One Thing I Like About Late Night With The Devil

The story of a 1970s late night talk show that aired a live demon possession

The moment Late Night With the Devil clicked with me is when I stopped comparing it to the movie I’d been expecting, and started watching it for what it actually is.

The intriguing premise suggests a period piece found footage horror movie: a narrator1Michael Ironside! sets us in the late 1970s, recounting the story of a late night talk show called Night Owls that can never seem to compete with Johnny Caron’s Tonight Show. Against the back drop of the political and cultural turmoil of the late 70s, and the satanic panic, the show’s host Jack Delroy spent years trying to build popularity for his show and get out from under Carson’s shadow. What we’re seeing is the “master tape” from the Halloween night broadcast, which featured a stage psychic; an Amazing Randi-style skeptic; and a parapsychologist with her troubled patient, a 13-year-old girl who survived a cult worshipping the demon Abraxas.

For a while, it does seem like they’re going for verisimilitude. The set direction feels spot-on, not just for a 1970s talk show, but specifically one made in New York. (It’s good that the money went into perfecting the set, since almost the entire movie takes place on one set). There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot in the opening montage showing a character who looks a lot like Orson Welles in his 1970s talk show era, and for those of us who watched those shows during our formative years, that one image establishes the setting perfectly.

But as the movie continues, it becomes apparent that Late Night With the Devil is more interested in telling its story than in being a pitch-perfect found-footage movie. The performances are pretty broad, always hovering in the zone between realism and camp. There are minor, nit-picking anachronisms; shots that wouldn’t have happened in a live broadcast; cross-fades that weren’t in style even if the technology to do them was available for live TV; “behind the scenes” shots that simply wouldn’t have been possible; and a bunch of other things that imply that whenever the filmmakers had to choose between reality and setting a mood, they always chose the latter.

In the end, the tone of the movie is much more like a Hollywood Horror Nights house than a modern found footage movie. It has a ton of ideas about theme, mood, character, and story, and it throws them out like an interconnected series of funhouse horror vignettes. The commercial breaks and behind-the-scene moments are more like transitions between broad story beats than like actual behind-the-scenes footage.

And when I say the performances are broad to the point of being camp, I don’t mean that disparagingly. David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy has to be the most nuanced, managing a performance-within-a-performance that has to shift from corny to sincere to craven to haunted within the same scene. I was even more impressed by Ingrid Torelli as the young possessed girl Lilly, especially for perfectly playing the eeriness of someone who won’t stop staring directly at the camera. On the whole, though, the performances felt more like those of the scare actors inside a modern horror house, shouting out their lines every 60 seconds to make sure the audience gets the point of the current story beat.

Ultimately, that horror house feeling is what I liked2But didn’t ever quite love most about Late Night With the Devil. It feels like a fiercely independent movie3It feels odd calling it “low budget,” considering how aggressively it’s been marketed, and how there’s an almost comically long series of production company logos at the beginning, where the filmmakers had a very specific idea about the tone and the mood and what they believed was important, even if it didn’t fit into the modern Blumhouse mold. Even more than the sets and costumes, it feels like a throwback to the late 1970s. Especially the pre-1980s horror that valued creepy and scary moments over intense realism.

If on the other hand, you’re interested in an independent film that does commit completely to its premise, I’ve got to give another recommendation for Deadstream. It goes much more for horror-comedy than Late Night With the Devil, and in my opinion does more with its modest budget. The movies have very little in common apart from a single set and a nod to live broadcast (and both being on Shudder, I guess), but that shows how much room there is for creativity in horror movies without big studio intervention.

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    Michael Ironside!
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    But didn’t ever quite love
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    It feels odd calling it “low budget,” considering how aggressively it’s been marketed, and how there’s an almost comically long series of production company logos at the beginning

One Thing I Love About Every Episode of Poker Face (part 3)

Rounding out my list of my favorite things from season one of Poker Face

Previously on Spectre Collie… I couldn’t wait until I finished the season to mention more of my favorite things from each episode. Now I can finally round out the list with the last two episodes of season one.

