As an avid seeker of all things Satanic Panic, I thought I knew most things about the outrage in the 80’s. Directors Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor changed everything I thought I knew with their documentary ‘Satan Wants You.’ It’s a deep dive into satanic panic but also a commentary on the fragility of one person’s mental break and the doctor she trusted who took advantage of her. It’s less about Satan and the dark arts and more about planted false memories and the human condition. I was blown away by this film.
‘Satan Wants You’ tells the untold story of how the Satanic Panic of the 1980s was ignited by Michelle Remembers, a lurid memoir by psychiatrist Larry Pazder and his patient Michelle Smith. Supported by the Catholic Church, the bestselling book relied on recovered-memory therapy to uncover Michelle’s childhood abduction by baby-stealing Satanists. Amplified by law enforcement and America’s Daytime TV boom, satanic rumors spread through panic-stricken communities across the world, leaving a wave of destruction and wrongful convictions in their wake.
This documentary takes you on a wild unexpected ride. In the early 80’s Michelle Smith went to Dr. Larry Pazder for help with depression on the verge of a psychotic break after going through a miscarriage. Dr. Pazder’s technique or memory recovery unlocked a world of pain and a story that was too unbelievable to be true, yet people bought it and exploited it. Through sessions Michelle remembers being handed over to a satanic cult where she was abused physically, emotionally and sexually. There is so much discussion of murdering babies and consuming them in these sessions it starts to get a little overwhelming and ridiculous. Yet Dr. Pazder continues the treatments and eventually convinces Michelle to help him write a book on her experiences. Once the book is finished and backed by the Catholic church, word gets out and the media firestorm takes hold and Satanic Panic is born.
This film is really a social commentary on the fragility of the human condition. Are the memories we have real or are they planted? And if they are planted, how? Watching woman after woman in this documentary claim they were given to a satanic cult because a therapist put that idea in their head is bizarre to witness. Only to have them turn around and claim later that they were victims of the psychiatrists and planted memories after word got out that none of this satanic cult business had any merit. Do they do these things for attention? Or have they actually been duped into thinking that these insane things have happened to them?
It’s maddening to watch these events unfold between Michelle and Dr. Pazder. Whether it was just complete misconduct on the Dr.’s part, or Michelle was in on it the whole time, it’s clear that the mass hysteria they were able to create ruined a lot of people’s lives in the process. This film also makes you wonder about the role the media plays in creating chaos, rather than just giving us the facts of the day. It’s clear in this day and age that history is starting to repeat itself. It’s hard not to draw parallels from the Satanic Panic hysteria to the present QAnon craze while watching this film.
Satan Wants You is currently in select theaters.