Stomach-Ripping And Throat-Slitting: LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL At SXSW

Filmmakers Colin and Cameron Cairnes and star David Dastmalchian on their new '70s period horror.

By Jason Kauzlarich · @jasonkauz · March 15, 2023, 4:30 PM EDT
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Set in 1977, Late Night With the Devil stars David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy, the host of the late-night talk show Night Owls. His ratings are plummeting, it’s sweeps week and he’s desperate for a boost. So Jack plans a Halloween special featuring a magician, someone that claims to be possessed, and a noted skeptic. As you can imagine, this is not your traditional late-night variety show, slowly building until pure chaos and mayhem ensue. This is a movie you definitely want to keep on your radar.

After catching the premiere of Late Night with the Devil starring Dastmalchian and written/directed by Cameron and Colin Cairnes at SXSW 2023, FANGORIA sat down with the team to discuss their new ‘70s period horror movie.


FANGORIA: How did the concept and story come about?

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Colin Cairnes: We've been working on the script for perhaps seven or eight years. After our first film, we felt like we could move quickly into another if we kept it contained, that sort of single-location ensemble cast kind of scenario. We sort of racked our minds for potential concepts with that in mind. Certain elements, things from our youth, things that we obsessed over as kids that sort of came back to us. Things like the late-night talk show and late-night movies; anything you associate with late night, basically.

We both had some experience making television and worked in TV studios, so I think we had a sense of that world. And normally, when you have an idea for a film, something that you think can be fleshed out into a feature, it's not one thing. It's normally two or three things that somehow just coalesce, and with those elements together, we might have a film on our hands. I think that was the case here. Wanting to do something contained and manageable from a production point of view. Something that was going to be spooky and hopefully suspenseful and spine-tingling, combined with that love of late-night talk shows that we'd grown up with and had always felt a little bit taboo and dangerous to us as kids, trying to evoke some of that atmosphere.

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FANGORIA: How did you go about casting David Dastmalchian for the lead?

Colin: Well, it was due to FANGORIA.

David Dastmalchian: Actually, FANGORIA can take some credit for this.

Colin: Well, I mean other than sure just recognizing his awesome work and all the films he's been in. But then I opened up Fango one day and read an article by David on regional horror hosts. And reading that, and knowing his work, I just thought, 'this is going to be a really good fit.' Obviously, our hero Jack is a TV host, so it felt like there would be some affinity there.

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David: You heard it here first, Fango fans. The truth is that was an initial bonding moment for us as well. So yeah, you saw my love letter to the horror host in the pages of Fango and thought-

Colin: Maybe you'd be up for it.

David: Kindred.

Colin: Absolutely.

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David: They sent over a lookbook and a script. I opened the PDF for the digital lookbook, and it was designed to look and feel kind of like a 1970s TV Guide, and there were elements that also felt a bit National Enquirer to it. And I was just scrolling through this, fascinated by the tonality, imagery, and language they were using. I was like, 'Wow, this is exceptional.'

It kind of lays out, in a way similar to the film itself, Jack Delroy's story and what the premise is in kind of splashy news energy. I was intrigued, and I'm like, 'who is this Jack Delroy? What was this story? What happened that fateful night?' And then I crack open the script, and I start reading. What I found in there was all of the elements of genre storytelling that I love and all of the indications that this could be a really fun, terrifying, gory, spooky story set on Halloween night. But really, what was pulsing underneath it was this man whose spirit was coming apart at the seams in front of an audience over the course of 90 minutes. And that, to me, seemed like such a fantastic opportunity.

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The challenge to me was just who he was. Jack Delroy was just charming, affable, very quick on his feet, witty late-night talk show host. That was the thing that I thought, I don't know why the fuck they think I'm the right guy for this. I don't see myself in that space. But the fact that they did made me want to push myself and see if I could get there.

FANGORIA: I mean, you are the host of the Chainsaw Awards.

David: This is true. Thank you. Thank you.

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Colin: Sometimes you just have a feeling, and we were fortunate on this movie, we had that feeling a number of times with some of the other cast members as well. Like Reese, who plays the sidekick, who hasn't done a lot of film and TV, but we just saw a little snippet of his work on Facebook or something, a little clip of him improvising. We thought, we reckon this guy can do it. And everyone's saying, 'Are you sure? Are you sure?' We weren't. We didn't know. He was fricking amazing.

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David: I think truthfully that Reese had never done any scripted performance before. Just improv only.

Cameron: He came in to do his audition, and he was humble enough to say, 'Look guys, this is the first time I've ever done this.' And as he was waiting to be called in, he saw all these actors coming out who he knows and loves and respects. He's going, fucking hell, how-

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David: I have no chance.

Cameron: I've got no chance.

Colin: To the point where, and part of his charm was of course, that mustache is his and the hair. And he went off and had a little cut, thinking he was never going to get the part, of course. He had about a month to grow things back and it still worked.

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David: He's perfect. He's perfect. Your whole cast is so fantastic.

FANGORIA: I mean the outfits, the sets, the vibe- Even how it's color graded, it all just has that the period feeling.

Colin: So much of it's just the preparation because you're on set, and you just want to have fun and explore and see where it goes with the cast. And I felt like we had the time to do that, even though it was a pretty tight shoot.

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Cameron: The music.

David: Oh, the music is so good.

Colin: Having the band on set, and they're really all top-quality.

Cameron: I mean, you must have loved having the band there too.

David: It was the best. It's such a great feeling to come out and have a live band playing.

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Cameron: Walking out your own theme song.

David: Yes. And a live studio audience on some of the days that we were shooting. They actually packed the risers for a couple of days with people in period attire really going, clapping along, laughing along. It was like, are you kidding? This is so great.

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Colin: Make sure you laugh and clap with an American accent though, guys.

David: There are so many crazy behind-the-scenes stories, one that we haven't talked about yet. There were a number of last-minute adjustments that had to be made cast-wise, up until the minute we started filming, going, 'Oh my gosh, are we going to be able to get this actor in time to play this role?' In fact, Ian who plays Carmichael Hague, was originally cast in a different role and he ended up getting cast as Carmichael, and his magic mastery and something he did over a weekend.

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FANGORIA: He learned it while on set?

Cameron: He learned how to make cigars appear out of nowhere and how to light things with his finger, and he did it so effortlessly. When you watched the movie, you're like, oh this guy's an old, they must have hired an old time sleight-of-hand artist. I mean, that's some of the magic of movie making, too.

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Colin: And Ingrid Torelli as Lilly who actually became possessed for the film.

David: That was the creepiest part. Yeah. You would go by her dressing room and she'd be in there just talking to the mirror.

Colin: Eyes rolled back.

David: If you were like, 'Ingrid, are we okay in there?' She would slowly turn her head around with a big smile.

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Colin: Twist her head around 180 degrees.

David: Actually, a dear young actor in Melbourne who babysat my kids.

Cameron: She's a delight.

Colin: Such a sweet kid.

Cameron: But what a talent.

Colin: And then spewed pea soup all over my kids as well.

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FANGORIA: Were there any late-night talk show hosts that you went back and watched tapes of?

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David: Definitely. Dozens if not hundreds of hours. At night before I'd go to bed, I'd go on YouTube and the guys had sent me links to footage they had found of a big Australian late-night talk host from back in the day named Don Lane. I would watch Don Lane episodes, and then I would watch Dick Cavett. I'd fall down these YouTube holes, Johnny Carson, anything that involved the supernatural. Whenever any of the late-night talk show hosts would bring on spoon benders or mind readers, or UFO abductees. I watched a lot of David Letterman. I went back and found old Morton Downey Jr. episodes. So there was a lot.

And to me, a big challenge on top of just threading the needle of figuring out Jack's journey psychologically and emotionally and making sure that that felt authentic, was the added texture and tone of the manner of speech, the voice, the presentational style of being a late-night talk show host. And so watching that stuff was almost like putting on a certain kind of music to go to bed with every night. I tried to do it last night at the post-show Q&A after our screening, where I was like, 'I'm going to slip into...' And I forgot how hard it was.

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Cameron: But you would constantly surprise us with just the b-roll stuff where we'd just keep rolling with these fake guests, and you would conduct these interviews that would go on-

Colin: So period specific too. Every reference, every gag.

David: I love trying to blow their minds with a '70s reference of some kind or another.

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Colin: And it was a different one every time.

FANGORIA: It's more than just a straight possession. Your characters have layers. They have their motivation for why they want to do this big show, and then even the guests have their own stories, and you quickly realize what they're all about.

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Colin: I think an audience wants to go on a journey with these characters and then learn something about them and maybe themselves in the process. The idea that each of the characters comes in with their own worldview and their view is questioned over the course of 90 minutes, as is Jack's, and everyone kind of ends up obviously in a very different state at the end of it. But all their assumptions and prejudices and their beliefs are sort of shaken up through the story.

David: What's real? What's not? What's real to each character and what's not? What secrets is everybody keeping? Everybody in this movie has a secret. Everybody has something they're trying to work through as far as agenda goes, and they all have these paradigms that they're holding onto at the beginning of the film. If anybody is the shakiest, it's Jack, and it's just the tectonic plates start to really shift as his perception of reality starts to get twisted, and he's confronted more and more with the reality of how much he's put his own success and identity above the welfare of others. That's a hard thing to rectify, especially when it's somebody you love. And I think that somebody who maybe didn't drive a dagger through the heart of their spouse could still feel a mammoth amount of guilt and shame having just maybe not spent enough time with that person as they were going through something as debilitating as cancer, which is what Jack did in the past.

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FANGORIA: What do you want the audience to take away from this character's story?

David: Huge David Dastmalchian fans. That's what they wanted.

Colin: Yeah, that's pretty much it.

FANGORIA: I think Fango readers are already.

David: Oh good. All right. Then huge Cairnes fans.

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Cameron: Come for David Dastmalchian, stay for the Cairnes .

Colin: Stay for the analog glitches. You want people to have a good time and to be challenged a little, but for us, it is all about character and we're so fortunate that we got David to be Jack. We were probably channeling a bit of Dick Cavett and Don Lane while writing, and weren't seeing beyond that. I mean, we knew this guy had baggage, and there were issues there and he was keeping a secret from others, but perhaps also keeping a secret from him himself to that point.

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David: Totally.

Colin: That's kind of the whole idea of the Halloween mask, where even has a line that explains to hide from the vengeful spirits and all that stuff, we try to establish. But at the end of the day, we just want people to have a good time. To go and be entertained and get wrapped up in this guy's story and in the journey of these other characters as well, because I think they're all so rich.

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David: It's shocking, this film. I love the idea that people are going to walk away a little sweaty. They're going to have laughed really hard. But I saw a woman crying last night during the mini scene towards the end of the film. I want people's heads to spin, at least 180 if not 360 degrees. I want them yanking worms out of their own guts and spewing things out of their eyes. And I think that you guys have done that. I think you've really achieved something for those of us who love this genre, care about and know the potential of the space.

It feels like it's a love letter to us. It feels like you made this film for those of us who collect Fango and who really are always waiting because it's like a drug. Once you've got that high, you're chasing it, and it's hard because you can't recreate the first time that you saw FANGORIA, Freddy, Linda Blair, Leatherface do the things that they did. You don't get that back, and this is a movie that I think is going to give people a first-time experience with something that hopefully lasts.

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Colin: But you're right. I think that's what we've been chasing is those key moments as a young person watching a film on the big screen, watching An American Werewolf in London or something like that, or Poltergeist at the age of 10 or 12 and being blown away and thinking that this is a powerful medium that we're dealing with here. And to try to aim for that, whether we get there or not is for others to decide, but to try to recreate that kind of experience is everything.

Hopefully this is a conversation starter. What did it mean to you? What do you think was really going on? I mean, we've all got our version of events of the backstory, but hopefully there's enough there for everyone to sort of theorize and speculate.

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FANGORIA: How much of the FX were practical? Was it all on camera?

Colin: A lot. Pretty much.

Cameron: I mean, those big gags were. The stomach-ripping worm scene-

David: The worm through the eye.

Cameron: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

David: The throat-slitting?

Cameron: Yeah, yeah, yeah, throat.

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David: Gus falling on that table was a stunt.

Colin: You flying across the set was you.

Cameron: Like the big showdown at the end where a head snaps open, that was a combination of puppetry and some visual effects.

I mean really it was just augmenting stuff more so than just going to town with the visual effects or the CGI.

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David: It's so fun. There's this moment, everyone will know the moment I'm talking about once they've seen the film, where the guys were smart enough to give you just a slivery glimpse of Lily when you see her at her most horrific. There's something that happens with her face that I can't do justice in trying to describe in words and it won't come across well in the typewritten page, but it's one of these things you have to see it. And my wife woke up this morning and said, 'I keep having these really scary visions at night when I'm falling asleep of that moment .' And I knew exactly what she was talking about. It's fucked up.

Cameron: The reference there, this might help, is Fright Night.

David: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. There's a moment that is very Fright Night, The Ring. But it's its own thing. I've never seen that before. And you guys give it for just enough that it permeates the subconscious, and then it haunts you because you go, did I just see that?

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Colin: Less is more. And there are, I mean, are a number of subliminal moments like that.

David: Upon repeat viewing, you start to catch more and more subliminal stuff. You guys played in that freaking space.

Cameron: Just slipping it in a couple of frames.

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David: Messing with the subconscious. I love that.

Colin: The most important eight frames in the movie.

FANGORIA: I'm excited for people to check it out when they can because it builds and builds, kind of a slow burn, but then that ending is just chaos, madness, and I think people are going to really dig it.

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David: Thanks man. And thanks for what you're doing with the magazine. We really do. All of us out here are so grateful for it.

Cameron: It shaped me. It certainly shaped me as a kid, and as a young man.

David: And now I can read it as a grown up-

Cameron: The rest of the family was very worried about me.

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David: There's still a lot of fun in the pages, but there's some different kinds of thoughtful approaches to the way that some of the articles are being curated that are great for me as a full grown-up now to think about things from a different perspective. And I still love seeing all the gore in there.


Thank you to David Dastmalchian, Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes for taking the time to chat with us. As we have more news on Late Night With the Devil we will definitely be posting about it because we can't wait for y'all to watch it.