One of my favorite actresses is the beautiful and enigmatic Kim Novak and one of the first made-for-TV movies she appeared in was SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975). This surprisingly effective supernatural thriller combines 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 where the mysterious Bermuda Triangle is rumored to devour ships and their unsuspecting passengers.
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 investigators. 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 accidents as well as unexplained vehicle disappearances begin to circulate during the Age of Aquarius 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-warp or 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), made-for-TV movies (SATAN’S TRIANGLE; 1975, THE BERMUDA DEPTHS; 1978) and theatrical releases (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND; 1977, STARSHIP INVASIONS; 1977, THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE; 1978) began exploring and exploiting the peculiar events reported to be 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 laden boat.
The handsome, likable and brash Doug McClure, who would go on to star in a batch of entertaining fantasy 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), 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) and scored by the accomplished jazz composer Johnny Pate (SHAFT IN AFRICA; 1973, BUCKTOWN; 1975, DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE; 1976). 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 interesting and 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:
“In first reading the script I liked my role of a sports fisherman with Kim Novak as my girlfriend. But what began to interest me was the constant reference to the ‘Devil’s Triangle,’ where the story takes place. I had heard about it, the strange things that were supposed to have happened there, but just brushed it off . . . What amazed me and the rest of the cast and crew, all of whom became interested in the subject during filming, was that a recent news service story about an expert on the Triangle, Charles Berlitz, states that one boat a week and two planes a month are disappearing within the Triangle. Shocking statistics. Unbelievable. And you know what? The Coast Guard agrees the estimate was not out of bounds. I’m a scoffer at UFOs and things like that. But I must admit something strange happens in that area. Our movie presents a theory that may be pretty far out. I won’t reveal what it is, but when you know what’s happening in the Triangle for years, without satisfactory explanation, you can pick your own theory.”
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 this exceptionally creepy made-for-TV treat.
As far as I know SATAN’S TRIANGLE has never been officially released on video or DVD in the US but there are many bootleg’s available online. It was released in France and if you own an all-region DVD player that’s probably the best way to see it. Otherwise you can often find it streaming on Youtube.
– Kinder-Flix: Watch Satan’s Triangle!
– Memory Bank: The Bermuda Triangle Craze of the 1970s
by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally published at TCM.com in 2013