Late Night with the Devil

The seventies were a decade of turmoil in the United States of America, the hazy glow of the sixties evaporating along with the warming sunshine as dirty foreign wars spilled over into domestic political instability, rising oil prices signalled the end of prosperity and the social upheaval of the previous decade shifted the perspectives of the media, with unceasing horrors broadcast in full colour into every home across the nation while individual commentators became the stars of their networks, comforting voices of reassurance in troubled times.

A former Chicago radio announcer who moved to television in 1971 with his music and chat show Night Owls on the UBC network, Jack Delroy’s fortunes had moved up and down, ironically in counterpoint to his personal life rather than in synchronicity, the diagnosis of his wife’s terminal cancer and her subsequent death boosting interest in his show, although he could never reach the prestigious number one position for his timeslot, not until the now notorious broadcast of Monday 31st October 1977.

It sometimes takes an outsider to see the truth of a subject; shot and edited as though it was the master tape of a live late night American television broadcast, including hidden behind-the-scenes moments where viewers at home would be prompted to purchase quality mass-produced plastic items to enhance their lifestyles, Late Night with the Devil is actually an Australian production, written and directed by brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes and starring Dune’s David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy.

His guests including Fayssal Bazzi as the self-promoting performing psychic Christou and Ian Bliss as sceptical debunker Carmichael, quite obviously representing Uri Geller and James Randi in their appearance and contrasting points of view which swiftly become oppositional, Carmichael’s determination to be right manifesting as rudeness then cruelty, it is in the later segments that the main guests join the lineup, parapsychologist and author of Conversations with the Devil Doctor June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and her adopted daughter Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), unsettling in her fixation on the gaze of the camera upon her, last survivor of a Satanic cult who June claims is now possessed by the evil spirit Abraxas which she reluctantly agrees to bring forth under hypnosis.

Late Night with Devil structured with all the advantages of found footage, the immediacy of the story as unfolds in real time with the viewer part of that audience, helped enormously with the perfect period detail recreations in costumes, colour schemes, hair and soundtrack and performance style, feeling like a genuine archive recording of that Hallowe’en night, it also bypasses the limitations of the genre, the television presentation allowing multiple camera angles while the behind-the-scenes footage allows characters to express misgivings not meant for broadcast, giving the façade perspective and dimension.

The BBC’s 1992 Ghostwatch the obvious antecedent, Late Night with the Devil is bolder, modelled after larger-than-life American television personalities with the studio audience an aspect of the spectacle, simultaneously fearful yet complicit in their cheering, waiting for something terrible to happen so they can say they were there when it happened, witnesses to the revelation, the only aspect which spoils what would otherwise be a minor masterpiece the occasional reliance on obvious digital effects, spoiling an otherwise flawless illusion.

Late Night with the Devil will be in UK cinemas from Friday 22nd March



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