Late Night with the Devil

Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian, "Suicide Squad," "The Boogeyman") and his midnight talk show ‘Night Owls’ could never quite seriously rival Johnny Carson, securing his best ratings when he had his wife Madeleine (Georgina Haig) on as a guest two weeks before she died of cancer.  Disappearing for a year, Delroy came back, but his attempt to rattle ratings with a 1977 Halloween show was never broadcast, becoming legendary as the unaired “Late Night with the Devil.”

Laura's Review: B+

Writer/director brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes ("100 Bloody Acres") have come up with a wickedly seductive concept, then raised the bar with production design by Otello Stolfo which perfectly recreates a three camera 70’s era talk show set and its show’s nostalgically corny bumper-breaks.  Open with a montage of the most disturbing news stories of the 1970’s, give your protagonist a suggestively worrisome back story, then begin to turn the screws with a procession of increasingly unsettling guests and you’ve got yourself a wildly entertaining ride.  If only the filmmakers hadn’t somewhat hobbled the result by coloring outside the lines of the found footage structure they have framed it in, “Late Night with the Devil” could have soared even higher. 

Sketching in Delroy’s background as a late-night Carson wannabe on the fictional UBC network, we learn that although known to be a member of The Grove, a mysterious group of elites who meet in the woods (a nod to the Bohemian Grove), he comes off well in the tabloids because of his loving marriage.  But there is a foul sense of exploitation when he has a clearly ailing Madeline on his show and when he introduces his Halloween special, he’s awfully keen to tell his viewers that the date also kicks off sweeps week (for those too young to remember, sweeps week was when programmers would drop special episodes to gain viewers so as to inflate their advertising rate).

Delroy’s first guest is Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), a psychic clearly fishing for answers from Delroy’s audience, but who seems to genuinely pinpoint a man lost to suicide with his mother and sister.  He then drops to his knees in what appears to be incredible pain, screaming out the name ‘Minnie!’  After a commercial break, he moves aside on the couch for the next guest, skeptic Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), who thoroughly refutes Christou’s methods only to have Delroy reveal that Minnie was his nickname for Madeline.  Still unconvinced, ‘Car’ pulls out a check for $100K, offering it to the first paranormal who can prove their shtick.  An agitated Christou, who cannot stop coughing, falls to the ground again and begins to projectile vomit black bile.  Delroy calls for a break and emergency medical response.  His producer, Leo Fiske (Josh Quong Tart), reminds Jack that UBC executives are in the audience waiting to have a chat with him, but the chaos of the night’s show keeps postponing the meeting.

It should be noted here that although we are supposed to be watching a tape of an unaired show, cinematographer Matthew Temple follows folks around the set during commercial breaks, but these segments are shown in black and white, possibly allowing found footage logic to remain in place as most studio camera viewfinders were b&w rather than color, the better for cameramen to focus.  The next break will bring horrifying news that begins a crew revolt, Jack’s sidekick Gus McConnell (Rhys Auteri) calling for him to stop the show.

When Delroy returns, he’ll provide background for his last guests by regaling his audience with how the Church of Abraxas and its satanic leader Szandor D'Abo (Steve Mouzakis, "The Stranger") were lost in a conflagration whose only survivor was the young, now orphaned, Lilly D'Abo (Ingrid Torelli).  The girl was taken under the wing of parapsychologist June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), whose therapy sessions with Lilly resulted in her upcoming book, ‘Conversations with the Devil.’  And Jack, of course, violates his agreement with Dr. Ross-Michell, pressing her to hypnotize her patient on air.

This is Dastmalchian’s first lead role and a great casting decision, the actor evoking conflicting emotions with his portrayal.  Also strong is Torelli, whose habit of staring intensely into the camera is as unsettling as the change that comes over her girlish voice.  Her reference to a ‘Mr. Wiggles’ is a little too on the nose with “The Exorcist’s” ‘Mr. Howdy,’ but that’s a quibble.  The entire supporting cast is strong, although Gordon is lesser among equals.  The set is a huge asset here, as is the costuming by Stephanie Hooke, accentuating Lilly’s young age with a prim jumper and white tights.  Music is provided by an era-appropriate house band.

The filmmakers do cheat more egregiously with the found footage format by allowing us into Jack’s hallucinatory state in the film’s final moments, before returning us to a horrifying reality.  But “Late Night with the Devil” is an inventive horror delectation, its ‘Night Owls’ show nostalgia for Boomers.           

Robin's Review: B

Late night TV talk show host, Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) has, since his hiatus, fought a losing battle with his nighttime competition, “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” Desperate to garner higher ratings, on Halloween night in 1977, Jack books a psychic, a psychic denier and a psychologist who brings her patient, a 12-year old girl possessed by an evil demon, in “Late Night with the Devil.”

I like a good satire and one that pokes fun at religion I like even more. Here, it is found footage from that fateful Halloween night. Delroy’s show, “Night Owl,” is back on the air after a pause following Jack’s wife Madeleine’s tragic and totally unexpected death from cancer. Because of the break, ratings opposite Carson have nose-dived, leading to the Halloween special.

The psychic, Christou (Fayssal Bazzi) does his routine, displaying his “supernatural” talents and reading the crowd. The denier, Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), snidely criticizing Christou as a fake. Then, the name “Minnie” is brought up by the psychic and all hell breaks loose when Christou extreme vomits black bile and is rushed to the hospital. “We’ll take a break, now.”

When we come back, the parapsychologist, June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), introduces her patient, Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), whom the doctor rescued from a Satanic cult. But, not before she became possessed by a demon. Jack, unwisely as it turns out, prods and convinces June to have a séance with Lilly to bring out the demon. I will leave it at that.

The found footage “thing” has been with us ever since “The Blair Witch Project (1999)” and has continued unabated ever since. With “Late Night with the Devil,” the found footage is from the many studio TV cameras used to videotape the show. It varies from the actual show being recorded and broadcast to the B&W images from the camera viewfinders. The footage is suitably aged to look 70s. Also, production design, costume, make and music put us in that place.

Writer and director brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes create an effective horror story of the supernatural. Setting it on a fictional late night TV show back in the 70s, on Halloween night, with the devil as a guest, is an inspired bit of filmmaking. One thing I expect from a good horror spoof is that it be fun. “Late Night with the Devil” is fun.

IFC Films releases "Late Night with the Devil" in theaters on 3/22/24.