SATAN WANTS YOU is a documentary about the “Satanic Panic.” Moreso, it focuses on a book that opened the door to increased accusations from children and adults claiming they experienced Satanic ritual abuse. The documentary highlights inconsistencies in the story. It also discusses the patient’s account and the psychiatrist/book coauthor’s questionable ethics. Thus, the supposed true story is even more unbelievable. Informative and shocking, SATAN WANTS YOU showcases how easily witch trials get tweaked for modern religious zealotry. But you’ll also notice a grace for one of the authors, which speaks to significant societal issues.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

You may not know about the Satanic panic of the 1980s. The only reason I know about it is due to minor research I did years ago after watching Session 9. One of the characters refers to a girl’s accusation against her family. Other than that, I had no clue how rampant it was nor its origins, but it’s also unsurprising. Written and directed by Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor, SATAN WANTS YOU is a case study of mass hysteria and how it infiltrates supposedly reliable mainstream media searching for titillating tales.

The film opens with clips of news channels interviewing the authors of Michelle Remembers, Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder. Though touted as a factual account, it has the salaciousness of a horror/thriller novel. Its logline asks, “Who won the battle of good and evil in the mind and body of an innocent child?” One of the fastest ways to get people to abandon reason is by appealing to their emotions. Using child innocence and threats of hell and damnation, the book swept through countries, particularly those favoring Christianity and Catholicism.

Coercion to Save the Children

SATAN WANTS YOU charts a path from the book’s development, reception, ramifications, and pushback. They use interviews with Michelle’s sister and friend, Lawrence’s ex-wife and daughter, and other people from podcasters to FBI agents to paint a picture of both. But documentary interviewees lean toward faulting one person: Michelle. Sharing audio recordings of the sessions that led to the book, it discusses that after suffering a miscarriage, Lawrence resumed sessions with Michelle. At Lawrence’s urging, Michelle delved deeper into her past, and all these horrors from her childhood rose to the surface.

Both authors cautioned people to beware of who’s caring for their children. Before long, people everywhere were coming forward as victims of Satanic ritual abuse. To boot, they disclosed nightmarish tales of cannibalism and murder. Talk shows and news stations ate it up. SATAN WANTS YOU draws parallels between that flashpoint moment and current fake news trends. Mainstream media has a habit of parroting statements, not challenging them. It’s a trend where opinions or lies become facts with the backing of “authorities” in the field.

Uneven Culpability

Whether the 1970s or the 2020s, there’s little difference. Michelle’s depicted as an unhinged femme fatale. She fixates on Lawrence and lures him through lies and deceit. He is a doctor who’s so weak he cannot tell his patient to stop incessantly calling his home. Sadder still, it’s primarily women who categorize them as such. But you question their determination to fault Michelle. Lawrence’s ex-wife stated that after watching a fictional movie about a doctor fighting to help a patient who’s the victim of Satanic cults, he dreamed of having that experience.

There’s enough blame to go around. Also, Michelle and Lawrence’s relationship has two or three power dynamics that favor Lawrence. Both gender and age automatically shift the relationship in Lawrence’s favor. Let’s not forget he met his first wife when she was thirteen, and he was seventeen, either. Because of the patriarchal social structure as well, Michelle is also at a disadvantage. Lastly, the dynamic of doctor and patient puts the power again in Lawrence’s hands. Yet, everyone seems determined to label him a victim duped by a vixen.

The 80s pushed the envelope in style, music, and film. A decade of excess would make religious conservatives desperate to return people to God. Nothing does that better than creating a panic that people around you are sacrificing babies to Satan. SATAN WANTS YOU is a terrific documentary to educate you on a piece of history few discuss and many who took part in would like to forget. But its impact lies in the resemblance to the present day and the speed with which a lie can become true when the “right” people say it.

SATAN WANTS YOU had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Make sure to read our SXSW coverage here.

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