Late Night With The Devil Review

Late Night With The Devil
Late Night With The Devil
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Late Night with the Devil, from Australian writer-director siblings Cameron and Colin Cairnes, has more than just spooky October nights in its mind. It is possible that this is stretching it all too far. It’s a historical drama of sorts that highly appreciates American talk shows and demonic possession: it wants to prove this fact. The film painstakingly recreates the look and feel of 70’s TV (people in sideburns! Smoking on set!) then dresses up this cool disco party with a cultural ethos designed to make the story look darker. Its practical gore effects are so charmingly stomach-churning that when they begin embellishing them with lesser digital effects, it detracts from its low-budget magic.

The premise is interesting: Halloween 1977 has happened during sweeps week – that critical period in the broadcast calendar known for ratings-grabbing stunts – and for Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), the wannabe king of late night, dwindling audience numbers are scarier than a horde of trick-or-treaters. Something has to be done to save Jack’s soul – er, show.

Late Night with the Devil’s found-footage framework kicks off with a six-minute pseudo-documentary montage in which Michael Ironside narrates Delroy’s rise and seemingly imminent fall. “America in the 1970s: An era of mistrust,” growls Ironside, setting us up for what will soon be thrown at beaten-down Delroy when he is on air. Naturally, shots of Richard Nixon’s resignation make an appearance. To belabor this seamy (silly) mood, footage of various killers such as David Berkowitz, Charles Manson, and Ted Bundy are spliced in throughout. To beat a dead horse even more images about social unrest or rather devil worship which was causing widespread panic at that time also appear frequently across these scenes. The Cairns intend to mix up the devil and the broken spirit of the seventies, but in their hurry, they only give us an information dump.

Cut to Jack. He’s TV’s genial Midwestern alternative to Johnny Carson’s metropolitan swagger, but the ratings for his show, “Night Owls,” are in the toilet. In desperation, Jack and his hard-drinking producer, Leo (Josh Quong Tart), gin up sensationalist drivel to vie for audience attention. Jack’s arm wrestles little people and pits draft dodgers against returning soldiers, a veritable Jerry Springer of his time. It is no coincidence that his antics sound like those of previous late-night talk show hosts such as when Madonna visited David Letterman and proceeded to curse him out on national television (There’s also a nod to Burt Reynolds’s Tonight Show water fight with Marc Summers). These moments make Late Night With the Devil feel more lively and spontaneous – more so than the ensuing 86 minutes, which often confuses dead air for mounting dread.

“The live TV event that shocked a nation” is the bulk of Late Night with the Devil, which is presented as a master recording. It involved Jack’s Hail Mary throw on October 31, 1977. Psychic Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), magician-turned-skeptic Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss), and Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) who has written a book from experiences with Lilly (Ingrid Torelli) a young survivor of a satanic cult among other guests were invited to narrate different supernatural theories or facts They are joined by Jack’s sidekick/announcer Gus (Rhys Auteri), who is more faithful than showbiz would prefer him to be or even Jack prefers. As far as talk shows go where presenters discuss whether there are ghosts, the latter part of this night turned out to be one such.

As the night wears on, so do ghost stories and for some reason, people not only hear it; they choose to take their turn at it just like Charmichael did in his own style which was disgusting. This is when things get weird. Offstage simmering refers to details about Jack’s ambition and movie lore issues. The whole thing sounds like fun and games until something goes wrong. Unless we’ve misunderstood everything that’s been going on so far already…Or maybe you had us all fooled at first… “There was more smoke…” The host who seems unassumingly simple pulls through up till now.

Late Night With the Devil might remind diehard horror fans of something: it is a sillier version of Lesley Manning and Stephen Volk’s Ghostwatch, a subtler and scarier version of those faux-broadcast found-footage movies’ genre tree branch that started off with “The Blair Witch Project.” But The Cairnes wouldn’t be repackaging its gimmick if it weren’t for this fact. What makes Ghostwatch special, though, is that the same phenomenon was used to make a movie on Halloween night in 1992 by BBC. It looked even creepier with real-life horrors but also had more fun with fantasy. That’s when we know it’s on.

Such things are amusing enough to watch unravel. Dastmalchian nails the casting which is perfect: he has been a fan of classic regional late-night horror hosts for as long as I can remember (he even made a comic book called Count Crowley at Dark Horse Comics inspired by them), and his delightful idiosyncrasies shine through Jack Delroy’s obsequious veneer. (“Where’s Vincent Price when you need him?” he brays to the crowd.) Bliss plays off everybody on stage beautifully; he’s such an asshole that it becomes funny just watching him light up his stogie, after producing it from thin air. He makes everyone squirm (quite literally at one point), and the movie is all the better for it. Torelli was absolutely haunting in her portrayal of this doomed girl.”

However, Late Night with the Devil’s set design is a testament to the sludgy haze of late 70s and early 80s music videos. Cinematographically speaking, this film does not commit itself completely to verisimilitude. The video effects and color grading are pure horror-throwback/video-store aesthetics that Tubi is full of, whereas the black-and-white backstage scenes destroy any sort of illusion or make-believe that had been established by using them.

These scenes add some necessary story information but it seems improbable to think that Jack would willingly talk bluntly with Leo, June, and Gus as a camera rolls – let alone two cameras considering there has obviously been coverage done for these backroom chats far beyond what one would expect from “archival” footage. This stiltedness spills over into the conversations too much so that they lose their off-the-cuff zing of talk TV, instead, it ends up sounding like a play (though in all fairness, it could be adapted into an excellent one).

Nor was there anything original about its on/offstage melodrama consisting only of stock characters such as the anxious hostess used to work with different guests who do not get along well among themselves and her jaded executive producer friend. And performances…? Some elevate this material above its station and others fail to hit those high notes.

But when it plays its fiendish games with its format (hypnotism makes one sequence a lot of fun), and Dastmalchian is given space to work his freaky sorcery, Late Night With the Devil goes from dreary rerun to appointment (phony) television.


Late Night With the Devil as an ostentatious exercise in found-footage chicanery is an amusing yet unscary walk through one ill-fated night spent with a talk show host and his hapless guests. It has a clever gimmick that will invite favorable comparisons to 1992’s Ghostwatch – not bad company to be in, although it is nowhere near as memorable or frightening as that notorious BBC made-for-TV movie. Cameron and Colin Cairnes are able to capture the smoky miasma of late ‘70s TV through their effective set design, but they ruin the atmosphere with glossy horror cinematography. What holds this film together is David Dastmalchian-one of today’s most fascinating character actors who seems to have endless new layers of depth inside him.

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