 broadcast of Night Owls, a late-night talk show hosted by Jack Delroy.

Jack’s (David Dastmalchian) show is the hipper competitor to the perennial ratings giant, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. After bursting onto the scene six years ago, he still hasn’t been able to topple Carson. Add into that some personal tragedy, like the death of his beloved wife due to a mysterious cancer, and his show is on the verge of cancellation. Desperate for ratings, he has a live Halloween special which will feature a medium, a supernatural skeptic, and the sole survivor of a satanic cult who now claims to be possessed by a demon, along with her psychologist handler. Jack wants the ratings so bad, that he’s willing to have the young girl channel the devil himself live on the air.

The movie is a potent blend of a lot of 70’s pop culture and historical artifacts. They draw liberally from the satanic panics of the age and all the urban legends about what the titans of industry do at the Bohemian Grove, as well as all of the aesthetics of the time. The film looks great, which is an odd thing to say about a movie that has a brown-and-orange design scheme. It’s a faithful recreation of a TV studio from the late 70’s. It’s also shot in a glorious 4:3 ratio to keep it in the framing of the time. (Yes, children, televisions used to be big, boxy, and square.) It looks and feels like watching clips from old episodes of Johnny Carson or Merv Griffin right down to the cast lineups, and the movie lets you spend a bit of time absorbing it all.

While it might take a while for the horror to ramp up, I didn’t really mind. I am a big fan of late-night talk shows, and it was a treat to watch this spin on them. The film is packed with nods to the mainstays of late night TV. There’s a popular psychic named Christou (Fayassal Bazzi) who claims to be able to talk to the dead and is a stand in for the Uri Gellars of the time. There is a magician turned skeptic named Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), who is clearly meant to be James Randi, debunker of all things psychic. Also, a treat is Rhys Auteri as Gus McConnell, Jack’s hapless sidekick and channeling more from Jeffery Tambour on the Larry Sanders Show than Ed McMahon.

But the true revelation here is Dastmalchian. Readers will likely recognize him as Polka Dot Man from James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and Scott Lang’s criminal buddy, Kurt, from the Ant-Man movies among many of his many credits. Here, he finally gets a big, meaty leading role and he makes the most of it. If the viewers don’t believe that he is both a charming and affable host and also someone willing to have a little girl get possessed by a devil so he can finally beat Johnny effin’ Carson in the Nielsen ratings, this movie falls apart. But he is fantastic. He carries it off to perfection, mixing in corny jokes with empathy and sensationalism, along with backstage anxieties. He’s so good at it that if you told me Dastmalchian would be hosting a new late-night show for real, I’d watch.

The tension is well handled. It ramps up slowly until it very much does not. And while you might be able to guess at certain parts of the ending, it didn’t make the reveal any less upsetting to me. The movie both embraces the tropes of possession horrors and subverts them as well.

Late Night With the Devil is in theatres now, and soon to come to Shudder TV. And it honestly might be even better to see it at home, where it can air on the medium as it was intended. The year in horror is off to a strong start. Stay tuned…

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