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Movie Review - Late Night with the Devil

Let’s talk about Dick Miller for a second.

If you don’t recognize the name, I’ll put a link to his filmography here. But even if you just look at his face, you’ll know who I’m talking about.

Well, you will if you pay attention to the movies you watch.

You see, Dick is what is typically called a ‘character actor’. Very rarely are these guys used in lead roles but instead end up being secondary or tertiary roles. This leads to the name they’re most commonly known by: “That guy”s. You know the face, you recognize him whenever you see him in a movie, but 9 chances out of 10, you’ll be damned if you can remember the actor’s name. Let’s take Dick here. I know him from Gremlins 1 & 2, Chopping Mall, The Howling, Demon Knight and Night of the Creeps.

And that just barely scratches the surface of his work.

But we’re not here to talk about Dick. He’s not in Late Night with the Devil, having sadly passed away in 2019. Who we do have in this movie is quite possibly his successor, David Dastmalchian. In recent films, David has been a “That Guy”, having roles in Dune parts 1 & 2, the Ant-Man films, Last Voyage of the Demeter, The Dark Knight, The Suicide Squad, Oppenheimer, Blade Runner 2049, the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Like Dick Miller, that only just scratches his filmography. [And come to think of it, I need to review a lot of these titles! – Ed.]

If Hollywood were a just and right place…which it isn’t, Late Night with the Devil should catapult Dastmalchian into stardom. He inhabits the character of Jack Delroy in a way that I really don’t think anyone else could have. Sure, his “That Guy” status likely helped with that…well, that and I’m sure he works cheap as this was an independent film (via IFC & Shudder primarily but with a laundry list of production companies attached as well)…but aside from the fee attached, I can’t really think of a star that would bring believability that he does to this role.

Whoa…heck of an intro there that just slipped straight into the review! Let’s get the synopsis out of the way before we delve any deeper:

A titan is falling. Jack Delroy’s Night Owls late night interview show is running neck and neck with the wildly popular Johnny Carson…but always falling in second place. Jack’s audience shrinks further after the tragic loss of his wife Madelyn to cancer. Looking at one last shot to catapult him not only to his former standing but even perhaps beyond Carson, Jack mounts a Halloween special that will test the boundaries of 70s TV. When a psychiatric examination of a young girl rescued from a satanic cult goes awry, will it be the ratings gold that will make Jack the king of late night? Or will it unleash something terrible, not only costing him his own sanity, but that of his nationwide audience as well?

Right, so back to showering David Dastmalchian with praises. We find Delroy throughout the picture to be a man wearing many faces and switching between them with ease…at first. He deftly handles his producers, his stage team, his sidekick and his guests with different nuances that you can see why this guy would’ve made a pretty good nighttime host. This isn’t the only range of moods he’s able to hit so well, as it’s very visible, without being overbearing, how he’s dragged down into sorrow whenever his late wife is brought up. In some ways, its like he came back to work too soon but in others…well, let’s say after finishing the film you might see his emotions differently. The mere fact that there’s nothing in Dastmalchian’s delivery that might even hint at this secondary meaning, thus keeping the surprise of the third act, once again underscores how good this performance is.

The remainder of the cast also stands out exceptionally well, everyone being incredibly believable in their roles. Rhys Auteri plays a great second fiddle to Jack as Gus, this shows version of the Ed McMahon/Andy Richter style sidekick. While in most instances it’d be an insult to say that much of the remaining cast blends into the background, in this film I feel like saying that is significantly high praise…because most of these roles are producers, directors, make-up people and other people that are supposed to fade into the background to make a late night show work and allow the star to shine brighter. So as to not waste these actors, however, the film is split into two styles of segments: the show as it aired…in the standard 4:3 ratio one would expect from TV at the time, then going letterbox and black and white for the ‘behind-the-scenes’ segments…where we see what happens as the commercials are rolling. So definitely shoutouts to Josh Quong Tart as Leo the producer and Christopher Kirby as Phil the director are warranted. They stand out when they need to and the fade away just as quickly. If I had one bone to pick, it might be Ian Bliss’ Carmichael Hunt, the former magician/hypnotist turned skeptic. Now, I understand that in every horror film you have to have a character that the audience wants to see get it by the end credits…but there’s a zealotry to Bliss’ performance that takes Hunt from asshole to ultra-super-mega asshole. I get that skeptics in most cases are indeed bitter, jaded, condescending fucks…and who knows, this might be a flaw in the writing or direction…but much like in our Insecticidal review, you can be that person the audience wants to get their what-for without cranking the dial well past 10 and closer to 15 or 20.

