SXSW First Look: ‘Satan Wants You’ Digs Into The Satanic Panic Of The 1980s, And Shows How “Cult Conspiracies… Distort Our Reality Today”

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EXCLUSIVE: In the 1980s America was gripped by “Satanic Panic,” a fear that devil-worshipping cretins were engaged in secret ritualistic abuse and child sacrifice.

These fanciful and irrational notions didn’t come out of nowhere. The documentary Satan Wants You, premiering at the SXSW Film Festival this Saturday, explores the origins of a cultural delusion that wound up harming a lot of innocent people. Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams directed the film, which is programmed in the festival’s Documentary Spotlight section.

Satanic Panic “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,” according to a description of the film. “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 film digs deep into the roots of moral panics and cult conspiracies, showing how these events still affect and distort our reality today.”

Oprah was among the daytime TV shows in that era that tackled the supposed wave of Satanism, with Oprah Winfrey confidently informing her viewers, “There are thousands of men and women who are secretly worshipping the Devil.”

As explored in the documentary, the relationship between Pazder and Smith — authors of Michelle Remembers — began as doctor and patient but they later married.

“What surprised us most when we started the film was the number of experts—police officers, journalists, sociologists, podcasters—who believed the Pazders and their book were responsible for igniting the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s and ‘90s, yet no one had ever explored this story in a documentary format,” Horlor and Adams write in a director’s statement. “This is the very first time that Michelle’s sister, Larry’s ex-wife, and Larry’s daughter have gone on the record to tell their side of this story. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine all these stories together to reveal the true origins of the Satanic Panic, and show how they connect to the Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracies of today.”

The directors continue, “This film is also ground-breaking for another reason. In our final month of production, an anonymous source sent us one of Michelle and Larry’s original therapy tapes from 1976. This is one-of-a-kind archive material that has never been heard by anyone but Michelle and Larry and the transcribers who worked on their book. It has eluded countless investigators across the past four decades and SXSW audiences will be the very first people to listen to Michelle’s first-hand rememberings in Satan Wants You.”

Horlor and Adams write, direct and executive produce Satan Wants You. Producers are Michael Grand and Melissa James. The editor is Graham Kew and the cinematographer is Blake Davey. Satan Wants You is an acquisition title at SXSW. Cargo Film and Releasing is handling sales.

Watch the trailer for Satan Wants You above.

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1 comment

  1. This was a bogus cult scare that lacked any objective evidence. Claims based upon unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence, which often relied upon “recovered memories” obtained through hypnosis.

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