During the 1980’s and 90’s the world was gripped by the cultural hysteria known as the Satanic Panic. Ignited by Michelle Remembers, a lurid memoir by psychiatrist Larry Pazder and his patient Michelle Smith, rumors of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” spread through panic-stricken communities worldwide. Although Dr. Pazder’s methodology relied on controversial recovered-memory therapy to expose Michelle’s childhood abduction by baby-stealing satanists, the book became a bestseller and left a wave of destruction and wrongful convictions in its wake.
In the feature documentary ‘Satan Wants You,’ filmmakers Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams dive deep into the untold story of how Dr. Pazder and Michelle Smith became international sensations, supported by the Catholic Church and amplified by law enforcement and America’s Daytime TV boom. The film features shocking, never-before-heard audio recordings of the pair’s original therapy sessions and interviews with a high priestess of the Church of Satan, a Wiccan police detective, an FBI ‘Mind Hunter’ as well as the devastated families of both Michelle and Lawrence.
‘Satan Wants You’ is a compelling investigation into the roots of moral panics, cult conspiracies, and the making of contemporary legends, revealing how these events still impact and distort our reality to this day.
Michelle Remembers, came back into our lives in 2018 when we were directing a ten-part doc series about books and authors—well, back into Sean’s life. Steve had never heard of the book before but was hooked as soon as he saw the dust jacket featuring an conservative-looking young woman with a tight ‘80s perm. For Steve, who grew up in the north, it was an introduction to the Satanic Panic hysteria that swept through the western world in the ‘80s and ‘90s. For Sean, it was a window into a forgotten part of his childhood.
Sean is from the same city as Michelle and Larry Pazder. growing up in Victoria in the years following the publication of Michelle Remembers was a confusing time to be a kid. Anyone anywhere could be a satanist and tens of thousands of children were allegedly being abducted and murdered every year by satanic cults. It was on the news. On the radio. In the newspapers. It was something Sean’s mother worried about at the dinner table. The Pazders and their crazy theory about satanic ritual abuse were everywhere.
What surprised us most when we started the film was the number of experts—police officers, journalists, sociologists, podcasters—who believed the Pazders and their book were responsible for igniting the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s and ‘90s, yet no one had ever explored this story in a documentary format. This is the very first time that Michelle’s sister, Larry’s ex-wife, and Larry’s daughter have gone on the record to tell their side of this story. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine all these stories together to reveal the true origins of the satanic panic, and show how they connect to the Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracies of today.
This film is also ground-breaking for another reason. In our final month of production, an anonymous source sent us one of Michelle and Larry’s original therapy tapes from 1976. This is one-of-a-kind archive material that has never been heard by anyone but Michelle and Larry and the transcribers who worked on their book. It has eluded countless investigators across the past four decades and SXSW audiences will be the very first people to listen to Michelle’s first-hand rememberings in ‘Satan Wants You.’
As directors, it was important for us to create a film that allowed viewers to experience the Satanic Panic the way it unfolded in the 1980s: through news and daytime TV talk shows that catapulted satan into the mainstream ether. Dark and moody interviews with our key cast compliment the horror-inspired narrative sequences that take viewers deep into Michelle’s depths on Dr. Pazder’s therapy couch during the late ‘70s. These creative elements are tied together by an original score that re-interprets the soundtracks to classic horror films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and Amityville Horror.
To sum up our directorial approach in one sentence: no matter what you think you know about the Satanic Panic, you won’t ever have seen it told like this.