Salem Horror Fest is running at Cinema Salem through April 30th and held a screening of the newly released 2023 Canadian documentary film, “Satan Wants You.” It is directed by Sean Horlor and Steve J Adams and runs for 89 minutes, the perfect length to get across the information they are trying to convey and still leave the audience thinking about Michelle Smith, her psychologist Dr Lawrence Pazder, their book “Michelle Remembers,” and its subsequent role in the satanic panic.
In the film, the satanic panic is presented as a phenomenon of religious fear mongering that gripped North America, Canada, and beyond in the late 1980’s and throughout the 90’s that resulted in several people being persecuted, even arrested, and tried for lurid crimes they often didn’t commit. The directors posit that this phenomenon was spurred on by Michelle Smith’s “true story” of childhood sexual abuse and supposed 14-month captivity at the hands of a satanic cult when she was 5 years old which she details in her book. She worked with her psychologist, Dr Larry Pazder, over the course of a few years to uncover these “buried memories” that they felt needed to be recovered after she suffered a miscarriage. Michelle herself devised a “beyond hypnosis method” to recover these memories. She claimed these sessions revealed that her mother was a satanist who gave her over to the cult to be tortured, participate in animal sacrifice, and be kept in a cage. Eventually they wrote a very popular book together, “Michelle Remembers,” and went on a book tour together.
Larry Pazder’s devout Catholicism is questioned for influencing the interpretation of Michelle’s “memories” and even potentially influencing her claims to have had apparitions from the Virgin Mary as well as seeing angels. There are many interviews with Michelle’s family members and friends, Larry’s ex-wife and daughter, a police constable, a FBI serial profiler, and even a podcaster. Out of all the folks who spoke about their personal and professional experiences, the podcaster spoke with questionable authority on the subject. The documentary goes on to explore how the panic spread and people were accused of ritual child abuse. The film draws parallels between the satanic panic of the 90’s and events that are happening in current day in the polarized political climate.
There were a couple issues with the film that were less than ideal. The time jumps forward and backward got to be a little hard to follow. They used a few clips of dramatized footage repeatedly for pronounced effect, but it would have been better to have filmed something new rather than repeat the same footage over and over. Those were small issues that only took me out of the story for a moment. More seriously, it seems as if the film blames “Michelle Remembers” for single handedly changing the zeitgeist of the 90’s, I would have been interested to learn a little more about the political and religious climate of the time and the other factors that went in to creating the satanic panic besides the book. The film overall used effective storytelling, had fascinating material, was moody and atmospheric, intentionally alternating between cringe and laugh inducing at times, and had enough surprises and twists that left the audience wanting to learn more about the satanic panic and Michelle’s role in that period.