Satan Wants You is a chilling, disturbing insight into the “Satanic Panic” cult of the 1980’s: SXSW Film & TV Festival Review

Even though one of the experts interviewed in Satan Wants You expresses that the 1980’s phenomenon known as “Satanic Panic” is seen as something of a joke through the eyes of today, there’s nothing particularly funny about the accusations that were being thrown around at the time.  Perhaps it’s something of an absurdity when looking at it retrospectively, but abducting children and subsequently eating them isn’t remotely humorous, and it’s that mentality that keeps Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor‘s documentary a chilling, disturbing experience.

The book “Michelle Remembers” and its authors, Michelle Smith and Dr. Larry Pazder, are the lead focus of the film, essentially wearing the blame as to why the cultural obsession of “Satanic Panic” earned such prominence; it was believed through numerous therapy sessions with Pazder that Smith “uncovered” the Satanic ritual abuse she had supposedly endured throughout her childhood.  A practice many believe was a psychological coercion on Pazder’s part.

Essentially an exercise in gaslighting an entire nation, Satan Wants You is a fascinating insight into a “fake news” type of reporting.  The claims Smith and Pazder peddled are easily digested, and it’s difficult to not believe what was being pushed as truth; hearing a grown woman scream “I can’t tell what’s real anymore” is understandably haunting.  These audio clippings from the therapy sessions are enough to unsettle us an audience, and it’s a shame that the re-enactments taking place throughout border on cheapening such ingredients, but it thankfully doesn’t derail the documentary entirely.

An interview with Smith herself could’ve been the absolute icing on the terrifying cake that is this film, and whilst it makes sense that she would decline – it’s noted that she turned down any opportunity to participate in the doco – her absence can’t help but be felt.  Satan Wants You is intriguing, without question, but in losing her commentary on her own story, there’s a certain sense of unfinished trimming that lingers over the narrative.

Smith’s absence aside, Satan Wants You remains a wholly engrossing experience.  What so easily could have been a subject dismissed, Adams and Horlor have touched on the terror of widespread information and the unsettling ease in both crediting and discrediting an accusatory recital.


Satan Wants You is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival coverage, running between March 10th and 18th, 2023, in Austin, Texas.  For more information head to the official SXSW website.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.