Crap, I forgot to go into the main attraction of the film, the deus ex machina, Dr. June Ross-Mitchell and her patient Lily…that latter of which was rescued from a satanic cult as we’re brought up to speed on at the very start of the film. Now look, we’ve had more than our fair share of exorcism films…and Exorcist films for that matter…but I have to admit that this is an instance where while nothing new is brought to the table, what we do see here is a great interpretation with a new coat of paint on it. It is certainly worth noting that Ingrid Torelli’s performance as Lily is both cute and chilling and you definitely get a Linda Blair/first Exorcist-style performance that actually works extremely well on both levels. This is a kid that you both sympathize with yet know that she’s the main threat to everyone around her. Laura Gordon’s Dr. Ross-Mitchell, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t re-invent the wheel or anything…it is the performance you expect it to be…but to be critical would be akin to criticizing a really good cheeseburger: sure it’s nothing new but damned if it wasn’t what you needed in that moment. While never directly addressed, Gordon does add a layer to her performance where you can’t help but wonder if she’s got something going on with Jack…or is going to.

Now, the way the film is presented really deserves its own discussion…but it’s gonna depend on your age. While I’m a child of the 80s, born in ’78, so I wasn’t around to see something like this live (as the film takes place in 1977), there were more than enough reruns showing in syndication that I was still very much exposed to the vibe that this film needed to nail. And boy did they ever. It’s almost as though the writer/directors and production design team watched all the Carson’s Comedy Classics that I did way back in the day. This feels exactly the way a late night show in the 70s would have felt…the colors, the interstitials before and after commercial breaks, the band and their music…all of it just hits. What’s also noticeable and appreciated is either the presence of grain or the loss of resolution…whichever they opted to do. One, it captures the visuals of that time perfectly but two, it also helps hide some of the special effects we see emerge in the third act. I’ve seen other reviewers call out the effects saying they looked like the cheap CG that they were…but I dunno. I feel like the medium the directors utilized, again be it the film stock or the decision to lower the picture resolution with a grain filter…either one did an excellent job of masking that these events were clearly effects. I mean, given what happens, of course they’re effects but, like the movies of the late 70s and 80s, there’s a craftsman like style to them that might just make you wonder how they did it.

The one big thing we do have to address is that yes, this is a found-footage film. Of course, there’s some baggage with that…first and foremost after the hit that the Blair Witch Project was back in the late 90s, the Aughts were rife with this style of horror film and as such, they became trite and exhausted. Late Night with the Devil avoids this trap as it continues to draw the viewer in with a great story, a great setup and great performances. That said, like most other found-footage films, you need to know going into it that you’re in for a long burn. The movie needs to gather steam before it rounds the bend and grabs you. Now, once it takes hold, you’re not going anywhere, but the first two acts may allow for your attention to wander, especially if you’re young enough to not recall this style of television. All things considered though, given the post-Vietnam upheavals in society and the burgeoning ‘Satanic Panic’ that would go full bore in the 80s, I think there’s enough here to engage any viewer. There is one pitfall the film falls into, albeit briefly…but it is there. Usually in most found-footage films, there’s a slip up…a character who knows something they really shouldn’t or says something completely beyond their scope. In this instance, toward the beginning of the second act, Gus confronts Jack during a commercial break warning him that he’s meddling in forces he doesn’t understand. I have to say that this is the only part of the film that just falls flat. Yes, we can see Gus wearing a crucifix, but we’re never given any background as to how he might know that or why he might have fears in this particular vein. For him to make such a statement, I feel like the writers needed to give us a sufficient context as to why he’d want to talk to Jack about that and unfortunately, we’re just not given anything that would make that scene believable.

Lastly, yes, I know there are some calls to boycott the film for its use of AI to generate the interstitials. I get the argument, but honestly, if this is the reason for you to miss this movie, you’re an idiot. That’s a conversation or argument for another time and certainly shouldn’t be held against a relatively low-budget indie horror flick.

You can probably figure out how I’m going to rate the film if you’ve gotten this far. It’s a long setup, but between a roller coaster third act and what should be a star-making performance by Dastmalchian, Late Night with the Devil deserves the high praise it’s been receiving not just from me, but more professional critics everywhere. Both a perfect time capsule and a reinvigoration of a tired genre, this found-footage flick delivers on every premise. It doesn’t do anything exceptionally new, but it nails almost everything just right. And most importantly, it’s ending will stick with you as you walk out of the theater. The douchebag skeptic and Gus’s sudden plot intervention do keep the film from being perfect…so while as much as I’m torn on whether or not to give it a Hypno-Cat rating, I have to end up coming down on the side of an EXTREMELY high-end Happy Cat. Check it out in theaters now or, failing that, catch it streaming on Shudder on April 19th.

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