Retrontario’s Cable TV Throwback: July 1985


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.

JULY 1985



One of FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL‘s most illustrious programming stunts was the multinational co-production “interactive” mystery MURDER IN SPACE, shot in Toronto on a shoestring budget and starring an array of cult stars like Wilford Brimley, Martin Balsam, Nerene “TODAY’S SPECIAL” Virgin, and David Cronenberg players such as Michael Ironside, Peter Dvorsky and Barry Flatman.

Airing in July of 1985, MURDER IN SPACE was a 90-minute thriller which invited viewers to solve the open ended mystery of whodunit, with the added incentive of $60,000 in cash and prizes (including a flight for two to London, a trip on the Orient Express from London to Venice, accommodation and return airfare courtesy of Wardair – remember them?).

Set on the international space ship Conestoga returning to Earth after a successful exploration of Mars, MURDER IN SPACE pit Michael Ironside’s gruff Captain Neal R. Braddock against his crew, with several murders, ’80s Cold War tensions, lots of suggested sex, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA stock footage interrupting what should have been a smooth trip home.

FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL promoted MURDER IN SPACE to the hilt throughout the month, airing numerous interstitials featuring “bonus” interviews with the crew of the Conestoga ostensibly offering up more clues as to who was the murderer.

PRIMETIME magazine, the FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL program guide, featured a pull-out entry form which allowed viewers to identify the four murdered characters, their nationalities and, bizarrely, “how murdered?”. It then asked the ultimate question – “Who Committed the Murderers?”


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DVD Review: GINGER SNAPS (Scream Factory)

There’s always been a muscular, sexy beast of a film obscured within the spotty DVD releases of John Fawcett’s seminal Canadian werewolf classic–it just took Scream Factory to finally unleash the creature within. Featuring a brilliant Blu-ray transfer and a host of relevant features, this fun package from the boutique home video label for horror fanatics is an easy recommendation for fans of the film or Canadian genre movies in general (grab a copy here!).

While perhaps not the finest Canadian horror film ever made, GINGER SNAPS certainly ranks up with the most important, a bona fide cult hit that single-handedly resurrected the languishing Canadian horror tradition. Scary films made by Canadians was a trend that largely died out by 1989 once the tax shelters collapsed, with mostly sequels and franchise films appearing in the following decade until GINGER SNAPS changed all that. Well reviewed on release and a genuine commercial hit, the film was followed not only by a pair of sequels, but bandwagon jumpers like DECOYS, FIDO and more. Suddenly, Canadian horror cinema was commercially viable again, and it’s hard to imagine that our current crop of breakthrough Canadian genre filmmakers be able to make movies today on the same scale today without it’s important influence.

You know the story. Morbid and inseparable sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) find themselves drifting apart as Ginger starts to enter puberty. Their relationship is strained further when Ginger is suddenly attacked by a strange creature suspected of killing local pets around their suburban home. On recovery, Brigitte is shocked to find Ginger acting unlike her usual self and even experimenting with drugs and sex. Is it the result of the attack, pubescent hormones, or it could be related to the strange, coarse hair growing out of the cuts on her shoulder? When she realizes what her sister has become, Brigitte takes it on herself to find a possible cure and gain back the sister she loves so much.

Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo release of the film finally restores the film to its former on screen glory. It’s often a challenge making low budget Canadian films of the 1990s and 2000s look like more than just a TV movie, but the pristine new transfer nicely showcases the film’s sometimes eerie lighting and moody shots to give it some additional life. Not surprisingly, sound quality also appears much improved over the previous 2003 release.

The disc also shines in its bonus material. The highlight is the 60-minute retrospective doc, “Ginger Snaps: Blood, Teeth and Fur,” which nicely traces the history of the project from concept and casting through to distribution and the film’s eventual rediscovery on home video and HBO. Though Katharine Isabelle is conspicuously absent, Emily Perkins helps fill in the blanks along with Fawcett, Walton, producer Steve Hoban and FX guy Paul Jones, among others. It’s a fairly comprehensive piece that really explains how the film happened in horror film-averse Canada at the time and how American approval helped launch the film’s popular success, even though the interviewees’ comments occasionally contradict each other.

Those a little wary of Fawcett and Walton’s claims of the film’s originality will definitely want to check out “Growing Pains: Puberty in Horror Films,” a 30-minute panel discussion by horror journalists and filmmakers Axelle Carolyn, Kristy Jett, Heidi Honeycutt and Rebekah McKendry. This very nice context piece, chaired by Jett, fills in a missing blank from the other doc by helping to situate the film within the history of female-centred horror cinema. A handful of works such as CARRIE, TEETH and JENNIFER’S BODY are discussed before the conversation more or less gives way to a welcome discussion of how female sexuality is generally presented in horror films.

Rounding out the disc’s fully packed lineup of extras are almost 30 minutes of (usually thankfully) deleted scenes, a vintage promotional featurette, some mildly interesting auditions, set and FX footage, trailers, and separate audio commentaries with director John Fawcett (more technical) and screenwriter Karen Walton (more thematic) ported over from the previous release.

Shout Factory has been treating Canadian cult film fans to lovingly produced discs on locally-shot films like DEADLY EYES, SCANNERS II & III, VISITING HOURS and TERROR TRAIN, and this looks to be another essential addition that really looks at the GINGER SNAPS phenomenon and helps show it’s true place in the history of horror cinema, and werewolf films in particular. Now almost 15 years old, it’s certainly the perfect time for GINGER SNAPS to outgrow it’s awkward teen phase and become a self-confident Canadian horror landmark. And Scream Factory has certainly helped it do just that.