‘Late Night With the Devil’ Will Make You Want to Kill Your Television [SXSW 2023 Review]

Late Night With the Devil

With Late Night With the Devil, Australian directing duo the Cairnes Brothers have managed to tap into the true history of 1970s America and insert an entirely fictional late-night host into the fray. Beginning with a newsreel that serves as a cultural touchstone featuring Richard Nixon and the Manson murders, the stage is set for TV personality Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) to be introduced. Host of the nightly talk show Night Owls, Delroy is the more eccentric version of Johnny Carson who’s determined to climb the ratings ladder by any means necessary.

Delroy’s backstory is established early on. His wife Madeleine (Georgina Haig) has tragically passed away suddenly from cancer and rumors are spreading that he may have connections with The Grove—a secret society of leaders that dabble in the occult. Inspired by the real-life weekend retreats at Bohemian Grove, there’s even a quick image of a towering statue of Moloch, the Owl God connected to rituals of human sacrifice. All of this footage early on establishes the time period wonderfully and makes it clear that Delroy needs to pull out all the stops to get back on top.

Cut to the Night Owls 1977 Halloween special where a live audience is offered the chance to witness a séance that will be blasted out across the nation’s airwaves. The guests for the night’s festivities include a spiritual medium called Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), the pretentious cynic Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss), and occult expert and author June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon). They are also joined by Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), an incredibly creepy teen who is also the subject of June’s latest bestseller documenting the girl’s recent escape from a Satanic cult.

The entire special plays with the found footage conceit by framing the evening’s events as a recently discovered master tape of what went out on the air that fateful night. In Delroy’s defense, there’s no ill intent and no real desire to summon the devil. That’s just where the night leads, whether by accident or some sinister design. There’s a palpable sense of dread that begins to mount after things start to come undone. Back-and-forth exchanges between Delroy and his unhinged producer during commercial breaks allow them to convince each other that everything is under control. A ratings bonanza during sweeps week is exactly what they need. And they’re ecstatic that it’s actually happening. Until all hell breaks loose.

In his first leading role, Dastmalchian plays Delroy with a sense of quiet desperation. He’s the late-night host the outsiders fall asleep to at night, and he’s clinging to whatever fame he has left. Delroy is easy to root for even when it becomes clear that he’s potentially dooming everyone in the studio, and possibly placing the rest of the country in danger as well.

The true showcase, however, is Ingrid Torelli as Lilli. Her Deadite stare and otherworldly presence are legitimately unsettling, taking Late Night With the Devil to entirely new heights (and hellish depths). Once she’s wheeled out onto the set, any semblance of control begins to slowly dissipate.

Lilli introduces the audience to Mr. Wriggles, the demon that crawls around inside her, looking for any excuse to come out and play. Whatever antics have happened on Night Owls up to that point can be largely explained away. But the finale ensures that any doubters watching at home are going to end up being true converts.

The Cairnes Brothers do an exceptional job of walking the line between straight horror and mockumentary, largely due to placing a fictional television event inside the real-world events of the 1970s. The analog quality and overall look of Late Night With the Devil are just convincing enough to seem real. The character of Jack Delroy is also inspired by the host of the Australian talk show The Don Lane Show who was also fascinated with the supernatural and the occult.

Inevitable comparisons to the 1992 BBC show Ghostwatch and the WNUF Halloween Special aside, Late Night With the Devil gives genre fave David Dastmalchian the spotlight in one of the clear standouts of SXSW this year.

  • Late Night With the Devil


Late Night With the Devil takes America’s fascination with the occult and turns it against them in a glorious spectacle of demonic mayhem.



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