Is The First Church of Abraxas Real? Is Szandor D’abo Based on an Actual Cult Leader?

‘Late Night with the Devil’ features a unique storyline in the form of found footage horror that revolves around a ’70s talk show dissolving into a night of misery and mayhem. “Night Owls with Jack Delroy,” the film’s central talk show, delves into a Halloween special with numerous paranormal guests showcasing their talents for the studio’s live audience and those at home behind a TV screen. Yet, as Host Jack Delroy dives headfirst into a sensitive matter regarding parapsychologist June Ross-Mitchell and her ward, Lilly, a demonic cult survivor, the night takes a drastic turn.

Lilly, an instrumental character within the narrative, retains significance in her identity as a survivor of The First Church of Abraxas. For the same reason, the cult, wherein Lilly was born and bred under the leadership of Szandor D’abo, is bound to attract the audience’s attention, leading to speculation about its basis in reality.

Late Night with the Devil and its Fictional Ties to Satanic Cults

The First Church of Abraxas, the cult from ‘Late Night with the Devil,’ and its leader, Szandor D’abo, have no basis in any counterparts from real life. Instead, both are simply genre-convenient elements equipped by the film within its fictionally constructed narrative. Even though neither the Abraxas-centric Church nor its cultish leader Szandor directly influences the central narrative— outside of flashbacks to establish Lilly’s story— their involvement within the storyline remains ineradicable.

The First Church of Abraxas, a Satanist, demon-worshipping cult, was believed to breed humans for ritualistic sacrifices. However, after the authorities came across the organization, they mobilized against them on the charges of cult of kidnapping and firearms offenses. Consequently, in a sick sense of self-preservation, Szandor led the believers into a mass suicide by ordering the Church’s disciples to burn the place down. Nevertheless, while others, including Szandor, burnt to ashes— one survivor, Lilly, a 10-year-old girl, managed to survive. Therefore, Lilly went under the care of parapsychologist June, who helped her deal with the voice in her head. Although Lilly assigned an adorable nickname to the voice— Mr. Wiggles— it actually belonged to the demonic entity, Abraxas, from her past life.

While the exact situation as it unfolds in ‘Late Night with the Devil’ remains outside of the realm of reality, the film equips some realistic beats in its depiction of Szandor and his cult. Initially, the demonic nature of The First Church of Abraxas seamlessly fits in with the film’s 70s period setting since Satanic Panic began setting in across the country in the early 80s. Furthermore, its employment of Abraxas— though unconventional— also holds ties to real-life theology. In reality, the Basilideans, a Gnostic sect from the 2nd century, believed Abraxas to be the supreme deity and worshipped him as such.

Even so, despite its historical significance, the depiction of the deity’s cultish following in the 70s fails to have a basis in reality. Instead, the film’s cult-driven storyline harvests real-life inspiration from other similar cults of the nearest era. The Jonestown Massacre from the 80s, where cult leader Jim Jones led his followers to mass suicide murder, arrives as the most obvious example of the same. Ultimately, these instances provide a real-life context for the film’s depiction of Abraxas’ cult under Szandor’s leadership. Nevertheless, without a firm basis in reality, these elements remain tied to their fictitious roots.

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