'Late Night with the Devil' review: '70s flare and Satanic Panic bring horror home (2024)


Slow burn so good —and now streaming.

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'Late Night with the Devil' review:'70s flare and Satanic Panic bring horror home (1)

David Dastmalchian plays an embattled talk show host in "Late Night with the Devil."Credit: SXSW

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There's a madcap magic to late-night television, where the stars come out to shine before an applauding live audience, and the rules of decorum seem relaxed in a studio setting modeled after a crisp, clean living room. We know that every guest is there to promote themselves and their latest product, but between the practiced smiles and strategized banter, there's the heady possibility that something unsanitized and real — something shocking, even — might slip through as we click closer to the Witching Hour. This is the slippery, surreal space of television celebrated in Late Night with the Devil, a tidy and trembling horror movie where talk shows and terror collide.

Writers/directors Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes (aka the Cairnes Brothers) precisely position their film in the sweet spot of 1977. On television, Johnny Carson with his broad smile and sharp wit was the king of Late Night, a charming ambassador to all of Hollywood and its fame-chasing shenanigans. As Carson graciously extended his living room into our own, so too did the homespun horrors of '70s cinema. Frightful films like Carrie and The Exorcist terrorized theater-goers with twisted tales of innocent-looking young girls irrevocably bent toward evil and devastation right before our very eyes.


'Late Night with the Devil's disturbing ending, explained

With Late Night with the Devil, the Cairnes Brothers bring these worlds of fear and fun together into one lean, mean, and sickly satisfying thrill ride.

What's Late Night with the Devil about?

'Late Night with the Devil' review:'70s flare and Satanic Panic bring horror home (3)

Credit: IFC Films and Shudder.

Character actor David Dastmalchian (The Suicide Squad, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) strides into the spotlight as talk show host Jack Delroy. A suave talent with the gift of gab, his show might have rivaled Carson's chokehold on late night, if not for a personal tragedy the previous year that broke Jack's heart and derailed the show's popularity. Desperate to revive his falling prospects, he plots a Halloween show that the world will never forget.

Along with a psychic (who might be a scam artist) and a professional skeptic (who lives to cause trouble), Jack books a controversial interview with a mysterious young girl. Lilly (Ingrid Torelli) was once a part of a Satanic cult devoted to a dangerous demon. Once they went up in smoke, she was the only one to survive. Now, under the care of her guardian/therapist (Laura Gordon), Lilly has come on late night to share her story…and maybe introduce us to her special friend, Mr. Wriggles.

Late Night with the Devil is a throwback in the best way.

'Late Night with the Devil' review:'70s flare and Satanic Panic bring horror home (4)

David Dastmalchian plays a talk show host in "Late Night with the Devil." Credit: IFC Films and Shudder.

Planting their plotline as a precursor to the Satanic Panic of the '80s, the Cairnes Brothers swiftly establish a sense of foreboding for their hep audience members, who know all too well the wild rumors of devil worshippers, ghouls, ghosts, and pigs named Jodie that are to follow. The precursor to moral panic and paranoia is naivete punctured by piercing fear. And what better cozy bubble to puncture than the feel-good atmosphere of a celebrity talk show?

A shrewd production design carefully reconstructs this era. Warm but muted hues of browns, yellows, and oranges swirl around the set. Sharp suits and denim overalls place the guests in a time of swinging style and seeming innocence, when a teen girl would do press dressed like a doll instead of a supermodel.

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The 'Late Night with the Devil' AI controversy, explained

Meanwhile, the cinematography harkens back to the age of video, complete with analog glitches that could be nothing...or could be a warning that something is going awry. All of these details carefully capture the era so thoroughly that if you don't recognize the actors, you might mistake Late Night with the Devil for a forgotten cult classic, the legit kind once found on coveted VHS tapes.

Yet the most crucial ode to this era is the tone of the talk show. With a breezy bravado, Dastmalchian swaggers into the role of unflappable host. Whether flashing a false smile for the crowd or bantering with his bickering guests, he feels deeply embedded in this bouncy brand of entertainment and salesmanship. By grounding the first act in the familiar realities of the '70s chat show, the Cairnes Brothers and Dastmalchian creep under our skin to rise goosebumps as they raise hell.

Late Night with the Devil delivers restrained but ruthless horror.

'Late Night with the Devil' review:'70s flare and Satanic Panic bring horror home (5)

David Dastmalchian in Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes' "Late Night with the Devil."Credit: IFC Films and Shudder.

Be warned: This movie won't get as splashy in its demonic spectacle as Carrie or The Exorcist, which boasted buckets of pig blood and vociferous vomit, respectively. But that's part of this movie's charm. Like Rosemary's Baby, it's an atmospheric brew that festers with emotional trauma. Fret not; there will be bursts of bile, blood, and some climactic carnage. However, those gory bits wouldn't be as hard-hitting were it not for the dramatic tension going on behind the scenes of Jack's plagued talk show.

In a sense, Dastmalchian must shoulder two roles: the consummate professional and the personal trainwreck. Beneath his bespoke suit is a trembling heart that yearns for more than big ratings from this devilish publicity stunt. He yearns for proof that there is something more than this life, something beyond. And he'll risk anything, even his soul, in pursuit of this revelation.

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Dastmalchian has frequently played creepy men (see Prisoners) and quirky criminals (Pick an Ant-Man, any Ant-Man). His signature intensity stirs beneath the surface even as Jack plays nice for the studio camera. In his eyes flickers a chaotic fire of grief, hope, and ambition that cannot be squelched. And it is reflected in the unnerving stare of a little girl who claims to house a demonic spirit. They are a match made not in heaven but hell. And witnessing their face-off is nail-biting fun.

Paying tribute to '70s horror, Late Night with the Devil is steeped in the era's aesthetic and its emerging moral anxiety, as well as the methodical pacing that draws us in, grabs on tight, and won't let go until that final ghoulish moment. Tune in and hang on. Dastmalchian and his demon are coming for you.

Late Night with the Devil is now streaming on Shudder. It will re-release in theaters across the country, starting June 6 at 6 p.m. with an extended Q&A featuring David Dastmalchian and Kevin Smith.

UPDATE: Jun. 5, 2024, 2:03 p.m. EDT "Late Night with the Devil" was reviewed out of its World Premiere at SXSW 2023.


Kristy Puchko is the Film Editor at Mashable. Based in New York City, she's an established film critic and entertainment reporter, who has traveled the world on assignment, covered a variety of film festivals, co-hosted movie-focused podcasts, interviewed a wide array of performers and filmmakers, and had her work published on RogerEbert.com, Vanity Fair, and The Guardian. A member of the Critics Choice Association and GALECA as well as a Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes, Kristy's primary focus is movies. However, she's also been known to gush over television, podcasts, and board games. You can follow her on Twitter.

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'Late Night with the Devil' review: '70s flare and Satanic Panic bring horror home (2024)


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