Film review by Cliff Homewood

For the first time live on Network Television we will commune with the Devil, straight after a word from our sponsors…

Stephen King says, ‘It’s absolutely brilliant. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Your results may vary, as they say, but I urge you to watch it when you can.’ You don’t get a better poster quote than that. It’s another example of what Sam Raimi calls a rollercoaster ride movie. We’ve had a spate recently, starting with Host. Well-made effective horror rides. But Late Night with the Devil has no great story to elevate it to a classic, but instead it’s a run of the mill descent into hell. A disposable devil. There’s not many jump scares, but a bit of gore. Its set up is interesting, using a fake documentary for exposition. But it’s still exposition.

The chat show Night Owl with Jack Delroy is on the edge of being cancelled so it’s host may not make the best decisions in his desperation to keep the show on the road. Its title and owl logo feel legitimate, owls regularly featured in the rituals of the mysterious The Grove (an actual organisation that includes several ex-Presidents) that the host is said to be a member of. Jack Dastmalchian plays the host ably and was cast after the Directors read a Fangoria article written by him about regional TV horror hosts.

After the setup we then get to see that episode. You know the one where it all goes all Ghostwatch. The show went out live on Halloween 1977 so why release this film in March? Surely it should have been released at Halloween for synchronicity. The greatest horror at the beginning is the American date format, but it gets worse. The show’s very believable, feeling like actual footage. There’s the odd screen roll, because you know, this was the ’70s.  The guest stars are familiar, first a mentalist, doing their usual carny act of ‘I hear from an Abraham, no, a Martin, or was that John?’ until they hit the unsuspecting jackpot. Talking of which this film seemed to be going for the record for number of production companies, it got very meta trying to work out where the last production company logo ended and the actual film began. One day there’ll be a spoof; all production company logos culminating in a 4 minute film.

It feels authentically ’70’s for those that lived through it, referencing the Uri Geller spoon bending phenomenon and having a character obviously based on James Randi, a famous sceptic of the time, who said he had an open mind but spent his career debunking psychics and touting a million-dollar cheque he would give to whoever can prove such phenomena exists (another circus style theatric). The film is inspired by episodes of The Don Lane Show featuring Uri Gellar and Doris Stokes. Hypnosis is used, a popular parlour trick on ’70s TV and at holiday camps. Hypnosis is real, what they get people to do in films sometimes isn’t, it only works if the person is wiling to go along with it, and they’re in a very suggestible state, but still themselves. Incidentally the act of hypnotising is not allowed to be fully shown in film or TV so as not to hypnotise the audience. Written and directed by the Cairnes Brothers, Colin and Cameron state, ‘In the ’70s and ’80s there was something slightly dangerous about late-night TV. Talk shows in particular were a window into some strange adult world. We thought combining that charged, live-to-air atmosphere with the supernatural could make for a uniquely frightening film experience.’ Orson Welles on the ’70s chat show circuit debunked psychics, having been one, and explained how cold reading works (eg fishing until you see a reaction then home in on the truth). He gave up when one of his readings became eerily accurate and theorized that psychics can therefore end up believing in their own powers.

Cameron Cairne explains, ‘We shot the film like it was a TV show with three cameras running the whole time. There was the temptation there to shoot on all old vintage tube cameras, but just with the effects, demands, and everything we ended up shooting digitally, but we shot using three cameras running all the time. For the set design, the inspiration was a lot of those game shows and talk shows from that period, but we were fortunate enough to have a production designer who worked in that era on local TV here, including a very popular music program called Countdown. It was all too easy for him I think to come up with that design. And that palette of browns and oranges and beige. It all felt very of the time, and we really embraced that.’

If the devil is in the detail, then this film really does have the devil in it. The movie allegedly made $666,666 on Sunday March 24, 2024 at the box office, however box office figures can be manipulated. It has ad breaks where the picture goes black and white and we see the interval discussion as things slowly get out of hand, and the believers in the crew wanting to abandon the show. As could you if it’s not your sort of thing.

A ‘works well but ultimately forgettable’ horror movie.