SALEM HORROR FEST: Satan Wants You (2023)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie was watched as part of Salem Horror Fest. You can still get a weekend pass for weekend two. Single tickets are also available. Here’s the program of what’s playing.

At the height of sheer Q-Anon craziness — I think probably when a shaman in red, white and blue facepaint led an army of people into government buildings and people defecated on the walls, maybe — people were grasping for straws and pearls and wondering, “How could this happen?”

I’m here to tell you that this has always been here.

In the 80s, high school me was the same as old me. Always in black. Always with long hair. And I only cared about music, movies and studying weird things. As such, I was brought into the Core Group, a team of teachers studying which students could be worshipping Satan, led by an occult expert cop. This group was led by my godmother.

The Satanic Panic wasn’t started by Michelle Remembers, but it sure as hell felt like it was. The union of Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his psychiatric patient (and eventual wife, but we’ll get to that) Michelle Smith. In the mid 70s, while treating Michelle for depression due to a miscarriage, she confessed to him that she knew that something horrible had happened to her and could not recall what it was. Using hypnosis, Michelle was soon screaming for 25 minutes non-stop and speaking in the voice she had as a child. 14 months and 600 hours later and a conspiracy was found: Michelle’s mother and other citizens in Victoria were members of a worldwide Church of Satan.

At one point, Michelle was part of a ritual that lasted 81 days that Satan himself showed up for and during that time she was tortured, raped, witnessed others get killed and was covered with the blood of murdered babies until St. Michael the Archangel, Mary and Jesus appeared, healing all of her scars and blocking all of her memories of the years of Satanic desecration of her body and soul.

None of these stories were challenged, even a decade after, when Michelle and Laurel Rose Willson, who wrote Satan’s Underground about being a breeder for Satanists and having two of her children killed in snuff films, were on Oprah Winfry and at no moment did Oprah challenge either of them. In 1989. The year I was repeatedly questioned and challenged and told that I was giving my soul to Satan.

I was a white kid from a small town and in no way have I ever dealt with the racism, sexism, transism or any isms in any other way again. This experience, however, showed me a small, very small, glimpse into what it’s like to know you’re right and everyone is sure you’re wrong based on no facts at all.

By the 80s, Pazder was an occult expert, consulting in the McMartin preschool trial and appearing on a 20/20 segment called “The Devil Worshippers” that stoked the flames of the Satanic Panic. That report claimed that movies like The GodsendThe IncubusAmityville II: The Possession, Exorcist II: The HereticThe ExorcistThe Omen and Omen 2 allowed people to visualize and be inspired by the devil. This aired in prime time on ABC, a major cable network. They also refer to The Satanic Witch as a book filled with evil rites. And then, of course, heavy metal. Seeing as how Anton LaVey was in his era of not speaking to the media, this also has footage taken from Satanis.

As part of the Cult Crime Impact Network, Pazder got into business working with police groips and consulting on Satanic ritual abuse, while lawyers used his book while doing cases and social workers used Michelle Remembers as their training manual.

According to NPR host Ari Shapiro, “one reason these fictions were so appealing was that they gave people a sense of purpose. They had a mission – to defend the innocent.”

This is what’s happening today. It’s why trans people are grooming children, why Democrats are eating babies, why elections are being seen as conspiracies. Because the truth — the idea that things happen randomly with no reason — is less frightening than Satanism or Q-Anon.

Man, did I digress.

In Satan Wants You, filmmakers Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams explore the history of Michelle Remembers and what most don’t know, things like how Pazder and Smith left their families to be together and how the book was debunked. It would be one thing if their sessions led to a book and some press. It was another that they kicked off an entire movement.

The directors have stated: ““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.”

This is a movie that I feel must be seen, even if we’ve entered into a time when feelings now matter more than facts. But did facts ever matter?

This film also found an anonymous source sending the actual tapes of Michelle, which have never been heard until now.

I don’t discount that she went through some trauma. Yet how many lives were destroyed along the way?

The sad fact is that no one has learned anything. That same refrain of “protecting the children” exists today. And yes, that’s a noble endeavor. But as someone that grew up in a town of 7,500 people that had more than one Catholic priest abusing children in the last fifteen years of my life, Often, the abuser is someone the abuser has known and trusts.

Just like a worldwide Satanic network — paging Maury Terry and The Family, a book that lost a court case to the Process Church over false claims — and a public ritual lasting 81 days seems hard to swallow, so do all the claims of the far right today.

Back when I was a kid getting grilled over my slasher movie magazines and love of Danzig, I figured, “Well, someday soon all of these closed minded people will die off and we can get past racism and we can learn how to be more open minded together.” But now everyone is closed minded. No one seemingly wants to learn. And this movie is a great teaching tool — it’s a must-see, a strong documentary and worthy of rewatching — because it happened before and yes, it’s is right now going on all over again. The message may have shifted, but it’s still the message.

And it’s still wrong.

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