Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams’ fascinating Satan Wants You takes a deep dive into the origins and legacy of the infamous book Michelle Remembers. Their film is a potent time capsule of a moment that rings far too close to ours now, an engrossing watch.
Digging deep into the roots of moral panics and cult conspiracies, 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 still affects and distorts our reality today.
The first half of Satan Wants You lures you in with directors Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams breaking down the history of the psychiatrist and patient via experts and, most importantly, by those who know them. We listen back to those original recordings, and they are nothing but horrifying as Michelle recounts those lost, graphic memories of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of a satanic cult who abducted her as a child. It becomes a fascinating viewing experience to see how a woman who was clearly in need was taken advantage of in such a manner by a trained practitioner with next to no comeuppance.
As the two make their book and hit the TV world for interviews, the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s is in the fullest of swings. At this point, Michelle no longer answers the questions tossed to her in interviews; she looks to Dr. Pazder, who answers them for her, becoming wholly sketchy. However, the world is captivated by their story. By laying down the roadwork of how Michelle Smith’s memoir came to be, the directors can then reveal the devastation that spread worldwide because of it.
It is in that second half where the true horror of the book comes to the fore. We see how far that book’s influence spread, and how the terrible misinformation present within Michelle Remembers ended up ruining so many lives in such unimaginable ways. We see educators harassed on national news, arrested and at times even convicted due to false accusations because of the waterfall of hysteria caused by the book. Satan Wants You doesn’t just show its audience what happens when public panic reigns supreme, but what happens when apparent lies are told to us in such a convincing manner that we believe them to be true.
After all, while you and I can tell that what happened to Michelle is a fantasy she has conjured up, in those tapes, you nor I can deny, however, that in those recordings, Michelle, with every fibre of her being, believes what she is saying, terrifying screaming and sobbing over is real. That is the excellent work that Horlor and Adams do here. They give you the story in the broadest possible way, they don’t mislead, they lay it all out and leave it to use to decide.
As you watch on during the compelling Satan Wants You, it suddenly clicks how we are almost back where we were 40 years ago. Instead of the Satanic Panic rife throughout the world, it is those who listen to Q-Anon “theories”, those who will listen to anything said to them by a person they like. We still need to learn that we shouldn’t take everything that seems correct from intelligent-looking people at face value without the proper research to back it up.
That makes the film work so well; we are seeing all of this in real-time again, and there is little we can do about it. We learn about this story, but at the same time, we see how this splintered into others “having” the same experiences and the Pazder’s profiting from it to help them write their stories and then the public madness that ensued. Saran Wants You is an entertaining documentary that also causes a deep infuriation to reside deep within you. We haven’t learned from 30-40 years ago, and damn if that isn’t disheartening.
Satan Wants You becomes a great jumping-off point for those wanting to learn more about this era in our history, with it giving us the strongest of bases to work from.
Satan Wants You will play at Raindance on Tuesday 31st October at 9pm. More information can be found about the screening and the film here
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