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Late Night with the Devil

David Dastmalchian's 'Late Night with the Devil' Takes the Late-Night Wars into Horror

By Lindsay Traves | Film | March 20, 2024 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | March 20, 2024 |


Late Night with the Devil

The late-night television wars might be low stakes in the scheme of things, but it’s never stopped hosts from participating in whatever stunt necessary to grab onto those coveted viewers. In the time before the dueling Jimmys and the collateral damage Conans, there were Carsons and Paars vying for the eyes and ears of the masses. Parodying a time when anything went on late-night television is Late Night with the Devil, a mockumentary style horror comedy about the ill-fated fictional Jack Delroy and the stunt he pulled to convince viewers to tune into his show over the others.

David Dastmalchian leads as the corny 70s host of “Night Owls,” in this faux documentary about a desperate TV personality trying to save his failing program. For a ratings-desperate Halloween episode, Jack and the gang conjure up a skeptic, a demonologist, and an allegedly possessed young woman for a performance built around proving that the supernatural does, in fact, exist. Contracts set to expire and sliding ratings are what make the stakes of this bit so high for Jack and company, and they’re raised higher when the little showcase of possession goes too far under the glowing lights of the television studio. While intentionally of a bygone decade, the elements of attention vying and relegating important conversations to late-night comedy is exceedingly relevant, and the movie masks such dread around a boring guest and boring conversation in a dynamic visual spectacle.

This spin on found footage requires extra suspension of disbelief, it playing out in real time (after a documentary-style introduction, which serves as a smart way to dump exposition), following Jack and the cast of characters through commercial breaks. Why would the show’s cameraman lift the device and follow Jack into private dressing room conversations? They probably wouldn’t, but it feels like writer-director duo Colin and Cameron Cairnes doing the audience the service of not making us sit through fuzzy off-screen conversations in the name of realism.

And it’s worth following Dastmalchian as he glides through the role, him so fully embracing and embodying all it means to be a hokey host who can flick on a look of desperation when the television camera “isn’t rolling.” He’s not just a polished-looking man of stark features, he knows how to use them, and the combination of his vampiric aura and ability to slip into the role of cheesy host is the exceptional quality that really elevates this haunted tale dressed in 70s kitsch.

And on that kitsch, this isn’t a movie filled with blood, guts, and gore, but it’s nothing if not revolting when it’s called for. Special effects come out to play when necessary and escalate in a way that tugs the aware movie audience through the journey of the in-world television audience (and the skeptic). It starts with a flickering light, which might be a trick, and then juts into the really nasty stuff that just might be real (though they unfortunately show up a bit too early in the story, which lightly taps the brakes on the movie’s higher-speed). The retro gleam of the whole affair is magically mirrored in the haunted effects in a way that’s reminiscent of the gore seen wrapped around Linda Blair in The Exorcist. It feels like a meta-joke about how actual possessions might have looked different in a time where effects technology and style had a different appearance. Late Night with the Devil lives in the horror iconography (purported real and outwardly fictional) of the decade: the Warrens, the Amityvilles, the later works of Vincent Price. And the creators also drew inspiration from Broadcast News and The King of Comedy (which will shake loose memories of the spooky talkshow homage to that seen in Joker).

The “what you are about to see” of it all is reminiscent of the scariest times in early reality television and longform news stories, and snuggles this movie as a successor to WNUF Halloween Special and Ghost Watch. By combining found footage, 70s nostalgia, and a possession feature with one of horror’s current darlings, Late Night with the Devil is begging for a cult following looking for a regular Halloween rewatch.

Late Night with the Devil premiered at SXSW 2023, releases in select theaters on March 22, 2024, and streams on Shudder April 19, 2024