Playing at select Canadian
cinemas beginning August 11, 2023.
Local screening at The Vic (808 Douglas St.)
Aug 13, 2023 5:15pm
After Fantasia Film Festival 2023, the rest of Canada (especially the residents of Victoria, BC) are next in line to get a screening of Sean Horlor and Steve Adams‘ compelling documentary, Satan Wants You. Both filmmakers got their start in different sectors of the entertainment industry before finally getting together to make edgier works. Horlor was the co-host and creator of Don’t Quit Your Gay Job, and he teamed up with Adams to make Someone Like Me, for the National Film Board of Canada. Afterwards, they decided to look at the Satanic Panic as what should they produce together.
Although much of that was fuelled by the publication of Michelle Remembers, just how much of it is fact and other fiction depends on who you ask. What these self-taught filmmakers have uncovered in their research reveals a lot more than just a plan to capitalise on the spiritual xenophobia which existed evey before the book was published.
But for Horlor and Adams who’ve certainly done their research, just how they connect the dots will have some theologians wanting to double-check their sources, and others perhaps even more curious in why we’re attracted to such narratives. I got a chance to talk to them prior to the debut at the Montreal based film festival, and ask about how this film came to be and how it connects to pop culture.
What made you decide to focus specifically on Michelle Remembers and how it started the Satanic Panic?
SH: I grew up in Victoria, BC, right after that got published. Growing up here meant hearing all the talk. At one point, they lived 10 minutes down the road from where I lived, and it wasn’t until 30 years later when we started looking at it again. That’s when I realised Michelle and Larry’s book ended up touching the lives of millions and millions of people around the world.
The Satanic Panic was global, especially across the Western World. I’ve read that there’s close to twelve thousand cases in the USA alone—the biggest trials were there, and they were the most expensive in history. I could find cases everywhere. They spanned from Australia to New Zealand, to Norway, to South Africa—if there’s an English country that had Christian roots, there’s a case!
After all the research Steve and I did, we noticed no one explored this story in a proper documentary format, despite all the hundreds of newspaper articles and 40 Years of people pointing a finger at it. We were excited to dig deep into the subject.
SA: When the book first came across our plate again, it was 2018 and. Pizzagate was in full effect. What we really saw are the similarities between what was happening with the satanic panic and what was happening at the current time, which I think is still ongoing. And when we saw that connection, we thought it was really important to tell this story.
Was it difficult to find something new to add to the discourse?
SH: There are a ton of podcasts that have been done to death and everybody seemed to regurgitate the same thing. The thing that we brought in is that we actually talked to the family; nobody had really approached Marilyn, who is Larry’s ex-wife, or Theresa (Larry’s daughter) to hear their side of the story. And for us to reach out and shed light on what was actually happening behind the scenes is brand new.
SA: I don’t think many people realise that Michelle and Larry continued to take part in the hysteria. To connect them to the McMartin preschool trial where they travelled to LA to speak to the children and meet with the families affected, that is something most people didn’t know.
Also, what we found through our research is that Larry was consulted and quoted in multiple newspapers to say there are thousands of Satanic ritual child abuse cases. So saying that they were the authors of this book is one thing, but to connect them to the broader picture and show what they did is another.
Before this book, fingers were pointed at films and music as being just as contributory. How would you respond to that?
SH: I think Michelle Remembers took bits and pieces from these different things that were in pop culture and repackaged them into one book that set fire to the rest of the 80s. There are other influences like the movie Rosemary’s Baby that debuted around then, and a lot of other things too, but the impact was different.
SA: Our research started really in the mid-80s right around the same time as the McMartin trial, where people got really concerned about their children and worrying over what satanists are going to do. For us, it was fascinating to build this timeline. I mean, Michelle Remembers was published in 1980. Sarah Marshall, the podcaster of “You’re Wrong About…” in the film, says that Michelle was patient zero.
These things that followed were based on things that happened in the book, including the influence of Dungeons and Dragons, and this fear with heavy metal music. Ozzy Osbourne isn’t channelling the devil.
Even after this wave, I seem to recall the city of Victoria was widely regarded as a hotspot. What was your experience when you still lived here?
SH: I remember all of it. Even at Ross Bay Cemetery, someone would break in and in the days following, the claim of finding pentagrams all over the graves … People would get all riled up and it’s unending. For Michelle, that’s where it happened!
And in later years, much of her claims about where it happened were heavily questioned. Some of it was even debunked. To prove and disprove what is real to imagine, how did you want to tell that story when those facts emerged?
SA: We wanted Satan Wants You to unfold as people experienced it in the 1980s. People believed it was true, and it didn’t matter if there was a journalist or two saying it’s fake news. There’s a definite turning point in our work to reveal what people saw in the media to what was actually happening behind the scenes.
Why do you think the focus is always on children being the target for these cults?
SA: Nobody wants to see kids get hurt. I think that’s one of the easiest scapegoats that people can place, and I don’t think it’s only about saying that kids are getting hurt. It’s about tar and feathers–and saying that there’s someone hurting our children. And as soon as we hear something like that, you’re horrified.
The Kelly Michaels case where she was accused of doing horrendous stuff to two kids at where she was teaching and ruined her life. She’s never recovered. It’s just one of those things that really sticks with people.
How would you compare it to say the Salem Witch Trials or even, to a lesser degree, McCarthyism?
SA: It’s all about scapegoating. People are afraid of other people who are not part of the mainstream or a little different. It was the same with the blood libel, if you’re familiar with that. That goes all the way back to Roman times when they accused Christians of sacrificing babies, drinking blood, having rituals, etc.,
Today, It’s hard to wrap your head around modern Satanism. There are different sects as well. The former High Priestess that we interviewed in the film of the Church of Satan, Blanche Barton, said that Satanism is a celebration of differences, not intolerance, and that really resonated with me.
After this work’s theatrical run at the Fantasia Film Festival and in theatres, where can people find your documentary?
SH: You’ll be able to catch it on CBC dot channel, starting around Oct 1, Later on, it’ll be on CBC Gem and their main channel. We’ll have an announcement after Fantasia where to see it elsewhere.
Do you have any final words?
SH: Because you’re from Victoria, and I’m from Victoria, and your readers are most likely based in Victoria–if you do not know this story, you need to come see this movie. You will not look at Victoria the same way after watching Satan Wants You.