In the 1980’s Satanism, or the fear of it, was everywhere.
“If you grew up in Victoria at that time, you heard all these rumours,” says Sean Horlor, a Victoria-born filmmaker and co-director of a new documentary called “Satan Wants You.”
The film, which is set to screen at the Vic Theatre on Aug. 11, explores the wild and twisted realm of the Satanic panic and how it was fueled by a locally-written bestselling memoir called, “Michelle Remembers”.
The 1980 book was written by Victoria psychiatrist Lawrence (Larry) Pazder and his patient-turned-wife, Michelle Smith. It details claims about Satanic ritual abuse involving Smith and is credited with sparking the Satanic panic that spread across North America and ultimately the world.
In an interview with CHEK News, Horlor details the theory that there was a Satanic conspiracy involving children being kidnapped and sacrificed.
“It was amplified by Michelle and Larry, the psychiatrist living in the community,” he says.
At the time, the fear from the book was extremely real and was taken seriously in Greater Victoria. CHEK News stories from the time detail the level of concern inside Island hospitals. RCMP at the time said infant babies were being targeted by a devil’s cult. The maternity wing at the Victoria General hospital had to step up security after fielding calls warning that babies would be kidnapped and used in cult rituals.
The story quickly spread across North America with major American daytime talk shows including Oprah Winfrey discussing Satanism and devil worshipers.
Across North America false reports of Satanic abuse at daycares and schools led to scores of arrests and trials. Pazder, the Victoria author, was often called as an expert witness.
Locally, rumours spread too. It was suggested in the book that the Ross Bay Cemetery was a site of several Satanic ceremonies. In “Michelle Remembers,” Smith says the Victoria cemetery was where she was subjected to cult rituals.
As the panic unravelled it became evident to most that the supposed memories of abuse in the “Michelle Remembers” book weren’t recovered but created during Smith’s psychiatric sessions with Pazder.
The documentary from Victoria-born Horlor and Steve J. Adams features never before heard tapes recorded during Smith’s therapy sessions.
“You can hear them speaking to each other and you can hear her kind of going into the depths, but then you can hear her coming out and questioning what she’s hearing,” says Adams.
All of the cases of Satanism eventually fell apart but shattered lives before they did.
Pazder died in 2004 and despite the filmmakers’ efforts, Smith declined to be interviewed for the film.
While the Satanic panic has passed, the documentarians say echoes of it live on in new conspiracies.
“There’s still the people out there going after the transgender community and drag queens saying that they’re grooming children. It’s the same sort of conspiracy theory, it’s just packaged differently and given to a new audience,” says Adam.
If there’s a lesson to be drawn from the documentary, Horlor says it’s vigilance.
“We all have a collective responsibility to keep saying this is a lie, this is not true, and you have to say it over and over and over again,” he says.
“Satan Wants You” is being screened at Victoria’s Vic Theatre on Friday, Aug. 11, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at victoriafilmfest.com.