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Retrontario’s Cable TV Throwback: March 1983

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We’re pleased to present another look back at Canadian movies on TV by our friends at Retrontario.

Canada’s canary into the Pay TV coal mine was a riveting pop culture jolt when it arrived in early 1983. Competing services FIRST CHOICE and SUPERCHANNEL were forced to combine resources just over one year later as FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL , now fondly remembered as the era’s primary delivery system for big ticket Hollywood titles, rare-as-hen’s teeth Can-con, and boobies. Here’s a taste of some of the more exciting moments this $15 per month service offered to content starved ‘80s eyeballs.

MARCH 1983

FC MAR 1983

By March 1983, Pay TV in Canada was barely one month old, but from a layman’s perspective it was the competitive service FIRST CHOICE’s game to lose. With a decent stable of modern Hollywood hits, sport and music events, and a salacious late night PLAYBOY block, FIRST CHOICE was clearly the most attractive package, although it was slightly more expensive than the more family friendly SUPERCHANNEL service (forever and erroneously remembered as the “poor man’s FIRST CHOICE”).

In addition to big guns like SUPERMAN II, CANNONBALL RUN and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the March 1983 line-up on FIRST CHOICE included a healthy slate of prime home grown Canuxploitation, including a pair of films usually identified as our country’s first forays into the genre of horror. Bless.

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1971’s THE REINCARNATE resembles a chamber drama more than what we’ve since come to associate with a horror movie, but it remains somewhat of a curate’s egg. Starring our own mad media prophet Dr. Brian Oblivion himself (the gravelly voiced Jack Creley), THE REINCARNATE concerns itself with a wealthy lawyer who discovers he is dying and must find a replacement for his re-incarnated memories during a ceremony that must conclude with virgin sacrifice (hubba hubba). Aside from being considered the first major Canadian “horror” picture, this shot-in-Toronto cheapie most memorably features a scene in which THE FOREST RANGERS alum and POLKA DOT DOOR host Rex Hagon is mauled to death by a cat after fondling a stand-in for Trudy Young’s breasts.

TANYASISLAND

In addition to this risible historical curiosity, Bob Clark’s electric BLACK CHRISTMAS also ran regularly, as well as MY BLOODY VALENTINE and the truly bizarre monster sex romp TANYA’S ISLAND, guaranteeing traumatic sexual confusion for anyone young enough to innocently stumble upon it late at night (seriously, even in the guttural YouTube age we now live, can you imagine a more off-key movie being your first “nudie”?).

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LAST CHASE

Martyn Burke’s mostly forgotten CanCon road movie THE LAST CHASE also peppered the March schedule, although sadly once again it’s long and boring dialogue scenes probably scared away viewers who might otherwise have been interested in a dystopian sci-fi featuring Lee “The Fall Guy” Majors hauling automotive ass in a totalitarian world where oil has run out and private ownership of cars is forbidden (hint: Lee Major’s doesn’t give a shit).

Other classic Cancon this month included Ivan Reitman’s teen-camp-comedy template MEATBALLS, and the truly epic DEATH HUNT which, although not technically a Canadian film, was set here. This one featured an appearance from Maury Chaykin and concerned the exploits of the RCMP pursuing bad ass outdoorsman Albert Johnson across the barren tundra. Seeing as it was the only movie strong enough to contain the boundless machismo of both Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin, it remains a staple of tough guy cinema (bonus marks for Carl Weathers and Ed Lauter, RIP).

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In addition to the usual line-up of new release Hollywood pap, FIRST CHOICE also screened many cool cult movies in March of 1983 that have since disappeared into the ether, including Bruce Dern’s relenting creepy TATTOO, gritty New York psycho drama NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER, sleazy LA car film KING OF THE MOUNTAIN and one of Jimmy Stewart’s final performances, THE MAGIC OF LASSIE.

While the endlessly expensive and fruitless Pay TV war between FIRST CHOICE and SUPERCHANNEL was only just heating up, March 1983 was clearly won by FIRST CHOICE, both in terms of subscription numbers and programming chutzpah. First blood had been drawn, but as 1983 rolled along their fortunes were about to change…

PROGRAMMERS

  1. Robert says:

    Oh those heady days of First Choice when it was a go-to for seeing Canadian cinematic output that is nearly impossible to see today, served up amid both big Hollywood fare and generous amounts of B moviedom. One minor correction about the description of DEATH HUNT – it’s not the only movie to contain the boundless machismo of both Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson. Both men let fly with boundless machismo and ammunition in THE DIRTY DOZEN, and were still drawing air by time the credits rolled.