SIFF 2023: Satan Wants You (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 20, 2023)

Raise your hand if you remember Dana Carvey’s recurring SNL sketch character “The Church Lady” and her catchphrase: “Could it be…SAY-tan?!” Yes, me too-I always fell about the place when she would say that.

But do you remember what precipitated the creation of that character? Ol’ Scratch enjoyed a major comeback for a spell (sorry) back in the 1980s; I can recall the daytime talk shows being agog with people who told bone-chilling tales of being swept up in blood-drinking satanic cults and barely escaping with their souls intact. But was there a possibility that these were just “tales”? Why so many, and so suddenly?

According to Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams documentary, the genesis of this “satanic panic” can be traced to the 1980 book “Michelle Remembers”. Co-written by Catholic psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his patient, it was based on deep hypnosis sessions he conducted with Michelle Smith, in the course of which she allegedly “remembered” being abducted and abused by a satanic cult when she was a child (the book was a bestseller).

A fascinating study of mass hysteria, and a cautionary tale (not lost on the filmmakers) that points to contemporary phenomenon like Q-anon. I won’t sink to quoting P.T. Barnum, but (sadly) there will always be “someone” out there poised and ready to cash in on ignorance and fear.

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