I’d been avoiding reading anything about the series, so that every aspect of it would come as a surprise, but I’ve seen that a second season has already been ordered by Peacock, so I’ve got something to look forward to. It’s good knowing that Rian Johnson has so much cachet (and so does Natasha Lyonne) that I can be pretty confident that he’ll end the series on his own terms, instead of letting it drag on indefinitely.

Lots of unmarked spoilers, so please don’t read until you’ve finished season one!

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One Thing I Love About Every Episode of Poker Face (part 2)

Picking out more of my favorite parts from Poker Face season one

Previously on Spectre Collie… I’ve been so impressed by Poker Face that I already wanted to start calling out my favorite aspects of it even though we were only halfway through the season.

We’ve still got two episodes left, but at the rate we’re going, it’ll be a while before we can finish the season, and I’m impatient. So here are some more favorites from episodes 6-8 of a series that continues to be excellent.

Lots of spoilers throughout, so avoid reading this until you’ve watched up until episode 8.

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One Thing I Love About Every Episode of Poker Face (part 1)

Poker Face is so clever that every episode has at least one thing I love

It’s probably inaccurate to say that I’ve been “surprised” by Poker Face, since I knew I was predisposed to love it based on Rian Johnson’s involvement alone. But I have been a little surprised by how much it’s been surpassing my expectations.

I’ve got to acknowledge that I haven’t seen that much of Columbo, and I don’t remember that much about the episodes that I have seen, apart from the most basic premise (you know the murderer(s) from the start) and Peter Falk’s performance. But a huge part of what makes Poker Face feel so novel and so clever is how it’s all about manipulating the audience’s expectations and sympathies, and how it is constantly re-contextualizing what you’ve seen so far. It seems like they took the stuff I loved about Glass Onion and then spent an entire season’s worth of television exploring all the different ways you could change up or expand on the concepts.

For the first time in a very long time, I’ve been loving a series so much that I desperately wish I could write scripts for it. Are spec scripts still a thing? Do I have to resort to fan fiction?

I’ve already written about the first episode, twice, but I’ll try to keep things more focused this time. And this will only be the first part, because we’ve still only seen the first five episodes at this point. Lots of spoilers throughout; assume that you shouldn’t read any of these until you’ve watched episodes 1-5.

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Just Fine (Another Thing I Like About Poker Face)

Product placement, or establishing character and mission statement through the use of brand recognition? It doesn’t matter!

I realize that it often seems like my blog posts are written by a LLM using the prompt “write about this in the style of a pretentious nerd under the influence of Ambien,” but I swear that isn’t the case. Even though, when writing about Poker Face, I did hallucinate an Agatha Christie story called Murder on the Nile.

I also evidently ignored years of teachers stressing the importance of making outlines, because I started trying to make a few observations that quickly got away from me. One of them was about how much I like Rian Johnson’s assertion of ethics and morality in his works (that I’ve seen, of course): he doesn’t seem to care much for anti-heroes or ethical ambiguity, much less outright nihilism. He makes his values abundantly clear, but without ever being so didactic that it overwhelms the entertainment.

The other was that there’s such an economy and efficiency to the first episode of Poker Face, where it reads as casual and funny on first watch, but you quickly realize that there’s hardly a single moment in the entire show that doesn’t serve a purpose.

A great example of both: in the scene between Charlie and Sterling, Jr, where he’s setting up not just their relationship but the premise of the entire series, he starts the scene by offering her a drink. When she asks what her choices are, he seems surprised by the question. They’re in the owner’s suite at the top of a casino; she can have whatever she wants. Shortly after, we see her with Heineken in a can. Later in the episode, a bartender who knows her offers her favorite, and it’s a Coors Light. (She chooses coffee instead, which has its own repercussions).

There’s so much packed into that. The question immediately puts Sterling on the defensive, which we soon learn is key to his whole character: he’s in charge of this whole place and can have anything he wants; why is she acting like his options are limited? She’s immediately found a way to change up the power dynamic, choosing to serve herself. And the thing she chooses, out of presumably a wall’s worth of expensive liquor, is a canned beer slightly fancier than the canned beer she normally drinks.

That last part is important, because it’s the core idea of the entire scene that follows. The beer, and more explicitly, the conversation that follows, are all about establishing her character as someone who genuinely appreciates the value of having enough.

