A Late-Night Spook Fest: Late Night with the Devil Offers a Retro Twist on Talk Shows and the Supernatural
Late Night with the Devil, a film by Australian sibling duo Cameron and Colin Cairnes, takes audiences back to the 1970s with its period setting and fascination with American talk shows and demonic possession. While the film’s commitment to capturing the aesthetics of ’70s television is commendable, its attempt to connect the story to a broader cultural context can be overwhelming. Additionally, the film’s blend of practical and digital effects detracts from its low-budget charm.
The story is set during Halloween 1977, a sweeps week in the television industry known for ratings-grabbing stunts. Jack Delroy, played by David Dastmalchian, is a struggling late-night talk show host desperate to save his dwindling audience numbers. To save his show, Jack must do something drastic to not only boost ratings but also protect his soul.
A Trippy Blend of Talk Shows and the Supernatural
The film adopts a found-footage framework, starting with a six-minute pseudo-documentary montage narrated by Michael Ironside. This opening scene sets the stage for the on-air hijinks and tricks that Jack Delroy will resort to in order to revive his show. The film goes to great lengths to depict the social climate of the 1970s, including footage of notable figures such as Richard Nixon’s resignation and infamous killers like David Berkowitz and Charles Manson. The filmmakers aim to blend the presence of Satanism, a major cause of social panic during that era, with the broken spirit of the ’70s. However, these efforts often come across as heavy-handed rather than thought-provoking.
A Desperate Host and His Eccentric Guests
Jack Delroy, the affable Midwestern alternative to late-night talk show legends like Johnny Carson, has seen his ratings plummet. To regain relevance, Jack and his hard-drinking producer, Leo, played by Josh Quong Tart, resort to sensationalist content to attract viewers. They stage outrageous events like little people arm wrestling and confrontations between draft dodgers and returning soldiers, reminiscent of the controversial Jerry Springer talk show. These moments inject life and spontaneity into Late Night with the Devil, which often struggles to build genuine suspense and tension.
The majority of the film revolves around a live TV event on Halloween night, presented as a master recording of a shocking national broadcast. The show features guests like psychic Christou, skeptic-turned-magician Carmichael Hunt, and author Dr. June Ross-Mitchell, who has based her book on the experiences of a young Satanic cult survivor named Lilly. Alongside them is Gus, Jack’s loyal sidekick and announcer who provides a pious counterpoint to the showbiz atmosphere. As the night progresses, discussions about the supernatural devolve into chaos, and strange occurrences begin to unfold. Meanwhile, details about Jack’s ambition and the film’s lore simmer in the background, gradually adding depth to the narrative.
An Affectionate Homage with a Tongue-in-Cheek Approach
Late Night with the Devil draws clear inspiration from Ghostwatch, a seminal found-footage horror film that aired in 1992. The Cairnes brothers’ film takes a goofier approach, repackaging the found-footage gimmick with a more overtly fantastical twist. While Ghostwatch used real television anchors to create an atmosphere of authenticity, Late Night with the Devil embraces the supernatural elements with less subtlety. The film’s reliance on levitating chairs and blatant scares betrays a lack of restraint.
Despite these flaws, the film remains an entertaining spectacle. David Dastmalchian is the perfect choice to play Jack Delroy, infusing the character with his own love for regional late-night horror hosts. Ian Bliss delivers a standout performance as the cynical Carmichael Hunt, causing discomfort on stage with his antics and dominating every scene. Ingrid Torelli’s portrayal of Lilly is eerie and captivating, maintaining an unsettling presence throughout the film.
The set design effectively captures the smoky atmosphere of late-’70s television, but the cinematography falls short in terms of authenticity. While the video effects and color grading pay homage to old-school horror aesthetics, the black-and-white backstage scenes undermine the film’s overall visual consistency. These scenes provide important story details but lack believability, as it seems unlikely that Jack would speak so candidly with a rolling camera capturing the private conversations.
Furthermore, the film’s dialogue can feel heavy-handed and theatrical, detracting from the natural flow of talk show banter. The stock characters, including the nervy host, cynical guest, concerned friend, and stern professional, also hinder the development of genuine fear and suspense. Nevertheless, Late Night with the Devil’s occasional clever use of hypnotism and David Dastmalchian’s ability to captivate viewers with his peculiar charm elevate the film beyond its flaws.