One Thing I Like About Late Night With The Devil

The story of a 1970s late night talk show that aired a live demon possession

The moment Late Night With the Devil clicked with me is when I stopped comparing it to the movie I’d been expecting, and started watching it for what it actually is.

The intriguing premise suggests a period piece found footage horror movie: a narrator1Michael Ironside! sets us in the late 1970s, recounting the story of a late night talk show called Night Owls that can never seem to compete with Johnny Caron’s Tonight Show. Against the back drop of the political and cultural turmoil of the late 70s, and the satanic panic, the show’s host Jack Delroy spent years trying to build popularity for his show and get out from under Carson’s shadow. What we’re seeing is the “master tape” from the Halloween night broadcast, which featured a stage psychic; an Amazing Randi-style skeptic; and a parapsychologist with her troubled patient, a 13-year-old girl who survived a cult worshipping the demon Abraxas.

For a while, it does seem like they’re going for verisimilitude. The set direction feels spot-on, not just for a 1970s talk show, but specifically one made in New York. (It’s good that the money went into perfecting the set, since almost the entire movie takes place on one set). There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot in the opening montage showing a character who looks a lot like Orson Welles in his 1970s talk show era, and for those of us who watched those shows during our formative years, that one image establishes the setting perfectly.

But as the movie continues, it becomes apparent that Late Night With the Devil is more interested in telling its story than in being a pitch-perfect found-footage movie. The performances are pretty broad, always hovering in the zone between realism and camp. There are minor, nit-picking anachronisms; shots that wouldn’t have happened in a live broadcast; cross-fades that weren’t in style even if the technology to do them was available for live TV; “behind the scenes” shots that simply wouldn’t have been possible; and a bunch of other things that imply that whenever the filmmakers had to choose between reality and setting a mood, they always chose the latter.

In the end, the tone of the movie is much more like a Hollywood Horror Nights house than a modern found footage movie. It has a ton of ideas about theme, mood, character, and story, and it throws them out like an interconnected series of funhouse horror vignettes. The commercial breaks and behind-the-scene moments are more like transitions between broad story beats than like actual behind-the-scenes footage.

And when I say the performances are broad to the point of being camp, I don’t mean that disparagingly. David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy has to be the most nuanced, managing a performance-within-a-performance that has to shift from corny to sincere to craven to haunted within the same scene. I was even more impressed by Ingrid Torelli as the young possessed girl Lilly, especially for perfectly playing the eeriness of someone who won’t stop staring directly at the camera. On the whole, though, the performances felt more like those of the scare actors inside a modern horror house, shouting out their lines every 60 seconds to make sure the audience gets the point of the current story beat.

Ultimately, that horror house feeling is what I liked2But didn’t ever quite love most about Late Night With the Devil. It feels like a fiercely independent movie3It feels odd calling it “low budget,” considering how aggressively it’s been marketed, and how there’s an almost comically long series of production company logos at the beginning, where the filmmakers had a very specific idea about the tone and the mood and what they believed was important, even if it didn’t fit into the modern Blumhouse mold. Even more than the sets and costumes, it feels like a throwback to the late 1970s. Especially the pre-1980s horror that valued creepy and scary moments over intense realism.

If on the other hand, you’re interested in an independent film that does commit completely to its premise, I’ve got to give another recommendation for Deadstream. It goes much more for horror-comedy than Late Night With the Devil, and in my opinion does more with its modest budget. The movies have very little in common apart from a single set and a nod to live broadcast (and both being on Shudder, I guess), but that shows how much room there is for creativity in horror movies without big studio intervention.

  • 1
    Michael Ironside!
  • 2
    But didn’t ever quite love
  • 3
    It feels odd calling it “low budget,” considering how aggressively it’s been marketed, and how there’s an almost comically long series of production company logos at the beginning