While watching the DVD release of a strange, nearly unknown TV anthology series called Chillers, based on the short stories of one of my favorite writers, Patricia Highsmith (1921-95), I've been making some equally strange discoveries.
This brief series, also known under such titles as "Mistress of Suspense," "Patricia Highsmith's Tales" and (in France) "Cadavres Exquis," most likely never had a broadcast run on US television and remained completely unknown to me until now. The series is more than usually unusual. Even in the wake of Twin Peaks, you'd hardly ever see anything like this on American television - for reasons that go from overt boredom to surprisingly topless women occasionally popping up.
Each of the 12 episodes, filmed in and around 1990, features prologue and epilogue commentary by the great actor Anthony Perkins (1932-92), a chattier and less droll Alfred Hitchcock presence (let's not forget that Highsmith's initial success came from having her first novel adapted by the master for Strangers on a Train, a film which characters from this series' "Puzzle" episode actually attend and discuss).
The stories are, just like Highsmith's short stories, exercises in twisted psychology. But there's something excruciatingly slow in almost every tale, even "The Old Folks At Home," the brutally punishing episode written by the great Gerard Brach (1927-2006), who wrote many of the great Polanski screenplays including Repulsion and The Tenant among many others.
Apparently, the first six shows were filmed in the UK and feature such British legends as Edward Fox, James Fox, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan (the last three all appeared in Terry Gilliam's brilliant film, Brazil) and many other recognizable British character actors. The remaining episodes were filmed - for some reason - in France and while they often feature extremely attractive actors (rather poorly dubbed), they're awkward at best.
The great American director, Samuel Fuller (Shock Corridor, White Dog), even directed an episode - one of the French ones - the unbelievably weird "The Day of Reckoning," which oddly enough calls to mind the equally strange Giallo, La Morte ha Fatto L'uovo/Death Laid An Egg.
I bring this up because the episode titled "A Bird Poised To Fly" turned out to be scored by the great ex-Blockhead, Chaz Jankel, whose all-but forgotten 1982 hit, "Questionnaire," remains one of my favorite tunes and videos of yesteryear. I am glad the episode reminded me to revisit Jankel's great, great piece of work.
I remember buying this mid-priced A&M album for $2.83 at Jerry's Records in Pittsburgh - which was probably still called Garbage Records at the time - in the spring of 1982 and loving almost every second of it: the title song, the brilliant "Glad To Know You," "Now You're Dancing" and the tremendous "3,000,000 Synths."
Aside from Jankel's punky Blockheads past (he had something to do with the fabulous "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" and the nearly as-cool "Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3)"), he was riding high on the spectacular success of Quincy Jones's cover of the hypnotic "Ai No Corrida" (Jankel's original version of the song sounds remarkably similar to Jones's cover - but Q added some of his nearly magical touches that, of course, make it even better than the original).
Shortly thereafter, the cable channel HBO, which was new to us at the time, began running music videos between film presentations. "Questionnaire" ran quite frequently back then. This was probably one of the very first music videos I've ever seen and I still think it's one of the best.