Late Night with the Devil review: ferociously fun horror

The new retro horror from Australian brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes pits an excellent ensemble cast against 70s gore.

Some dudes just give off creepy energy. However lovely a human being prolific American actor David Dastmalchian may be in real life, on screen he’s devilishly unnerving. He leans in hard to the villainous vibe, career-wise, too, including slithering through a skeleton’s closet-worth of horror movies, like The Boogeyman and Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter.

In Late Night with the Devil, the latest gooper-spooker from the brotherly directorial duo behind 100 Bloody Acres, Colin and Cameron Cairnes, Dastmalchian depicts smooth-talker Jack Delroy. Not unlike the States’ import to Australia, Don Lane, Jack is a sharp-suited interlocutor with charisma to burn who hosts the fictional show Night Owls.

Locked in a ferocious ratings battle with the real-life king of the 70s late-night slot, The Tonight Show’s Johnny Carson, Jack’s numbers are in freefall, with the whisper of ‘has-been’ chasing his tail.

But he has set his sights on winning at all costs, with his slick presentation skills concealing a diabolical deal.

Brace yourself

‘I have never been a quitter.’

So snarls a recalcitrant President Richard Nixon, forced into announcing his resignation after being caught red-handed in ‘high crimes and misdemeanours,’ long before a certain tango-hued someone faced the threat of impeachment many moons later.

Nixon’s glowering visage is part of the film’s bracing opening montage, establishing not only Jack’s fictional backstory, but also just how wild the 70s actually were.

‘A time of unrest and mistrust,  fear and violence,’ an unseen narrator announces – as voiced by Scanners and Total Recall star Michael Ironside, for bonus points. We see witness archival footage of the Vietnam War and the furious protests against it on home soil, the Cold War-spun threat of nuclear attack, fear of satanic worship and the reign of terror unleashed by the cultish murderers of the Manson ‘Family’.

‘Television documents the chaos and beams the horror into our living rooms.’

It’s against this Helter Skelter backdrop that Late Night with the Devil’s maniacal twist on the found footage sub-genre plays out. Positing the discovery of long-last Night Owl master tapes and never before aired behind-the-scenes footage that reveals what really went down one terrible Halloween night it all went to hell live on air.

Read: Late Night with the Devil: Australian horror breaks US box office record

Jack makes some very dubious decisions even before things go spectacularly haywire. He’s certainly not shy of rolling roll out his terminally ill wife, Madeleine Piper (Georgina Haig), tragically dying of lung cancer despite never having smoked. Her guest appearance on the show provides a quick fix of viewer influx, but not enough to unseat Carson.

That fiery intro also reveals his connection to a clandestine group called the Grove, a masonic-like mob conducting arcane ceremonies deep in the wood that cluster around the craggy hills of LA, a freakily folkloric set-up led by a menacing figure wearing flowing robes and an owl mask.

Could it be that the Night Owl host has drawn deep on dark magic to improve his (Salem’s) lot?

Faustian fury

The Cairnes brothers’ fantastic screenplay zips through all this in double quick time, also delivering a sly nod to real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, protagonists in The Conjuring movie-verse, who it’s announced were invited on the show but declined.

Instead, our panel for this fateful night includes ace Stateless star Fayssal Bazzi as golden-suited psychic, Christou, former magician-turned-sceptical debunker Carmichael Haig, a sneering ex-magician turned irritatingly smug sceptic (Safe Home star Ian Bliss) and parapsychologist Dr June Ross-Mitchell (Secret City actor Laura Gordon).

The latter has brought along Lilly (Bloom actor Ingrid Torelli, affecting a magnificently dead-eyed stare and Richter grin), a young woman and the subject of her latest book, Conversations With the Devil, who has been in her care since being rescued from a demon-worshiping cult indebted to Abraxas.

However, care is a loosely applied term here. As Carmichael tussles with Christou and then June, determined to prove their so-called powers are a hoax, it all leads inexorably to June, the closest to good person on show here, foolishly agreeing to Jack’s request to speak to the beast within Lilly, who appears to recognise Jack despite the pair having never met. She also refers to Abraxas as Mr Wriggles, as you do with cuddly demonic forces.

Wickedly staged, Late Night with the Devil was shot by New Gold Mountain cinematographer Matthew Temple in Melbourne’s Docklands Studios on a fabulous chat show set conjured up by production designer Otello Stolfo.

Relayed to us in the hazy amber hues of 70s’ TV, as presented in the classic square ratio, it’s a hurling-burling cauldron within which to slow-roast the panellists. Their on-camera bravado falters when the film switches from the period-precise, two-camera set-up to the black-and-white BTS footage, capturing the ever-fraying reality in a roaring 90-minute blast of Faustian fury. What price can you place on success, and who must pay?

The ensemble is hella-good, with Dastmalchian on fire. Ferociously fun stuff, right down to a direct quote lifted from The Exorcist played for laughs when all bedlam breaks, this is sure to be a cult classic. It’s already set fire to the US box office, apparently accruing US $2.8 million on opening weekend, a fair haul for an owl-hooting treat, with its low-fi monster mash practical gore, video nasty special effects and out-of-control theremin solo for the win.

Be careful as you watch. Flickering static regularly disrupts the broadcast, but stare too long into that frazzling chasm and who knows what you might glimpse …

Late Night with the Devil is in Australian cinemas from 11 April.


4 out of 5 stars


David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi


Colin Cairns, Cameron Cairns

Format: Movie

Country: Australia

Release: 11 April 2024