A documentary by Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s – particularly focusing on the Patient Zero of the phenomenon, the best-seller Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith and Dr Larry Pazder. As with the Bridey Murphy fad of the 1950s, a weird circumstance triggered a book deal, a media frenzy and a bunch of spin-offs – though the authors, who may have been inspired by the high-profile of the book and TV special Sybil, notably didn’t get a film or TV adaptation, perhaps because several aspects of the case – that the Catholic psychiatrist left his family and married his patient during the church-financed writing of the book – must have put off potential media interest, with a weird undertone that the Vatican itself seems to have been involved in bigging up the story even as none of its Satanic cult conspiracy material has ever been supported by a shred of evidence.
Initially consulting Pazder with depression after a miscarriage, Smith eventually revealed under supposed deep hypnosis and other self-invented mental techniques that her mother enslaved her to an abusive Satanic cult for a period of years in Victoria, British Columbia, the 1950s … and she was subjected to a lot of harm, which St Michael personally healed, not to mention the intervention of a French-speaking Virgin Mary. Eventually, Pazdor’s first wife and daughter got so fed up they did elementary digging and found yearbook photos of Michelle at school in the period when she was supposedly imprisoned and much of the material in Michelle Remembers seems inspired by African rituals Pazder observed (and filmed) while working as a medical missionary.
It’s cringemaking to see these obvious phonies being toadied to by TV hosts as they hit the publicity circuit – including a beyond parody appearance on a kind of what’s my line in which Smith and two actresses are presented as Michelle and the celeb panel have to guess which is the Satanic abuse survivor – and the likes of Oprah and Geraldo should be ashamed of how they contributed to this mess … because, unlike Bridey Murphy, Michelle Remembers triggered a wave of hysteria and dubious recovered memories which led to real people having their lives ruined by becoming pariahs and sent to prison on flimsy, unsubstantiated evidence – at the time, as the documentary quietly reminds us, the church was covering up wholesale Catholic child abuse by its own priests.
A tag brings the tale up to date with Qanon and Pizzagate. The audio of the research sessions features, with not too obtrusive tableau reenactments of the duo – Pazder is dead and Smith isn’t talking, though her sister does (speaking up for their also-dead Mom). Pazder’s first family paint Smith as a husband-snatching stalker … while Pazder’s secretary ruefully blames him for fanning the flames of Smith’s issues (while professing still to believe at least some of her story). It’s an absurd, horrifying situation – full of jaw-dropping moments, but the fallout has been too damaging to be very funny.
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