Book Review: Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia In The 1980s

Looking back on the 1980s, the decade consisted mostly of haircuts, music, fantastic cartoons and amazing toys. While most people were content with the disposable nature of the decade, a seedy underbelly remained for many years that impacted everything from film and television to the games your children were playing. Satanism, cults, murderers, satanic rituals, yes, the 80s were a time for fear. With the threat of nuclear holocaust hanging over the heads of every citizen, nothing became more sinister, more vile, than the killer next door. Seemingly normal people were being turned into soulless agents of Lucifer, meticulously slaughtering thousands of innocent families in the quiet suburbs of every state. Or at least that is the picture religious groups would like you to believe. In reality, the so-called Satanic Panic hysteria of the 1980s is one of the most laughable skid marks on modern era society, one that could only be rivaled by the Video Nasty hysteria of the UK.

Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia In The 1980s explores the various topics through a series of essays, covering everything from Dungeons and Dragons, exploitation and horror cinema, rock’n’roll, and various other formats in which people thought Satan was utilizing to control America’s youth. Although some of the material is humorous to look back on, many of the fears stemmed from very real crimes and murders and as broad of a picture as the book tries to paint, almost every essay points to several key moments that set off a chain reaction of misplaced paranoia and fear. Clearly, the origin point for all of this, the 1980 memoir Michelle Remembers, written by Lawrence Pazder and Michelle Smith, is introduced within the first pages of the book and reappears more times than I could possibly count. The book and the fallout that surrounds it is intensely fascinating and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas tackles the subject with expert precision. It is, therefore, a bit of drag that this book and its story is repeated in almost every essay that precedes it. Same can be said about Geraldo Rivera’s primetime special Exposing Satan’s Underground, which once again is referenced to on an almost nauseating degree.

Despite the severe repetitious nature of the essays and their subject matter, Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia In The 1980s is a mesmerizing scrapbook that collects some of the most insane moments in modern American history. While I would typically prefer a more cohesive narrative than an anthology such as this, Satanic Panic is a worthwhile venture presented in outstanding packaging. Many new theories are presented and most of the essays induce thought-provoking concepts. Each segment and essay are also given a gorgeous art treatment that is reminiscent of punk rock zines of the 80s and 90s as well as displaying advertisements and pictures that add a visual depth to the stories that are shared. This glimpse into a truly bizarre moment in history is highly recommended.