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[PHFF Review] SATAN WANTS YOU is a Chilling Analysis of the Satanic Panic’s Inception

Still from horror documentary SATAN WANTS YOU (2023), directed by Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams.
Courtesy of Portland Horror Film Festival

Directed by Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams, the Canadian horror and crime documentary Satan Wants You is a captivating narrative exploring the Satanic Panic of the 1980s featuring archival footage, news clippings, audio recordings, and interviews. It's a sharp and intriguing account of the abuse of power by therapists and the false cases that fueled fear and rampant misinformation nationwide. Horlor and Adams engage audiences with compelling and insightful parallels to mass religious hysteria and current hive-minded conspiracy movements. They cleverly guide audiences through the entire zeitgeist of Michelle Smith’s story and its impact.

Satan Wants You details the first publicized account of feared cult rituals and the untold story of how the Satanic Panic was ignited by Michelle Remembers (1980), a memoir by psychiatrist Larry Pazder and Smith. She recounts her childhood experience within a cult, alleging being locked in a cage as the cult practiced animal sacrifice and partook in orgies, eating feces, and human fetal dismemberment to the press. The media used the public’s continued fascination and fear to increase their ratings and revenue. Smith’s frightening account is a harrowing and sensational depiction of fractured innocence. It’s a story that’s too unbelievable to be true.

[Read] BLACK MOLD Review – A Study of Fear and the Decaying Mind

Still from horror documentary SATAN WANTS YOU (2023), directed by Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams.
Courtesy of Portland Horror Film Festival

While documenting Smith’s experience, priest Father Merveille helped her to connect the biblical symbology of her memories, going so far as to travel to Rome to deliver the evidence to the Pope in 1977. The fact that the church funded the book to spread hysteria is another alarming revelation for audiences. Pazder became fascinated with cults and ritual behavior while in Africa. Unsurprisingly, after the release of the film adaptation of Sybil (1976), his desire for notoriety led him to use Smith’s story for his own gain. Selling their memoir’s allegations as fact is an unsettling and despicable demonstration of life imitating art, assuming the film inspired Pazder’s actions.

In contrast, his family believed Smith was a woman whose obsession with Pazder led her to manipulate him for his attention with her fantastical and unfounded story of being given to a cult as a child. Her narrative ignited the satanic ritual abuse phenomenon, a theory about a satanic conspiracy of child abductions into cults. Criminal cases involving satanic rituals and accusations of ritual satanic abuse exploded by the mid-1980s — leading to false abuse accusations, malicious prosecutions, and faux therapists sowing false memories for profit. During their sessions, Pazder used hypnosis and the discredited practice of recovered-memory therapy to elicit the sensational material he needed.

Satan Wants You makes villains of Smith, Pazder, and the media while exposing the public’s lack of skepticism and evidence to support their claims. Horlor and Adams don’t allow anyone a reprieve for the destruction that followed the memoir. They instead paint a problematic picture of modern witch trials that nearly everyone was willing to persecute and prosecute their neighbors for. The documentary is harrowing, unforgiving, and brilliantly executed.


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