"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Friday, June 11, 2021

Satan's Triangle

People have been fascinated with the enigma that is the Bermuda Triangle for decades. It is a region marked by the Florida coast and the islands of Bermuda and the Bahamas, a “danger zone that seems to swallow ships and planes,” as a vintage episode of the In Search Of… television show from the 1970s aptly described it. It is an area of 60,000 square miles where many planes and ships have mysteriously vanished over the years. Science has tried to explain the phenomenon but compelling anecdotal information endures and continues interest in it.
It has been fertile ground for genre movies and T.V., from Airport ’77 (1977) to The Triangle (2005) mini-series. One of the more interesting and unsettling efforts is Satan’s Triangle, a 1975 made-for-T.V. movie starring Kim Novak and Doug McClure and produced by famed entertainer Danny Thomas’ production company. Originally nothing more than a movie-of-the-week, Satan’s Triangle has developed a small cult following over the years of people who have fond memories of seeing it in the ‘70s.
The United States Coast Guard receives a distress call from a schooner caught in a terrible storm at sea right in the center of the Bermuda Triangle. Lt. Haig (McClure) and Lt. Comdr. Pagnolini (Michael Conrad) investigate in a rescue helicopter. The two men briefly discuss the Bermuda Triangle with the former being a skeptic and the latter believing that the Devil plays a role. They come across the ship and find a man hanging upside down from the main mast and another man slumped on the forward hatch. The sails are shredded and it looks abandoned.

They try to radio the base but all they get is static. Haig decides to go down to the vessel and investigate. Once aboard, he confirms both men are dead and the one hanging ominously from the mast is priest (Alejandro Rey)! The suspenseful tone is quite effective here as the spooky atmospheric music by Johnny Pate and the wind whistling around the ship set a creepy vibe.
Initially, Haig doesn’t find anyone, which only ratchets up the tension including the incredible choppy sea that rocks the boat. When he ventures aft he finds another man, his body hanging in mid-air! He also finds a woman named Eva (Novak) in shock. Haig brings her on deck and they try to get back on the helicopter but the wire on the rescue basket snaps sending them tumbling into the sea. The chopper begins to inexplicably have technical difficulties forcing it to leave. Haig and Eva return to the boat. While waiting for help to return, she recounts the strange happenings on the boat that led to its current state. At this point Satan’s Triangle has sucked us in with this intriguing premise and engaging mystery. How did these men die and only Eva survive?
Even in the twilight of her career, Kim Novak casts an alluring presence and her sexy, husky voice warning Haig, “We’re going to die on this boat, you know,” doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world. After all, who wouldn’t want to be stuck out at sea alone with her? Novak does her best to convey the dread of the situation as Eva stares off into space with a haunted look whenever she recounts what happened to all on board before Haig and his partner showed up. In the flashback sequences she gets to have fun playing the bored, spoiled trophy wife who receives massages from one of the crew members while her older, rich husband Hal (Jim Davis) gets to live out his Ernest Hemingway fantasy by trying to land a huge marlin.

His macho fantasy is interrupted by the ominous sight of a priest floating alone at sea on the wing of plane wreckage. The shot of him adrift at sea is a haunting one as he doesn’t look quite right. There is an air of malevolence about him as opposed to say trauma from surviving a plane crash. As soon as he is brought on board all hell breaks loose starting with a violent storm that engulfs the schooner and frightens the crew so badly that they abandon ship, leaving Hal, Eva and the ship’s captain (Ed Lauter) and the first mate (Titos Vandis) with the priest.
Alejandro Rey is eerily effective as the priest whose stoicism and dead eyes are an unsettling combination. Ed Lauter plays another no-nonsense authority figure that he excelled at throughout his career, playing the ship’s captain who is at odds with the rich man obsessed with catching an elusive marlin. Doug McClure is just fine as the male lead who provides a skeptical counterpoint to Eva’s traumatized believer. Initially, he comes off as something of a ladies man and has no problem “comforting” her while they wait for help to arrive but the movie’s dramatic plot twist late on turns his world upside down.
Naturally, Eva’s account of what happened leans heavily into the supernatural with a crew member suddenly disappearing without a trace and Hal’s inexplicable corpse hanging suspended in air as she wrestles with her faith in God in the presence of the Devil at the heart of the Bermuda Triangle. Haig, the man of reason, goes through her story and explains the unnatural occurrences in such a way that he has us convinced, lulling us into a sense of complacency and setting us up for the movie’s crazy climax that delivers a deliciously chilling twist with only a look.

Satan’s Triangle is a vintage made-for-T.V. movie with cheap yet well-delivered jolts as it mixes a fascination with the supernatural and the jaded cynicism of the decade that lost its idealism in the 1960s. Ultimately, it delivers the requisite scares in surprisingly effective fashion and is anchored by an engaging performance from Novak who showed that she still had it after all those years, delivering a hell of a gut-punch of an ending.
You can watch Satan’s Triangle for free on Youtube.