Monday, April 8, 2024

Review: Late Night With the Devil

An inventive take on found-footage horror with incredible '70s period detail that builds slowly into a wild and unforgettable climax

It's still 6 months out from spooky season, but getting the chance to head to the cinema to see a movie set on Halloween was a nice treat. As a caveat for this review, two things: Horror movies never, ever scare me and also, I won't delve into too many details because half the fun of scary movies are the twists. But let's dive in!

Late Night With the Devil is framed as a found-footage horror tale told in real time on Halloween night in 1977 on the set of Night Owls with Jack Delroy, a Tonight Show competitor. Slumping in ratings, his career on the verge of falling apart, Jack —played with charm, likeability, and a slow simmering of something dark just underneath the surface by David Dastmalchian— plans an extra-special Halloween episode, with guests including a mind reader, a skeptic, and a parapsychologist. Nothing too crazy, of course, but with live TV, you never know what may happen.

Things start to go wrong as the show progresses, but not enough to derail the show. When the psychic becomes physically ill on stage and starts spewing black vomit, everyone just says, "Oh weird!" But hey, that's showbiz, baby, and the show must go on. When the antsy producer starts to beg Jack to stop the show before something bad happens, the foreshadowing is so thick that you can almost feel the dread of everyone on set.

The tension and stress build and build as the movie progresses, and the possession centerpiece toward the middle of the film is inventive and unnerving. We watch as a young girl raised in a satanic cult has her arms strapped to a chair and becomes possessed by a demon named Abraxas. It's nothing compared to the full-scale assault of Linda Blair's ordeal in The Exorcist, but it's still convincing and creepy.

In the next scene, we witness a hypnotist convince a man he's got worms writhing and escaping his body. It's some of the best body horror I've seen in a long time, and one part in particular made my jaw drop.

What's interesting about these set pieces is that we're along for the ride just the same as the audience: everything unrolls chronologically and through the grainy and orange-and-brown hues of a 1970s talk show color palette.

This makes it work very differently than if it were just a movie set in the '70s and filmed as a drama, as the fear and doom feel so much more immediate because you're imagining watching it on live TV at home. Every few minutes, I'd think to myself, Holy shit, what if something crazy DID happen on television? I guess that's what the 7-second delays are for.

There are no jump scares throughout the movie, and the moments of horror come in small bursts backloaded in the last half. But the climax at the end —when the demon reveals himself and all hell breaks loose, literally— is 3 solid minutes of genuinely scary and very memorable supernatural violence.

The Math

Baseline Score: 8/10

Bonuses: Slow-building tension that lasts the entire film; incredible performance by David Dastmalchian; some very very good body horror in the last bits.

Penalties: The film has come under fire for using generative AI for 3 of its interstitial art bumpers. I don't feel qualified to discuss all of the repercussions of that choice, but this article and this one have good explanations and takes on the matter.

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, new NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo Award-winning podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, growing corn and giving them pun names like Timothee Chalamaize, and thinking about fried chicken.