I am unrepentantly garrulous about my obsession with the Sam Pancake Presents the Monday Afternoon Movie podcast, in which our effervescent host forensically (and hilariously) analyzes the realm of kitsch unloved made-for-TV movies from the seventies and eighties.
In his latest installment Pancake has exhumed a true gem: ABC TV-Movie of the Week Satan’s Triangle (1975). For connoisseurs of made-for-TV flicks, this supernatural horror thriller genuinely qualifies as a cult film. All children of the seventies remember Satan’s Triangle! I would have caught a repeat of this one on Canadian TV some afternoon when I was in my early teens. It comprehensively blew my mind and haunted my imagination ever since.
And then Satan’s Triangle vanished into the ether. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it never received an official release on home video or DVD (made-for-TV movies were widely perceived as disposable trash). Over the years, collectors apparently began paying top dollar for bootleg tapes. More recently, versions of Satan’s Triangle occasionally surfaced on YouTube, but they were of such poor quality they were essentially unwatchable. But – KLAXON! – there is now a pristine copy of Satan’s Triangle viewable on YouTube, so I finally got to re-visit it all these decades later. So, does Satan’s Triangle live up to the hyperbole as “one of the scariest films ever made”? Truthfully - no! But it’s still eerie, riveting and abounds with irresistible campy moments.
The synopsis on Rotten Tomatoes is nicely concise: “a mysterious woman is the sole survivor of a boat wreck caused by a sudden terrible storm off the coast of Florida.” The location is The Bermuda Triangle to be precise - aka The Devil’s Triangle aka Satan’s Triangle. (The Bermuda Triangle was a major conspiracy theory in the seventies). Hunky Doug McClure is the Coast Guard who arrives to investigate the SOS distress call. Once aboard, he discovers a battered, seemingly abandoned fishing vessel littered with corpses. But below deck he finds the only survivor: a traumatized mystery blonde (sultry screen goddess Kim Novak in a rare TV appearance. Our first glimpse of Novak is unforgettable: we only see her feline green eyes framed by shadows). Via flashbacks, Novak recounts to McClure how all the men onboard met their grisly deaths. (Note: one of the deceased is Jim Davis – Jock Ewing from Dallas!). But how reliable a narrator is she?
As ever, Novak collapses distinctions between “good” and “bad” acting. Depending on the director and material, she can be hauntingly remote and ethereal, or vacant, dead-eyed and catatonic. In Satan’s Triangle Novak alternates between both – but is always compelling to watch. And her early seventies look is fierce: heavy dark eye make-up, a pale frosted “nude lip” and a long blonde Dynel wiglet (it resembles Barbie doll hair) secured with a headscarf (think Valerie Harper as Rhoda in early episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show). But seriously: it’s easy and fun to mock certain aspects of Satan’s Triangle (the marlin-fishing scene with the stock footage rivals the one in The Flame of the Islands (1956)!), but the last ten-minutes will leave you gasping. No spoilers, but towards the end there is a jump cut to a close-up of a character grinning maniacally that will give you goose bumps!
Listen to Sam Pancake's podcast here. (Just wait until you hear his Whisperin' Kim Novak impersonation!).
Watch Satan's Triangle here: