Bat Country: Late Night with the Devil (Cameron & Colin Cairnes, 2024)

So much depends / upon / a rubber / bat / flying past the camera

Bat Country: Late Night with the Devil (Cameron & Colin Cairnes, 2024)
The 1970s Pride flag: A rainbow where every color is orange, somehow.

I was born in the '80s, so I experienced most of the ‘70s without knowing it. Nearly all of the things that I thought of as “old” — used paperbacks, syndicated-run sitcoms, the mustard-and-rust patterned wallpaper in my grandparents’ kitchen — had been created less than ten years before my birth, in the Earth Tones Decade. Child me inherited these things, believing that they had always been there, and that they were ancient. They came from before the beginning of the world. 

Late Night With the Devil is a period piece, set in the 1970s, and its great charm is that it actually feels like getting the entire pulp culture of the ’70s whirled up into a smoothie: Uri Geller! Sybil! Late-night talk shows! The Exorcist!Parapsychology!” Nielsen ratings! Amityville Horrors! Orange!!!! It’s like having a full set of Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown books thrown at you through the screen, preferably with scuffed covers and Dewey Decimal library binding already on them. 

"It uncovers what people were never willing to talk about: Stonehenge."

What charmed me most about Late Night With the Devil is how effectively it manages to blend the horror scam hits of the 1970s, 80s and 90s with the horror scams of today. In the late 20th century, “real life” horror happened when a dubiously credentialed expert — a psychiatrist, a “parapsychologist,” the fucking Warrens — showed up on television to claim they had seen a ghost or exorcised a demon or discovered Satanic ritual abuse memories lurking inside America’s amnesiac kindergarteners. 

Today, the expert is the Internet, and “real life” is creepypasta, often specifically asking the reader to remember a fictional event: Hey, do you remember that TV show where…? Did you ever play the party game where…? Did you ever see the photograph of the playground where…? The people who make and read these stories know they're fiction, but the demons, the playground Slendermen, the portal to Hell in the elevator, are spookier because they’re presented as cultural apocrypha, half-remembered memories, things you can almost convince yourself you heard about long before the hideous truth became known. 

Hey, did you ever see the tape where a talk show host summons the devil? is a perfect set-up for one of those stories, and also for a movie about the paranormal obsessions of the 1970s, and if you presented it as “found footage,” it would also be a perfect cheap 21st-century horror movie. This, of course, is precisely what Late Night With the Devil turns out to be. Unfortunately, by the time the movie came out, this was not the show-biz scam that people were talking about. Late Night with the Devil is most famous as the movie that tried to sneak AI-generated imagery past us in its title cards. 

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