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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Satan Wants You directors on the conspiracy that shook Victoria—and the world

New documentary explores the personal aspect of Michelle Remembers

Robyn Bell
August 15, 2023
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Satan Wants You directors on the conspiracy that shook Victoria—and the world

New documentary explores the personal aspect of Michelle Remembers

Robyn Bell
Aug 15, 2023
Satan Wants You poster. Photo: Vic Theatre
Satan Wants You poster. Photo: Vic Theatre
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Satan Wants You directors on the conspiracy that shook Victoria—and the world

New documentary explores the personal aspect of Michelle Remembers

Robyn Bell
August 15, 2023
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Satan Wants You directors on the conspiracy that shook Victoria—and the world
Satan Wants You poster. Photo: Vic Theatre

Our memories cannot be relied on. That’s the biggest takeaway filmmakers Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor gained from their experience creating their documentary Satan Wants You, which follows the bizarre story of a Victoria book that launched a worldwide panic about satanism

The Vancouver-based duo began working on the doc in 2018, while researching for a film about BC books and authors. When Adams brought up Michelle Remembers, Horlor, who grew up in Victoria in the ’80s amidst fears of satanic cults in the area, thought “oh…that book.”

Michelle Remembers follows Victoria woman, Michelle Smith and her therapist, Lawrence Pazder, as they work to unlock Michelle’s buried childhood memories of being abducted and abused by a satanic cult. While the story was marketed as true when it was released in 1980, it—and the method of memory retrieval therapy—has since been widely debunked.

“I was too young to read [Michelle Remembers] at the time, so for me this existed in the urban legend space as a kid in Victoria,” said Horlor. “Anyone who wore all black was going to snatch you off the street, abduct you and murder you.”

Horlor remembers rumours of stores that people claimed had altars in the back for sacrificing children and murdering animals. There were stories of horrors taking place at Ross Bay Cemetery tied to the alleged cult that abducted Michelle when she was a child in the 1950s.

As they researched for the documentary, Pizzagate and QAnon—the conspiracy theory of powerful American politicians involved in satanic cults abusing children—were gaining steam in the US. Horlor thought “not this again” when he noticed the parallels between this new conspiracy and the satanic panic spurred by Michelle Remembers.

The story of Michelle’s and Pazder’s families are central in the film. With interviews from her sister and Pazder’s ex-wife and children, the film takes a deeper look at how these rumours tore apart their relationships—and ricocheted around the community of Victoria. Horlor and Adams say this situation was one example of thousands that played out: accusations are made, families are destroyed and in extreme cases, people go to prison.

“[We realized] we could structure this film so people who were not familiar with this story or were born after it happened could experience the satanic panic with Michelle, the patient zero as everyone says,” said Adams, explaining the deeper family dynamics for both Michelle and Lawrence Pazder were ignored by contemporary media.

These rumours haven’t exactly died out in Victoria—Horlor and Adams say they’ve had local residents, including therapists, reach out to them, adamant that these cults continue to exist in Victoria and Vancouver. And no amount of proof to the contrary will convince them otherwise.

“It’s crazy, but yeah, in Victoria there are still people that think this is real,” said Adams.

“The hallmark of a good conspiracy is that the lack of evidence is evidence,” said Horlor “How do you combat that when you don’t even need evidence?”

“In the United States alone there were over 12,000 cases of satanic ritual abuse and not one of them had any evidence or proof of guilt—anything,” said Adams. “There’s no evidence whatsoever of this happening and yet people still believe.”

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, who was pivotal in the ’90s for debunking memory-retrieval therapy, told Horlor while they prepped for an interview that if you don’t write down what happened to you within the first 24 hours, essentially you can’t trust what you think you remember.

“When you think of the police officers pulling in these family members during the satanic panic who claim that this all happened to them as kids decades before, and taking memories from 30-40 years ago, of course you can’t trust any of it,” said Horlor.

“This was just one moment in the ’80s and ’90s, but it’s connected to QAnon and Pizzagate today and this has actually been going on again and again throughout history—this idea that there are people murdering babies and drinking their blood, that has been going on forever,” said Adams. “Accusations against the Jewish community, and others targeted for centuries and centuries.”

Adams says a sociologist they spoke with, Jefferey Victor, traced these accusations back to Ancient Rome, when Romans accused Christians of sacrificing babies and drinking their blood in secret ceremonies. 

“It’s a specific set of rumours used against those who are not part of the mainstream.”

Adams says we’re seeing these themes play out again with drag queens and transgender people, who are accused of grooming children despite a lack of evidence. 

“No matter how cyclical this is, we have a responsibility to stand up and say this is not true,” Adams says.

Satan Wants You is playing at the Vic Theatre this week and next, with its last scheduled screening on Aug. 24.

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Robyn Bell
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