Looks like development executives at Hulu heard our suggestion that the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and ‘90s, the closest thing to an actual witch hunt we’ve had in contemporary America, would make for compelling TV. As detailed in The Hollywood Reporter, though, the idea the streaming service is running with won’t be an American Crime Story-style “based on a real story” docudrama, but a looser, and equally intriguing, fictional interpretation of the phenomenon.
Called Demons, the series will be an anthology focused around two characters: A manipulative psychiatrist named Bennett Lewis and his wife/star patient Marilyn Jones, who will become involved in a different Satanic Panic case each season; as THR puts it, “each season of Demons would explore a twisted crime affected by the couple’s dark exploration into the fragile nature of memory and guilt.” The series is inspired by the obsession with uncovering repressed memories that preoccupied psychologists of the period, some of whom used hypnosis and other heavy-handed methods of suggestion to lead patients to “remember” acts of sexual abuse by nonexistent Satanic cabals.
False memories were a major factor in the infamous McMartin preschool trial in California, where a social worker asking leading questions convinced dozens of children to testify that they had been ritually abused in occult ceremonies led by the owner of the school, an elderly woman named Peggy McMartin, and her son Ray Buckey. Along with Michelle Remembers, a since-discredited 1980 “memoir” of Satanic ritual abuse, sensational media coverage of the trial helped inflame religious paranoia about Satanists in schools that led to bizarre cultural phenomena like the 1990 picture book Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A Child’s Book About Satanic Ritual Abuse.
In the end, the McMartin defendants were acquitted on all charges, but not until their school was shut down, their characters assassinated, and six years of their lives were spent in court. No evidence that Satanic ritual abuse actually exists has ever been found, although that didn’t stop the likes of Geraldo and Sally Jessy Raphael from spreading the myth on their shows.
Demons was created and is being written by Juliet Lashinsky-Revene, a newcomer on the genre scene who got her start as a story consultant for Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio.