Late Night With the Devil
(dir. Cameron & Colin Cairnes)
By: Adam Freed
At the dawn of the late night television era, countless Americans turned the dials of their televisions and adjusted their rabbit ear antenna with joyful anticipation of sitting back and basking in the safe comforting glow of nighttime entertainment. Behind the scenes, late night talk has always been a competitive rat race pitting one host against another in a Nielsen Ratings showdown. This is the ruthless backdrop in which Late Night With the Devil, a wildly fun and eerily praiseworthy horror film plants its retro flag. Written and directed by sibling team Cameron and Colin Cairnes, Late Night With the Devil mindfully takes its time allowing the warm predictable comforts of late night television to wash over its audience before unleashing hell.
All of the hallmarks of time capsule live tv are present on the fictional set of Night Owls, the perennial runner-up behind Late Night with Johnny Carson. The Cairnes brothers patiently provide their audience space to get to know Night Owls host Jack Delroy, a lovable yet guarded comedian, obsessed with his endless pursuit of Carson’s crown. Delroy is brought to life by gifted actor David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight, Dune) who wears the suit of Delroy with such ease and believability that it wouldn’t be a shock to hear rumors of his replacing one of the contemporary late night legends. The muted 70’s set design, the Night Owls band and of course Gus, the safe and witty co-host, all make Late Night With the Devil feel like an intriguing behind the scenes peek at a bygone era. All seems to be drifting along hospitable waters until Delroy’s 1977 Halloween episode goes live.
As easily as flipping the channel knob on a classic glass front television, Cameron and Colin Cairnes dial their horror feature into full throttle quickly and memorably. Dastmalchian’s performance eerily captures the attempt at maintaining the safe middle ground required of talk show hosts even as the world around him devolves into madness. What becomes of the live and at home audiences captured on that fateful Halloween night in 1977 is certainly a worthwhile watch to horror enthusiasts. Commendably, the Cairnes duo do not lean too heavily into gore and the all too tired impact of the jump scare, rather root the terror of their creation in a strong leading performance and the eternal battle between light and dark.
Target Score: 7/10 - In a spooky season belabored by recycled concepts, Late Night With the Devil is a period piece winner that is as much fun to watch as it must’ve been to create. David Dastmalchian proves the anchor of a film that could become a cult favorite for years to come.
Late Night With the Devil was reviewed in conjunction with Movie Archer's coverage of the 59th Annual Chicago International Film Festival.