Late Night With The Devil's AI Art Controversy, Explained


One of the most acclaimed horror movies of the year opens this week: "Late Night with the Devil," a mockumentary from filmmakers Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes, starring David Dastmalchian. Dastmalchian has built a solid career as a supporting character actor in films like "The Dark Knight," "Prisoners," and "Dune," but "Late Night with the Devil" gives him the chance to shine in a lead role. The actor plays Jack Delroy, host of the late-night 1970s "Tonight Show"-like talk show "Night Owls with Jack Delroy." 

The film takes the form of footage from one of Jack's shows — specifically a show that aired on Halloween night in 1977. Desperate to improve his slipping ratings, Jack has put together a special episode where his guests include a parapsychologist (Laura Gordon) and her patient, a teenage girl named Lilly (Ingrid Torelli). Lilly is the only survivor of a suicidal satanic cult, and to make things extra disturbing, she claims to be occasionally possessed by a demonic entity she calls Mr. Wiggles (because he wiggles his way inside her). Jack reasons that if he can get some sort of demonic action live, on air, it'll send his ratings through the roof. As you might guess, things go horribly wrong with terrifying results. 

"Late Night with the Devil" has been playing film festivals for over a year and built up strong word of mouth in the process. Some have compared it to the classic BBC Halloween mockumentary "Ghostwatch," and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Even legendary horror author Stephen King sang the film's praises online. In short, "Late Night with the Devil" has been riding high. But in the last week or so, things have taken a negative turn when users on Twitter (aka X) noticed what was clearly AI art lurking in the frames of the movie. The reaction to this revelation has been overwhelmingly negative, so much so that the filmmakers and Dastmalchian have weighed in. 

AI art in Late Night with the Devil

To be clear, the AI art in "Late Night with the Devil" is not abundant. It appears briefly, for mere seconds, in the form of interstitial cards meant to be part of the aesthetic of "Night Owls with Jack Delroy." But even brief AI art is proving to be too much for some viewers, many of whom are calling for a boycott of the film. The boycott is based on the idea that if even a tiny bit of AI art slips through the cracks, then studios and filmmakers will think it's okay to start using it in abundance — a concept that would put real human artists out of work. It's also worth noting that "Late Night with the Devil" isn't the first recent production to use AI art. Most notably, the Marvel series "Secret Invasion" used AI art for its opening credits, and the newest season of "True Detective" got caught using a bit of AI art as well.

As the backlash against "Late Night with the Devil" has grown, filmmakers Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes released a statement (via Variety): 

Star David Dastmalchian also weighed in, saying: "The only thing that makes me sad is we had an awesome graphic design team working on this film," adding: "But I get it ... [AI art] is something we've learned so much about in the last few years since we made this movie." As Dastmalchian points out, "Late Night with the Devil" was shot a few years ago, and the public has learned more about (and grown to dislike) AI art along the way. Still, this all begs the question: in the time since the film was made, couldn't the filmmakers have gone back and replaced the very brief AI art with art created by a real person instead?

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