Late-night television is a tricky business, and there is no shortage of people who covet the top spot. The Jay Leno/David Letterman feud continued for years after Leno unexpectedly took Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show seat in 1992. There’s always pressure to have the most prominent guests, gags (Carpool Karaoke and whatnot), and soundbites to stay on top.
These are a collision of factors fictional late-night host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is running up against in Late Night With the Devil. His syndicated late-hours talk show based in the 1970s, ‘Night Owls,’ was riding high – running neck and neck with the top rating earner. At first, audiences take to Delroy’s style and charm. After some time passes by, the ratings start to slip. The difficulties are only exacerbated by Jack’s wife Madeleine’s (Georgina Haig) cancer diagnosis and eventual passing. Once we get to 1977, Night Owls is running out of time to show its worth. Within the throes of grief and desperation, Jack elects to go with his most giant swing yet.
However, there’s always an issue when you throw caution to the wind – especially regarding occult matters. Late Night With the Devil may be a “found footage” film, but writers/directors Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes set the stage for authenticity. When the film begins, a narrator sets the scene concerning the turbulent 70’s American landscape intercut with archival footage. Jack’s personal history has a cloudy undercurrent considering he has a membership with a secret society. Indeed, that won’t come back to bite him somehow, right?
We arrive on October 31, 1977, for a special Halloween episode of ‘Night Owls.’ The audience is informed what we are witnessing is “what went to air that night as well as previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage.” The entire film is shot in a way that resembles what a 70s telecast would look like. Small touches like Jack talking segments over with his producer and guests are placed in to keep the slow-burn feeling going.
At first, everything seems ok. Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), a psychic, asks questions to the crowd. Is it real? Is it fake? I would probably lean toward the latter. However, something weird happens with the lights, and Christou gets a “transmission” that rattles him. Despite his discomfort, the show goes on. Hypnotist turned skeptic Carmichael (Ian Bliss) does all he can to debunk paranormal things. Things start to take a turn for the adverse when Jack welcomes parapsychologist June (Laura Gordon) and a young cult survivor named Lilly (Ingrid Torelli) to the floor.
Some particular things in Lilly’s background should pause Jack (especially considering the many warnings June gives him). But there’s no business like show business, and Jack is in too deep. To his credit, Dastmalchian excels as a frontman – exuding the poise of a late-night talk show host and just as a man searching for a win. One of the essential things in the world was taken away from him, and he’s trying to cling to his remaining vestige of validation. The film's primary focus is this particular show, so the story involving Jack and Madeleine’s marriage and his affiliations may not be as fleshed out as they could be. It’s not enough to take away how effectively the film works.
The Cairnes also plays with the veil of what’s natural and supernatural — first, with a body horror set piece quickly pulled back to play with our sense of what was happening. Then, a raucous third act entirely goes for the breakneck speed it’s prepared you for. As we are left with a man who sacrificed so much to gain the world, the effective period piece makes you think if the cost was worth it. I would say for us, it is. Late Night With the Devil provides a fun story of caution about who to make the right deals with.