Horror Movies


Next to the atmosphere of 1970s television, it was the portrayal of the protagonist that succeeded best in “Late Night with the Devil.”

Jan Brzozowski

30 April 2024

late night with the devil

My favorite moment in the history of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon took place in an episode featuring RuPaul, the American artist and host of the popular show RuPaul’s Drag Race. At one point, Fallon pulled out the latest issue of “Vanity Fair” with RuPaul on the cover. “This is the first time in history a drag queen has been on the cover of Vanity Fair,” he began, but was interrupted. “Drag queen!?” RuPaul protested loudly. Fallon looked at his guest disoriented – instead of seeing RuPaul, he saw his own career flashing before his eyes. “I am the queen of drag!” the guest concluded, and Fallon breathed a sigh of relief. His soul, after a brief flight around the studio, landed back in his body.

These precious few seconds are exceptionally valuable because they reveal the unmasking of the host of a popular talk show in real time. Whether he wanted it or not, RuPaul extracted real emotions from Fallon – mocking, inadvertently, his robotic demeanor. For a moment on stage, there was no calculated professional smiling on cue and throwing jokes left and right. In his place stood an ordinary, frightened man whose fate was hanging in the balance on air.

late night with the devil

In front of millions of viewers, the fate of the main character of Late Night with the Devil also hangs in the balance. Although Jack Delroy (played by David Dastmalchian) is not facing the specter of cancel culture – the film’s action takes place in the seventies – the danger is just as serious: a decline in viewership. To draw viewers back to their screens, Delroy decides on a rather radical step: organizing a special Halloween episode of his show dedicated to the paranormal. He invites a medium and a famous illusionist to the studio simultaneously, the latter tasked with verifying the guest’s authenticity. He also invites the author of the book Conversations with a Devil and her young ward, Lilly. Lilly, miraculously rescued from the clutches of a satanic cult, turns out to be burdened with more than just trauma. Soon, the decline in viewership becomes the least of the hero’s worries.

At first glance, Late Night with the Devil may not seem like it, but it is essentially a found footage horror. Cameron and Colin Cairnes – a brotherly directing duo – decided to give their film a metafictional frame. We start similarly to Citizen Kane: with a brief pseudo-documentary introduction that introduces us to the world, outlines the protagonist’s life story, and informs us about the tape containing the missing, final episode of Delroy’s show. Then, this tape lands in the player, and behold: before us is a fictional talk show in real time. It’s a simple but effective technique. It allows the creators to build tension and lets the audience revel in the kitschy yet charming atmosphere of seventies television: garish, slightly faded set design, stiffly starched suits, and leather-upholstered chairs.

Like Late Night with the Devil, it’s not just horror but also a satire – on the American television industry specifically. Delroy represents the timeless “by any means necessary” strategy. Initially a seemingly sympathetic person, he stops at nothing to achieve desired success. He turned his wife’s battle with cancer into a media spectacle by inviting her to one of the show’s episodes – viewership peaked at that moment. Despite everyone urging him to end the Halloween program, as the situation is evidently spiraling out of control, Jack persists. He’s excited about the prospect of conducting a “live interview” with a demon – he doesn’t see mortal danger but an opportunity for exploitation. A unique chance to boost ratings and return in grand style. Those who don’t take risks don’t drink champagne.

late night with the devil

As you might guess, Late Night with the Devil is essentially a one-man show. David Dastmalchian – previously known primarily for supporting roles in Villeneuve’s and Nolan’s films – is outstanding as the television sociopath. We can’t unequivocally condemn him because the mask he wears during the show is incredibly authentic. Behind the scenes, however, he engages in deceit and manipulation with cold calculation, using his personal charm. All subtly, in white gloves and with a smile on his face. Alongside the atmosphere of seventies television, the portrayal of the character in Late Night with the Devil excels the most. Looking at Delroy, it’s easy to think of James Corden – a man eternally cheerful on screen but repulsively boorish on the street or in a restaurant. Or Ellen DeGeneres – America’s longtime favorite, whose career began to crumble after revelations of daily bullying by her colleagues emerged. We’ve known this since The Master of Ceremonies. Television has always been and unfortunately always will be a trap for careerists devoid of moral backbone, ready, sometimes quite literally, to sell their soul to the devil.

While watching the last few minutes of the Cairnes’ film, I was reminded of what Quentin Tarantino once said about It Follows. The director initially praised David Robert Mitchell’s horror, but then remarked that the film loses a lot due to inconsistency in adhering to the rules he had established earlier. This criticism would be even more apt for Late Night with the Devil. In the finale, the Cairnes’ abandon the previously adopted found footage formula. They expand the screen to a widescreen format and stage a dark introspection of the main character, unnecessarily complicating the excellent initial concept. The conclusion that follows moments later seems obvious and slightly disappointing – thankfully, everything leading up to it is worth our attention.

Janek Brzozowski

Jan Brzozowski

Permanently sleep-deprived, as he absorbs either westerns or new adventure cinema at night. A big fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. He is also interested in American and French literature, as well as soccer.

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