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DIRECTED BY: Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes
FEATURING: , Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Ingrid Torelli
PLOT: In a bid to renew his contract, not-quite-popular-enough talk show host Jack Delroy pulls out one stop too many for his “sweeps week” Halloween broadcast.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: There is madness, realism, grubby dealing, and demonic intrusion. And plenty of humor. This was my fourth feature of the day, so I may have been addled already, but the increasingly wobbly stack of macabre craziness and moral compromise left me (very pleasantly) jittery as I emerged from this fast-paced little horror gem.
COMMENTS: Pinch me, I’m nightmaring.
That does not quite work, but do you know what does? That’s right: the Cairnes Brothers’ Late Night With the Devil. From the brown-drab authenticity of the broadcast television set, to the sideburns and wide collars, to the obliging gullibility of the live studio audience, and (particularly) to David Dastmalchian’s at-long-last-leading-man turn as Jack Delroy. And it nearly slipped my mind somehow, but this is a “found footage” horror story; one that is actually interesting from start to finish. (Perhaps the weirdest thing that could be said of any found footage yarn.)
After a brief introduction covering Jack Delroy’s rise to late night television stardom, the film unfolds in real time as the Halloween episode of “Night Owls …with Jack Delroy” kicks off. Jack’s guest line-up include a renowned spiritualist, a renowned debunker of spiritualists (and other charlatans), and a parapsychologist working to cure the young survivor of a mass suicide by a Satanic death cult. The screen widens and the brown-heavy palette of color shifts to black and white during the commercial breaks, as the action shifts to the backstage element. What starts out playful slips further and further into paranoia, then fear, then body horror. The slide is leisurely paced, as master TV presenter Jack Delroy attempts to keep his awkward guests in line, as well as the developing presence of supreme evil.
Late Night With the Devil touches on many elements with considerable assurance. Delroy’s association with a mysterious society “the Grove” lays the groundwork for a late film reveal (do not worry: you won’t guess this). The psychologist and Satanic cult survivor are obvious nods to Pazder and Smith, authors of “Michelle Remembers” and catalysts of the “Satanic Panic” of the ’80s (Ingrid Torelli as the girl deserves special mention for bringing something new to the well-worn “creepy child” trope). The ill-fated spiritualist, Christou, is a perfect amalgam of the various foreign “mystics” prevalent at the time. And the debunker, Carmichael Hunt, carries a hubris worthy of late magician-era, but with a tenth of the charm. And that’s only the quality performances in front of the studio camera.
The question as to whether this is Apocrypha-worthy is a matter I’ve contemplated for some days now. I am unsure. When I consider the consistent quality and feel of Late Night With the Devil, I am completely taken in: its realistic aura impressing me still, despite my knowledge of the artifice—which suggests quality filmmaking, not necessarily “weird” filmmaking. Mind you, my enthusiasm has been on the mark often enough; the triple-climax finale, with the stakes ratcheted up each time, is an impressive gamble that pays off handsomely. And no, I’m not worried that I’m giving away too much. I feel certain that you, too, will get lost in Jack Delroy’s battle for Good Ratings—and his battle against the Evil One.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“This isn’t the scariest movie, but neither is it entirely a self-conscious joke. The Cairnes maintain an astute balance between pop-culture irony, familiar if not always predictable thrills (including some creature/gore FX), and a kind of hallucinatory mass-media surrealism — one that recalls the title of a 1970s cautionary tome about TV, ‘The Plug-In Drug.'”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (festival screening)