Telefilm Time Machine: SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)

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Kim Novak & Doug McClure in SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)

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.

STTVADToday 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.

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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 the exceptionally creepy made-for-TV treat, SATAN’S TRIANGLE.

Further Reading:
- Kinder-Flix: Watch Satan’s Triangle!
- Memory Bank: The Bermuda Triangle Craze of the 1970s

11 Responses Telefilm Time Machine: SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)
Posted By LD : September 5, 2013 6:30 pm

Two telefilms from the 1970′s have stayed in my mind, A TASTE OF EVIL with Barbara Stanwyck and SATAN’S TRIANGLE with Kim Novak. Like many people at the time I found the stories about the Bermuda Triangle interesting and mysterious. Attempted explanations of certain events ranged from the scientific to the paranormal. This telefilm had an explanation of it’s own. It was so creepy at the time. Such a talented and genetically gifted cast. One thing I remember is Kim Novak’s eyes. Make that two things, I also remember the ending.

Posted By Doug : September 5, 2013 7:48 pm

As a former Coastie, I know that the ocean is scary, triangle or no.
“Let’s be careful out there.” Smile if you get it.
According to IMDB, Kim Novak is still with us, 80 years young.
She has certainly left her mark on our culture, from “Vertigo” to “Bell, Book And Candle” and this, her TV work.
“Triangle” from 2009 starring Melissa George seems to have elements in common with this TV movie, which I’m afraid I don’t remember.
Thank you, Kimberly, for this continuing series-I’m tempted to get TV service again just for TCM.

Posted By swac44 : September 5, 2013 11:04 pm

I saw part of this when I was a kid (I was 7 when it aired) but my parents adhered to bedtime, and I never did see how it ended. The images of those bodies discovered on board at the start haunted my dreams for years afterwards though.

Posted By DevlinCarnate : September 6, 2013 11:13 am

“Hi I’m Doug McClure and you probably remember from such films as Satan’s Triangle and Humanoids of the Deep”….i couldn’t resist,sorry

Posted By Emgee : September 6, 2013 3:44 pm

And who could forget WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS? Sorry, even the best stars have some schlocky movie on their resume.

Posted By DeeCee : September 6, 2013 10:29 pm

Seriously – this movie (especially the end) scared the **** out of me when I saw it for the first time (early 80s – when Conrad to me was Sgt. Phil Esterhaus). Scary…scary…scary. And Kim Novak? Sigh. ‘Nuf said.

Posted By Susan Doll : September 7, 2013 7:57 pm

Hey, don’t be making fun of Doug McClure. He was a television star when he made these films, so it was smart to cast him for telefilms. He was one of the stars of THE VIRGINIAN, playing Trampas. He was considered the sexy one and was frequently on the pages of the movie mags at the time.

Posted By LD : September 8, 2013 7:35 am

Thank you Susan for your comments about Doug McClure. Trampas is the role I remember him for. Kim Novak was definitely the star but she had a strong supporting cast of actors who did their work primarily in television. Along with McClure there was Michael Conrad, later of HILL STREET BLUES, Alejandro Rey from THE FLYING NUN and my personal favorite, Jim Davis, the future Jock Ewing on DALLAS. These are the ones that I am familiar with. There are probably others.

Posted By Hitesh Chaurasia : September 8, 2013 2:01 pm

Reblogged this on Hitesh Chaurasia.

Posted By Anonymous : September 8, 2013 10:55 pm

Thanks for drawing attention to this often overlooked film, Kimberly.

I remember it well from seeing it on the box in the late seventies/early eighties. I know Doug McClure doesn’t seem to have a great reputation but apart from this film, I’d recommend THE BIRDMEN (1971), DEATH RACE (1973), and BARBARY COAST (1975) a forgotten TV series with William Shatner ( I have quite hazy but strangely warm memories about it).

Posted By Gene : September 9, 2013 10:28 pm

Great write-up as always. Kim Novak is just incredible no matter waht, and Doug McCLure was an awesome TV actor. He had a great face and voice.

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