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Live from New York: It's Satanic Panic

A review of Late Night with the Devil

Live television broadcasting can be a stressful, competitive, soul-crushing, and exhausting endeavor. One would even describe it as the devil’s business. This has never been more prevalent and literal than in the Cairnes Brothers found footage horror comedy Late Night with the Devil, debuting in theaters in March 2024 before streaming at home on Shudder in April. The film is a stand-out in Shudder’s catalog as a clever and playfully gruesome chiller that aesthetically emulates a certain era of 1970s late-night television and what would happen when a particularly offbeat broadcast invites dark forces into the studio, unleashing chaos and pandemonium unto its crew and audience. It is ostensibly Dick Cavett meets Pazuzu, and it is certainly refreshing to see a wild genre picture with a tiny budget receive as wide of a release as it has.

Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is the host of the 1970s late-night live television show Night Owls, where on a typical night, he invites strange carnival sideshow characters to interview and exploit in front of a studio audience. However, his ratings are severely lagging behind Johnny Carson, and he is grieving over his recently deceased celebrity wife. Desperate for a ratings boost to save his show, he invites a cavalcade of oddballs onto his show for his 1977 Halloween special, including a parapsychologist and her case study, a 13-year-old cult survivor, seemingly possessed (or as the doctor describes, psychically infested) by a demon she refers to as “Mr. Wriggles” as a way to capitalize on the growing “Satanic panic” sensation occurring throughout the 70s.

The film exists in a tiny subgenre of horror I like to dub “mockumentaries depicting live entertainment disrupted by a supernatural force”. It occupies a similar aesthetic space to the 1992 BBC TV movie special Ghostwatch as well as the 2013 WNUF Halloween Special. Ghostwatch incorporates real BBC broadcast talents such as Michael Parkinson and Craig Charles (shout-out to Robot Wars) to give its supernatural investigation an air of authenticity. WNUF Halloween Special utilizes a scrappy 1980s public access presentation complete with amusing fake commercials. Late Night approaches its subject as though a master tape of the fateful evening has been unearthed and shown to the public for the first time, Blair Witch style, complete with VHS artifacting and glitches, sudden cuts to commercial breaks, and mono audio mixing. While the film mostly sticks to this gimmick, it occasionally cuts to a fly-on-the-wall black and white documentary style, similar to a Maysles Brothers film, in between the interstitial commercial breaks. While these scenes do a solid job of adding narrative tension, as the cast and crew grow weary of the potential danger in the studio, it also breaks some immersion in the setting. I wish we could have seen a way for the whole episode to play out as is uninterrupted.

It is a real pleasure seeing David Dastmalchian in a leading role. He's been a memorable supporting player in productions by the likes of Denis Villeneuve, Christopher Nolan, and James Gunn (Prisoners is a particular favorite of mine). Now he gets to shine as Jack Delroy, playing a charming and funny late-night host with great chemistry with his co-hosts and guests. He has just the right amount of nervous and chaotic energy where you can believe he's been hosting the show for 6 years, yet still lagging behind the likes of Johnny Carson. He's the heart of the film and I hope this leads to him being the heart of more films to come!

There's an unfortunate elephant in the room which I need to address. During the interstitial cuts to commercial breaks, splash images are displayed on the screen. These images are confirmed to be AI-generated. AI art is also on display in the production design, on the backdrop. I personally do not condone the use of generative AI in commercial art. AI can be useful in the early development process to create reference points, but AI-generated art has no place in a finished piece of art, in my opinion. It’s a shame, too, since there’s so much attention to detail and love put into the presentation, the AI generation sours some of the authenticity on display. They did not need to cut corners when they put in so much effort elsewhere. If AI generation doesn’t bother you, it won’t make an impact on your viewing experience. If it does, I don’t necessarily blame you for not wanting to support this film, but there is a lot to love here in other departments. Film is a collaborative medium, I only wish real graphic designers and artists got to contribute to this collaboration in that way.

For seasoned genre heads of either found footage mockumentaries or possession/exorcism films, Late Night With the Devil doesn’t exactly offer anything profound or groundbreaking. I do wish it could have gone further with its concept and committed to its bit to a stronger degree. As it is, though, it is still a thoroughly entertaining and creative horror film with a playful and sinister tone full of practical gore. It will assuredly be a staple of many Halloween marathons for years to come.


Jeremy Kolodziejski

Jeremy is a long-time supporter of and contributor to the Story Screen Fam, as well as the entire Hudson Valley Film community, as a writer, filmmaker, film worker, and general film fan. You can find him sifting through the most obscure corners of horror, martial arts, comedy, noir, and crime drama cinema, always on the hunt to discover something new, strange, and exciting.




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