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One Thing I Love About Poker Face

Poker Face is really nostalgic for 1970s detective shows, but it isn’t content to be stuck in the past

It was a foregone conclusion that I was going to at least like Poker Face — I love Rian Johnson’s murder mysteries; Natasha Lyonne’s got a “presence” that makes you eager to like everything she does; it’s a revival of the Columbo-style mystery; and it’s got a long list of guest appearances from actors I like a lot, and also Adrian Brody1To be fair, he has to play a reprehensible sleazebag in the first episode, and he sells it so well, it’s as if it comes naturally to him.. But I never got around to watching it until my ticket to Halloween Horror Nights got me a subscription to Peacock as a bonus.

(There’s no real point to that detail; it’s just a signifier of what life was like in 2023, where streaming networks and synergy within huge multimedia companies means I have to go to a theme park to watch a show I’m interested in).

I finally watched the first episode tonight, and it nails everything I expected it to. The opening titles alone were enough to set the tone, even if they hadn’t been set on top of shots of a casino seemingly stuck in a perpetual state of mid-to-late-70s-ness. It’s a perfect setting for a series concept that itself seems to be stuck halfway in the past.

The main character suggests a call back to Jim Rockford — mostly in her sense of humor in the face of being constantly targeted by bad guys and misfortune — and of course, the format calls back to Columbo. But calling it just an homage would be selling it short. You could make a very, very good pastiche of 1970s detective series. Or you could take the premise of “the audience knows the killer(s) from the start,” and experiment with it in loads of interesting ways. Poker Face does both, breaking down its inspirations into their component parts, and then using them to make something new.

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    To be fair, he has to play a reprehensible sleazebag in the first episode, and he sells it so well, it’s as if it comes naturally to him.

One Thing I Like About Poor Things

The best moments in Poor Things are the ones you can appreciate empirically

I went in hoping, and fully expecting, to love Poor Things, but it never really clicked for me. So it’s a good thing I’ve got a series called “One Thing I Like,” because there’s an awful lot to like about this movie.

The art direction is outstanding, delivering on the promise of the trailer and then some. It’s full of fantasy versions of cities (and a ship) that are beautiful and familiar, but just surreal enough to suggest that you’re seeing them for the very first time, and just sinister enough to suggest that there’s always danger lurking just outside of your field of view. The beginning calls back to The Bride of Frankenstein and Metropolis, just directly enough to make sure that we make the connection, but not so directly that it feels just like a reference.

And Emma Stone, obviously, gives herself so completely into this character that any trace that it’s a performance disappears within a few minutes. There’s no way the movie would’ve worked without her commitment. Mark Ruffalo is also excellent, acting as if he were a character borrowed from an entirely different movie, which is exactly what’s needed for the character. Willem Dafoe is at the stage in his career where yet another exceptional performance from him isn’t all that exceptional. And I think Ramy Youssef deserves credit for playing the straight man against so many showy performances; he has to function as the audience’s guide into a Victorian horror story, but one in which the story abandons its narrator a third of the way through.

Also, there are brief black-and-white interstitials when the story moves to a new location, each seeming like we’re getting a peek into Bella’s bizarre and beautiful dreams. But none lasts long enough to make any sense of them. Like a real dream, they seem to leave an after-image on the mind, even if we can’t reliably recall details.

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One Thing I Love About Wonka

My favorite thing about Wonka is how it effectively chooses songs from the original, and then goes off to do its own thing

When I first saw a link to a trailer for Wonka, a 2023 prequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Timothée Chalamet, I was prepared for the worst. And I was pleasantly surprised when I could find nothing wrong with it; it looked perfectly charming.

After seeing it, I was happy to see that it is charming (albeit far from perfectly) from the start. It begins with the three repeated notes from “Pure Imagination” — which work so well because they are vaguely creepily discordant — before launching into an original opening song confidently introducing Chalamet as a young Willy Wonka.

I should admit from the start that I was almost hoping to find fault in Chalamet’s performance, and by the end of the first song, I gave up and just resigned to having to acknowledge that sometimes famous people are just good at stuff. I think he did an exceptional job creating a version of the character that is at the opposite end of Gene Wilder’s version — all of the optimism and kind-heartedness and almost-compulsive showmanship and eagerness to make people happy, but before decades of seeing people’s greed (and excessive gum-chewing and TV-watching) put a darker and more melancholy spin on it.

