‘Late Night With the Devil’ Delivers Gory Thrills and a Killer Lead Performance

It's no 'Ghostwatch,' but it's still worth a watch.
Late Night With The Devil

Look, the horror genre is filled with movies that take the faux-documentary/found footage approach and deliver greatness — Ghostwatch (1992), Lake Mungo (2008), The Bay (2012), and Hell House LLC (2015) to name just a few — and they work because they commit to the bit. Too many, though, drop the ball by taking shortcuts, ignoring their own premise, and giving in to the urge to use more traditional methods in search of thrills. Late Night With the Devil makes those mistakes (choices?) and suffers because of it, but luckily it’s lifted up elsewhere thanks to the great David Dastmalchian, some killer gore beats, and an entertainingly downbeat ending.

It’s 1977, and Jack Delroy’s (Dastmalchian) late night talk show, Night Owls, is fighting an uphill battle in the ratings race against The Tonight Show. Halloween lands during the networks’ sweeps week — the small window where executives and advertisers lock into the highest rated shows — and Delroy has stacked the night’s episode hoping for a chillingly good time. A psychic and a debunker get into it first, but things take a turn when a paranormal researcher arrives with a young teen girl who supposedly harbors a demon within.

The premise behind Late Night With the Devil is set forth in an opening montage narrated by Michael Ironside. He offers up a a brief look at Delroy’s rise in the industry, arguably includes way too much information which eventually undercuts later reveals, and then introduces the never-before-seen final episode of Night Owls‘ live Halloween broadcast. Lose that montage and the film is far better off, but otherwise, so far so good.

Writers/directors Cameron Cairnes & Colin Cairnes make a real effort to capture the look and feel of a seventies talk show, for a little while at least, and that includes some smartly bold production design by Otello Stolfo. From the outfits and hair styles to the smoking and color choices, the effect works — until it doesn’t. For one thing, Night Owls is edited and shot with modern day sensibilities like quick cuts, zooms, and more that feel woefully out of place for the seventies. Worse, the show we’re watching, again, ostensibly the actual reel complete with time codes at either end, switches to behind-the-scenes sequences where we’re hard-pressed to believe both that cameras are present and that the characters would speak in pure exposition.

I fully admit that most viewers won’t give a good goddamn about this, and if that’s you then just ignore that last paragraph and this one too. For the handful of us, though, who love when filmmakers set up their faux-doc/ff parameters and then find their chills, thrills, and fun without slipping free of those constraints, Late Night With the Devil just isn’t it.

That said, the film still manages more than enough to warrant a watch as some of its horror beats land beautifully and Dastmalchian is always a welcome talent on screen. Like most ff films, the horrors come slowly with brief punctuations before leading to a big, bloody finish. Those earlier moments are fun enough, but it’s the third act culmination that truly delivers with the gory goods and some memorable images. CG tweaks are evident, but the practical work shines through with some wildly entertaining acts of supernatural violence.

Through it all, though, ups, downs, and everything in between, it’s Dastmalchian who carries Late Night With the Devil on his very capable shoulders. There’s the expected exuberance of a late-night talk show host and the comic delivery of silly jokes, but he also showcases one man’s growing realization that he’s messed things up in a big, big way. Ambition is a hell of a drug, and we soon discover that his might have cost him more than an Emmy as the things he’s lost outweigh the ones he was hoping to gain. That combination of guilt and sadness makes for a compelling cocktail in a lead character who’s now facing some uncomfortable and unnatural truths.

Dastmalchian is the bright sun at the center with a strong gravitational pull, but the rest of the cast does fine work as well. Ian Bliss brings grand showmanship as the skeptic Carmichael Haig, and Rhys Auteri is the convincingly game-for-everything sidekick (until he’s not). Young Ingrid Torelli has the more physically demanding role of the possibly possessed Lilly, and she more than acquits herself with her creepy expressions and committed physicality.

Late Night With the Devil can’t match the highs of more memorable faux-docs like the ones mentioned at the top, and viewers looking for a better, far scarier version of this should definitely seek out Ghostwatch, but it still finds its own fun. The hook works even if the execution stumbles, and along with some smile-inducing effects work, Dastmalchian’s shift from acclaimed character actor to charismatic and engaging leading man is all the reason you should need to give this one a spin.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.