“Late Night With the Devil” is Cozy and Nostalgic Halloween Fun

Remember the glory days of live television events? When we made sure to be home in time to enjoy a special program? Before the advent of DVRs, if you missed a special presentation or forgot to consult the TV Guide, you were simply out of luck. Rewatching and rewinding were unavailable and unless you’d managed to set your VCR, the show would live in your memory until the almighty network decided to air it again. This was the case for Ghostwatch, an infamous mockumentary that aired on Halloween night of 1992. Similar to the 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds, the BBC presented this pre-recorded episode as a live broadcast purporting to investigate paranormal activity in a suburban home. To this day the special has never been reaired on UK television though it is now available on other platforms. Written and directed by brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes, Late Night with the Devil aims to recreate this phenomenon with a faux late night show infiltrated by a demonic force.  

Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is the host of Night Owls, a second tier variety show seeking to overtake Johnny Carson as the late night standard. Desperate for ratings, he and producer Leo (Josh Quong Tart) have begun leaning into salaciousness with cheap gimmicks and exploitative guests. On Halloween night, they’ve invited famed medium Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), skeptic and magician extraordinaire Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), and June (Laura Gordon), a paranormal researcher and guardian of a girl said to be possessed by the devil. At first the schlocky program proceeds as planned. The audience is spooked and the episode finally garners the attention of network executives. But when Lilly (Ingrid Torelli) and June invite in the malevolent Mr. Wiggles, the broadcast veers into madness as the demonic force takes control. 

Set in 1977, Late Night with the Devil purports to be a recovered episode of classic late night television. The set is delightfully retro, the outfits are sufficiently groovy, and the period details flirt with the line between subtle and kitsch. Low-fi “behind the scenes” footage has been added during ad breaks to give context to the sincerity – or lack thereof – of Delroy and his team. The Cairnes Brothers include amusing details like Technical Difficulties cards and stand-by music while introducing the film with documentary-style exposition. While it’s clear this footage was filmed past-2020, the visible duplicity is part of the fun. We accept the ruse and enjoy the nostalgia as the night careens from cozy horror to evisceration and death. 

Dastmalchian not only anchors the cast, he feels like a natural in this setting, making us long for a real late night horror show starring the sensitive actor. Bandleader Gus (Rhys Auteri) is a wholesome addition to the mix, heightening the tension as a nervous conduit for the audience both in-studio and at home. Bliss is effectively smarmy as the punchable lothario Carmichael Haig. A fun lampoon of the infamous One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, it’s fun to see a demon wipe the skeptical grin off his slimy face. Gordon is also endearing as the well-meaning June, but Torelli steals the show as a possessed pre-teen girl. This intentional rip-off of The Exorcist goes for broke with outlandish effects and heartstopping destruction. An illogical coda goes on a bit too long, but the high camp value helps to smooth over messy elements of the overall plot. 

Adding to the late 70s charm, effects are practical and feel like a throwback to our favorite B-movie creature features and knock-off slashers. There are shocking moments of gore and a fascinating hypnosis scene, but nothing to upset the cozy horror vibes. The film could easily serve as gateway horror for new genre fans as the live broadcast ambiance provides an element of remove from the demonic content. The overall effect is as intended–a fun late night special gone nightmarishly wrong. Destined to be a Halloween staple, Late Night with the Devil hits in all the right places, leaning into the schlock and gore with Dastmalchian holding onto the story’s bleeding heart. Despite a few messy plot details in the final act, the Cairne Brothers have created a rare Halloween treat: a fun throwback horror film that simultaneously feels fresh and exciting.