Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on September 5, 2013
One of my favorite actresses is the beautiful and enigmatic Kim Novak and she happens to be TCM’s Star of the Month. Every Thursday night throughout the month of September you can catch Novak in a number of great films airing on TCM and in celebration of the event I thought I’d devote my latest installment of Telefilm Time Machine to SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975), which happens to be one of the first made-for-TV movies she appeared in. SATAN’S TRIANGLE has developed somewhat of a cult following over the years thanks to its noteworthy cast and a skilled crew who managed to craft a surprisingly effective little thriller combining elements of classic horror films such as PHANTOM SHIP (1935) and GHOST SHIP (1955) as well as THE EXORCIST (1973) into a spine-tingling original tale set on the stormy seas of the Bermuda Triangle.
Today the Bermuda Triangle might seem like an unusual place to set a horror film but in the 1970s the location was well-known as a place of mystery among horror buffs and paranormal enthusiasts. At the time sightings of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster regularly made headlines and UFO encounters were commonly reported along with unusual occurrences in an area of the North Atlantic Ocean known as the Bermuda Triangle (aka the Devil’s Triangle). Controversial theories about why the Bermuda Triangle area seemed prone to boat and plane related accidents as well as unexplained vehicle disappearances begin to circulate and numerous books were published by folks eager to cash-in on the growing widespread interest in paranormal phenomenon. Were aliens to blame for the strange goings-on in the Bermuda Triangle? Did some kind of sea monster rest there? Was an unknown time vortex in the sea responsible? Or was the devil himself hiding in the ocean depths waiting to consume unsuspecting souls? These are just some of the more unusual ideas that were floated by the press as well as hucksters and sincere truth-seekers. Naturally Hollywood started to take notice and by the mid-70s a batch of documentaries (THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE; 1974, BEYOND THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE; 1975, MYSTERIES FROM BEYOND THE TRIANGLE; 1976, Etc.), made-for-TV movies (SATAN’S TRIANGLE; 1975, THE BERMUDA DEPTHS; 1978, Etc.) and theatrical releases (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND; 1977, STARSHIP INVASIONS; 1977, THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE; 1978, Etc.) began exploring and exploiting the peculiar events taking place in the North Atlantic.
SATAN’S TRIANGLE begins with two members of a US Coast Guard helicopter crew (Doug McClure and Michael Conrad) answering a distress call coming from somewhere inside the Devil’s Triangle. When they encounter a large fishing boat they assume it’s abandoned but on closer inspection they spot a dead body draped across the ship wheel and another hanging ominously from the sails. This gruesome scene is reminiscent of the infamous ‘Ship of Death’ scene from NOSFERATU (1922) as well as the other DRACULA films that followed in its footsteps and a sense of overwhelming dread accompanies our heroes as they gaze upon the corpse riddled boat. The handsome, likable and brash Doug McClure, who was about to star in a batch of entertaining adventure/science fiction films including THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975), AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976), THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978), is tasked to explore the ship further and leaves the safety of the helicopter to see if he can find the source of the distress call. He eventually stumbles on another dead body and one lone survivor (Kim Novak), a beautiful but terrified woman who seems to be in a state of shock. When McClure attempts to return to the helicopter with Novak technical problems force the helicopter pilot to abandon the mission and McClure and Novak are left alone to stay the night on the doomed ship. Novak eventually tells McClure about a series of strange events that took place on the boat owned by her boyfriend (Jim Davies), a wealthy big game fisherman, after the crew welcomed a priest (Alejandro Rey) on board who was found clinging to life on some floating debris. Is something uncanny to blame? Or were the deaths on board all just the result of some terrible accidents? And most importantly, will McClure and Novak be able to survive a night alone inside the mysterious Devil’s Triangle?
This unique telefilm was helmed by director Sutton Roley (CHOSEN SURVIVORS; 1974, SNATCHED; 1973, THE LONERS; 1972, SWEET, SWEET RACHEL; 1971, HOW TO STEAL THE WORLD; 1968, Etc.), written by photographer turned screenwriter William Read Woodfield (THE HYPNOTIC EYE; 1965, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA; 1965-1966, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 1966-1968, Etc.) and scored by the accomplished jazz composer Johnny Pate (BROTHER ON THE RUN; 1973, SHAFT IN AFRICA; 1973, BUCKTOWN; 1975, DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE; 1976, Etc.). With that kind of talent involved it’s not too surprising that they were able to craft an exceptional made-for-TV movie with some surprising twists and turns. The cast is uniformly terrific but I’m especially fond of Kim Novak’s performance as the troubled and tormented lone survivor aboard the ill-fated fishing boat. Novak has always been an understated actress and in SATAN’S TRIANGLE she makes great use of her big eyes and natural sex appeal to woo the audience as well as Doug McClure. She’s also responsible for one of the most subtlety terrifying moments in telefilm history.
In an official press release for the film published in 1975, actor Jim Davies said:
While Davis’ claim that the Triangle swallows a boat every week and two planes a month was undoubtedly exaggerated to pump up interest in the movie, it’s worth noting that news sources still regularly reference the Bermuda Triangle whenever a series of unexplained plane or boat accidents occur. Most recently it was widely reported that a plane carrying the acclaimed Italian fashion designer Vittorio Missoni had disappeared and for months news sites like The Huffington Post and The Daily Mail ran stories with headlines such as ‘Vittorio Missoni’s Disappearance Gives Rise To New Fears Of Bermuda Triangles’ and ‘Italian Fashion Heir Vanished into New Bermuda Triangle.’ Missoni’s plane wreckage was eventually found but fears about strange Triangles in the ocean that swallow up unsuspecting travelers remain. And many of those fears can be traced to the 1970s and the great ‘Bermuda Triangle Craze’ that gave us some entertaining movies including the exceptionally creepy made-for-TV treat, SATAN’S TRIANGLE.
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