The Satanic Panic provided a source of widespread, go-to blame for many in the 1980s, including fanatical religious zealots and conservatives, as well as negligent law enforcement. In 1979, the brutal murders of three young women in Fall River, Massachusetts and subsequent arrests would fall into that very category, as police alleged a Satanic cult murdered these women for human sacrifice. However, in Blumhouse Television’s four-part docuseries FALL RIVER, deeper investigations are brought to light, as a story filled with various key players with many twists and turns gives more answers to these crimes once thought to be solved.
FALL RIVER begins with the very graphic details of the murder of Doreen Levesque (trigger warnings and the RAINN hotline are provided) and an (almost) off-putting amount of paranoid, devil-worshipping rhetoric— with images of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, audio clips claiming “Satan controls the streets,” and even a glimpse of the Hammer horror film The Devil Rides Out, before distracting itself with discussions about recent examples of Satanic paranoid like QAnon. But the flittering docuseries quickly redeems itself, noting not all Satanists worship Satan or partake in “evil doings” and returns to the actual solving of the crimes in question. The described murders are harrowing— even for those accustomed to true crime stories depicting graphic sexual violence and homicide— but the docuseries catches itself before falling into exploitation territory. The interviews with Fall River locals, journalists, and detectives feel raw and candid: “These girls didn’t deserve this.”
Initially, the docuseries spends a great deal of time antagonizing alleged Satanic cult leader and murderer Carl Drew, without necessarily minimizing the tragedies of the murders of Levesque, and later Barbara Raposa and Karen Marsden. In fact, the docuseries goes on to ditch the Satanic paranoia narrative entirely (thankfully) for the actual issue at hand here: the marginalizing and victimization of young, female sex workers by the hands of abusive men and the system that failed to investigate their abuse and human trafficking as thoroughly as it should have. The claims (and failures) of Fall River’s retired detectives on the case are challenged by the women experts the docuseries speaks to, (including the neglect to convict the rapist of a 12-year-old girl) providing more of a voice to the now-voiceless.
The case often feels increasingly murkier (and intriguing) after every episode, but each of the one-hour long chunks moves swiftly, efficiently, and is simple enough to follow— even with every added new key player and additional information. By the series’ concluding episode, viewers may be confounded and saddened at how some answers had slipped through the cracks so easily. Just don’t expect all the answers— the series notes the effect that the pandemic had, as well as the prison death of one suspect in question. Like any solid true crime documentary or docuseries, FALL RIVER will either teach those unaware of the case or ask those who already knew to think differently about it. Either way, FALL RIVER feels more empathetic than exploitative.
FALL RIVER premieres on May 16th on Epix.