Which is, more or less, my most significant criticism of the movie: it delivers exactly what is promised on the poster, wonderfully, but no more than that. It’s an often-delightful and imaginative children’s movie about imagination and hope, with tons of people doing excellent work to sell every moment, but there’s little sense of a unique voice.

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One Thing I Like About Tasting History

Good things can happen when people on the internet make an effort

I’ve gotten to be a fan of the YouTube channel Tasting History with Max Miller, which manages to hit the sweet spot that combines interesting, funny, and accessible.

The idea is pretty simple: Max Miller chooses a dish from some point in history, attempts to prepare (or recreate) the recipe, gives some historical or cultural context for the dish, then eats it. One thing that I love about the series is that there’s one thing Miller never says: “I don’t know how to pronounce that.”

Instead, if Miller encounters a term or a name in a foreign language, he’ll find an expert or a native speaker, learn the correct or preferred pronunciation, practice the correct pronunciation, and include only that in the video.

What impresses me the most is when he tackles episodes that deal with languages that can be difficult for Westerners, like Chinese. In this episode about nian gao, he’s careful to get the pronunciation correct, including the changes in tone, for all of the names. It’s often clear that he recorded it until he got it right, then edited that recording into the episode to make absolutely certain it was right, being careful to hide the edits and make it seem as natural as possible.

That kind of dedication would be pretty impressive for any show, I think, but is unheard of when it comes to a YouTube channel. Miller keeps the tone light, casual, and funny, but it’s also clear that he’s committed to getting the details right and showing respect to the cultures he’s talking about.

I haven’t had live TV in several years, so I watch a lot of YouTube1Years ago, I signed up for the ad-free version of YouTube, and I couldn’t do without it at this point.. Obviously, there is a ton of obnoxious behavior on YouTube, but something that’s disappointingly common, even among people I like otherwise, is the tendency to straddle the line between “casual” and “professional.”

They’ll make casual, chatty videos that say stuff like “Now, you guys know me,” and then complain about parasocial relationships. Or do insincere calls for engagement that mimic having a conversation with people in the audience, but with no intention of ever actually engaging with the audience. And to be clear, the problem isn’t that somebody with 1000 subscribers isn’t actually friends with each of them — the problem is that false sense of friendly familiarity.

But the most common is to simultaneously insist that yes, this is too a real job, actually, and not just some hobby, because I am a professional video content creator, and also that they’re not under any obligation to know stuff or get details right. “Research” for a disappointing number of people means “glancing at the Wikipedia or IMDB page.”

And it’s extremely common to hear “I’m not even going to try to pronounce that.” Maybe it’s well-intentioned, as if a mis-pronunciation would be somehow even more offensive than not bothering to say it at all. But it all builds up over time to give the impression that a lot of people are making a good bit of money off of YouTube (and Patreon) without making much effort.

So I appreciate Max Miller making the effort. It sounds crass to say, but it’s true: a handsome and charismatic guy with millions of followers could probably get away with doing a lot less. Instead, he acknowledges that he’s neither a historian nor a chef, but instead of making excuses, he just takes the time and effort to get the details as close to correct as he’s able.

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    Years ago, I signed up for the ad-free version of YouTube, and I couldn’t do without it at this point.

One Thing I Like About Ahsoka

The live-action continuation of an animated series somehow managed to feel bigger on the inside

Watching The Mandalorian often felt a little unsettling, because it was so overwhelmingly my thing. Not that I was being targeted, but that the people who grew up around the same time I did had finally been put in charge of Star Wars productions. The closing credits really drove the feeling home, feeling simultaneously like a call out to the concept art by Ralph McQuarrie that I had hanging up on my bedroom wall, and TV series from the 1970s like The Wild Wild West that had a near-subliminal impact on my aesthetic.

Ahsoka was not that. It was completely, unapologetically, made for fans of The Clone Wars and Rebels, rewarding them for their loyalty with live action versions of their favorite characters.

