Satan Wants You is a documentary exploring the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. A wild moment of mass hysteria ignited by Michelle Remembers, a memoir by a psychiatrist and his patient. The book was a supposed account of recovered memories a woman had with her doctor. The pages are filled with stories of baby-stealing Satanists and child sexual abuse. After countless lives were ruined, it was discovered that it was all a lie.
This Writer Remembers
I liked taking any remotely scary books off my mother’s shelves when I was a kid. I remember this book because it claimed it was a true story. As a severely homeschooled kid with no internet access, I had no way to disprove what I was reading. I got older and had almost forgotten about this book that I chose over Mom’s copy of The Exorcist. At least until I was sitting at Cinema Salem watching this documentary with my friend. The story sounded very familiar, and I couldn’t place it until it mentioned Michelle Remembers and showed the book jacket. I was shaken that one of the first memoirs I read in the 90s was part of a bigger story.
Most of us who weren’t around for the Satanic Panic cannot understand how insidious that era was. We see cute rockers on Stranger Things that are supposed to reference it, and we run across it on Wikipedia a few times. However, Satan Wants You shines a light on the ways the media mishandled this situation. It shows you what a real witch hunt looks like. It also puts a face to some of the people who lost years of their lives because of sensationalist nonsense.
It’s Not All Bad
Filmmakers Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor do a great job of using their funnier interviews to break up the heavy topic. They also dole out the information in a way that makes you lean forward quite often. Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist/lover Larry Pazder are shaky characters any way you look at this sordid tale. We’ll never know which one of them came up with this scheme. Or if they were in on it together from the beginning. Getting to the truth is especially difficult now that Larry is dead, and Michelle refuses to talk about it. The interviews Adams and Horlor have compiled do a fair job of leaving the information for the viewer to choose who they want to place blame on.
As a viewer, I couldn’t help but see parallels to today. Mass hysteria has been a main ingredient during many of the most dangerous times. I watched this in Salem, surrounded by all of the reminders of the witch trials. This is in the year 2023 when conservatives are telling people that drag queens are a danger to kids, but in reality, school shootings are the actual danger kids are facing today. That and the Republicans need to continue upholding the dangerous rhetoric that continues trying to set the country back a few hundred years.
I also can’t help but think about how many times white women have lied which led to others having to shoulder the consequences of their actions. I think one of the ways society fails us all is with this myth that these things happened so long ago, and we’re doing so much better now. However, that lie doesn’t work for me. Carolyn Bryant Donham (the woman that got Emmett Till murdered) died last month. We’ve made memes out of Karens calling the police on Black people simply because they can. This, even though it’s common knowledge that there is a high risk that calling the police on Black people will end in violence or death even when all we’re doing is minding our own business.
Whenever a white woman says or does anything to endanger POCs, and gets discovered, society looks to us to clean it up and make it right. Meanwhile, she’s babied, and people are worried about her instead of her intended victim(s). Again, the documentary doesn’t explicitly point the finger at Michelle. However, I also don’t see her trying to make amends for the lives her discredited book ruined. She gets to live the rest of her life in peace while the people who had their communities turn on them and/or did jail time have to live with that trauma.
I liked this documentary. I’m also sad that it feels timely even though it’s about things that happened over thirty years ago. I highly recommend you check it out and see how many more parallels we’ll be able to make by the time it hits streamers.