‘Late Night With the Devil’ Review: Selling Your Soul for the Ratings

by The Technical Blogs


On Halloween night, 1977, the first in the crucial sweeps week for “Night Owls,” Delroy and his producers come up with a desperate, last ditch idea to spike ratings: they design a show full of spectacle that will tap into the cultural craze for all things occult. The guest list that night includes a medium and a skeptic, plus a parapsychologist and the girl she’s been treating for demonic possession. The master tapes have been found, the narrator informs us, and that’s what we’re about to see. Buckle up.

All of these characters seem familiar. Carmichael the Conjurer (Ian Bliss), the film’s abrasive skeptic, seems based on James Randi, who appeared on “The Tonight Show” to debunk others’ claims to paranormal abilities, most notably the illusionist Uri Geller in 1973. Randi also confronted mediums on live TV (such as this film’s Christou, played by a hammy Fayssal Bazzi) and was an outspoken critic of parapsychology.

“Late Night With the Devil” also evokes “Michelle Remembers,” the now-discredited 1980 best seller by the psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder about his patient, Michelle Smith, who claimed to have been subjected to ritual satanic abuse. Here the doctor is a parapsychologist played by Laura Gordon, whose performance combines vulnerability and conviction in a fruitful counterbalance to some of the camp. She’s accompanied by her charge, Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), whose oscillation from dead-eyed to vibrant is devilishly disquieting. (If there’s one rule in horror, it’s that there’s nothing creepier than a little girl.)

The film moves a little slowly, unfolding at the speed of the “Night Owls” episode. That’s good. We’re forced to watch it all in real time, just as the audience at home would have, which more or less transforms us into those people in 1977, sitting on the couch in the middle of the night, by turns titillated, captivated and horrified by what’s unfolding on live television. Eventually they — we — are sucked into the whole illusion, an effect I can only imagine is enhanced if you’re watching it all unfold on your actual TV set. You aren’t watching a movie anymore; for a few minutes, you’re part of it.

All of this would have been completely seamless, but for one disappointing formal choice. We’re told the master tape we’re about to watch will be accompanied by previously unseen backstage footage shot during commercial breaks. Though it might have been interesting to leave those scenes out, it makes sense that they’re there — it keeps the film from getting too abstract by filling us in on what’s actually happening between segments.


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