I didn’t dislike those series, and in fact there’s a lot of aspects about them that I love, from the stylized character designs reminiscent of Thunderbirds, to the storylines that delivered on jetpack-wearing Mandalorians totally kicking ass years before The Mandalorian season one. But I could never really get into the series, either. Several times I’ve attempted to get caught up on both of them, but I never last more than a few episodes.

As a result, I could recognize a lot of what Ahsoka is doing, but I spend the whole time extremely aware that it’s not speaking to me as it would a super-fan.

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One Thing I Like About The Haunted Mansion

Sometimes it’s just nice to feel targeted.

I really enjoyed The Haunted Mansion. I hadn’t expected to like it, to be honest, because movies based on theme park attractions don’t have a great track record, and I tend to be possessive about the source material.

And it does feel overstuffed, as if there are a few too many characters, a few too many distracting cameos, a few too many plot lines, and a few too many rewrites. But then, you could say the same thing about the ride itself. Honestly, the movie shares a lot of the feeling of the ride — a ton of talented contributions towards something that’s unfocused and disjointed but memorable.

It gets the tone right, too: it’s both creepy and funny but never too goofy and never too scary. LaKeith Stanfield goes harder than he needs to, honestly, but his performance is a huge part of keeping it from feeling just like a commercial IP synergy exercise. It often feels like Danny DeVito’s and Owen Wilson’s characters were leftovers from earlier drafts of the screenplay, but at the same time, the movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if any of them had been edited out. It ends up feeling surprisingly like an ensemble movie, where everybody in the ensemble is more talented than they need to be.

But one thing I like about The Haunted Mansion is that it is so deeply committed to paying homage to the theme park attraction that it finds a way to include both Disneyland’s and Walt Disney World’s versions.

Most of the movie takes place inside Disneyland’s New Orleans plantation house version of the mansion, but there’s a side trip to another historical house that looks exactly like the Magic Kingdom’s northeastern version. An especially nice touch is that the establishing shot of the house is seen from exactly the same angle as you see when entering the queue of the Magic Kingdom attraction, much like the “main” mansion is most often seen from the same angle as the entrance of Disneyland’s queue.

It is 1000% fan service, and the movie is full-to-bursting with it, and I was entirely on board for all of it. Just about every scene of the ride gets a depiction in the movie — the only scenes I didn’t see were the body trying to get out of its coffin in the conservatory, and the singing busts in the graveyard. Several of the ghosts depicted in paintings throughout the queue and the ride are made significant characters. All of the rooms make an appearance, most notably the stretching room and a version of the seance room. The movie even finds a way to include the rhyming headstones from the queue.

There are so many references to the ride, and they’re done so faithfully, that it’s impossible to cynically dismiss them as nothing more than an IP cash grab. There’s no question that the movie was made with affection for the attraction, by people putting in the extra effort to do justice to a beloved attraction. It often feels like a fan film made with a Disney budget.

One of the most charming things in the movie is the idea of “ghost winks,” signs that the dead give us to let us know they’re still with us. The movie itself spends a lot of time winking at us, feeling like shared love for a favorite ride.

One Thing I Like About Diablo 4

Leveling up in Diablo 4 is one of dozens of moments of carefully orchestrated bad-assery

I feel like I’m supposed to mention up front that I’ve got a friend who worked on Diablo 4, even though it won’t make a difference in what I’m writing about the game, I’m not a game reviewer, and I’ve got a new policy where I don’t waste time writing about stuff I don’t like when there’s so much stuff that I do like.

After I tried the open beta, I said that I was impressed enough by the game’s introduction that I was re-considering my belief that story is superfluous in Diablo games. As much as I love these games — I have bought at least two versions of every entry so far, across multiple platforms and remasters — I’ve always had this condescending idea that all of the art and lore and such are just fancy dressing on a random number generator.

Now that I’ve played through that opening sequence three times1Once in the open beta, and then again for two new characters in the full game, I’m not so sure that it holds up as well to repeat viewings. It’s still extremely well done, but this is a game that encourages you to create multiple characters, but then puts them into a story that ostensibly relies on surprise and discovery. I was starting to fear that the game had gotten so much larger than its simpler action-RPG roots that it had succumbed to the scourge of ludo-narrative dissonance.

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    Once in the open beta, and then again for two new characters in the full game