Friday, August 12, 2011

Webb Wilder, Detective and Hillbilly Noir Roots Rocker!


Whether you call him “The Last of the Full-Grown Men,” “The Idol of Idle Youth,” or an electrifying roots-rocker with a talent for deadpan comedy, Webb Wilder is The Man! We of Team Bartilucci first discovered him in 1990; how fitting that we became his fans at the beginning of a brand new decade! It all started when I noticed a TV Guide listing for A&E’s Shortstories series, with its self-proclaimed “award-winning short films from around the world.” One of the shorts that day was a 1984 film, Webb Wilder, Private Eye, a.k.a The Saucer’s Reign, written and directed by one Stephen Mims at the University of Mississippi, from a story by Mims and Robert Field. I’d never heard of it, but since I’m a sucker for any kind of detective story, and since Vinnie and I had some free time, we watched it. We were hooked from the very first scene. A lanky, bespectacled young man looks us viewers in the eye. He wears a hat looking like a fedora and a Stetson fell in love and had a baby. As he addresses us in the audience, he’s illuminated by beams of light, camera right, looking all film noir-ish in glorious black-and-white. In a sepulchral yet hilarious deadpan Southern twang that brought to mind a thin young Southern-fried Alfred Hitchcock, he tells us viewers, “I’m like that Greek hobo with the limp. You know, the one who went from Hades to Yugo-Slovakia lookin’ for an honest man. Well, I got my own quest. What it is, is I’m lookin’ for the dishonest man. I am — Webb Wilder, Private Eye.”

“Urgent,” it said. But it wasn’t the same “Urgent” as the one on all my bills…".

After a fast-paced, rockabilly-scored credit sequence in which we see Webb’s dance moves (kind of like an amazingly cool spastic dancing the Frug) and his skills at running up and down stairs while brandishing a gun, we slide on into the case of The Saucer’s Reign. In voiceover like any noir film (parody) worth its salt, our hero is retained for “fifty bucks a day,” and opts to “drop…my current case,” after which we see Webb exiting a JC Penney in security guard garb. Webb’s off to Wakefield, Mississippi with his autographed Slim Whitman photo. His client is small-town postmaster Hiwayne Suggs (Roger Brinegar), who lives in “a one-chiropractor town that seemed peaceful enough. But an ant bed is peaceful till you step in it.”


Suggs is anxious for Webb to find his mysteriously missing wife, Pristene: “Space critters, Mr. Wilder! They abducted my Sweet Thing!” Webb studies a less-than-flattering photo of Pristene: “I didn’t think even Mars needed women that bad. Pristene Suggs was unvoluptuous.” (I’m pretty sure the photo of Pristene, listed in the credits as “Herself,” is in fact a guy in drag, but you can never be sure in this unpredictable world!) Webb enlists space buff Homer Greenspan (Jimmy Daniels) to help him unravel this caper: “Homer had ‘science fair’ written all over him.” Once Hiwayne blabs on the tiny town’s party line that a UFO might be setting up light housekeeping in Wakefield, Webb and Homer find themselves wading through a sea of reporters, deception, and trailer trash as the abduction stories and media frenzy get even wilder than Webb’s last name.

Stop! In the name of Webb!
By the time it ended, we’d formed our own little Webb Wilder mini-cult around this loopy, compact little gem. We were especially impressed to see co-writer Robert Field (a.k.a. R.S. Field) and Webb himself (formerly John Webb McMurray) composed and performed the film’s hard-rockin’ soundtrack. When A&E rebroadcast The Saucer’s Reign, Vinnie and I recorded it strictly for our own amusement, and showed it to any pals we could rope into being a captive audience, turning them into Webb Wilder fans in the process. If I recall correctly, it also turned up on The USA Network’s Night Flight.

We thought that was the last we’d ever hear of our beloved Webb Wilder until my 29th birthday in 1992. We were celebrating with friends at the Manhattan branch of the popular Chicago restaurant Ed Debevic’s (anyone know if the NYC restaurant still exists?), including our pal Michael Gingold of Fangoria fame (there’s my name-drop for the day :-)). Our longtime pals Elayne and Steve showed us a then-recent issue of Psychotronic Video featuring a review of an album by Webb Wilder—the band! Apparently, while The Saucer’s Reign had been making the rounds of various TV anthology shows, Webb, R.S., and the rest of the band had formed a rockabilly group—or roots rock, as it’s called nowadays. In fact, they had just released their second album on the Zoo/Praxis label. However, John Webb McMurray had long since begun billing himself exclusively as Webb Wilder. Fine by me; after all, that’s how movie stars Gig Young and Anne Shirley got their stage names!

Before we went home that night, Vinnie and I popped into the Tower Records in Greenwich Village, and I left with two more birthday gifts: the Webb Wilder CDs Hybrid Vigor (1989) and DooDad (1991). Both were (and still are), the awesome, as we say at Team Bartilucci H.Q. We’re no music critics, but we know when a band can rock! Hybrid Vigor includes “Hittin’ Where it Hurts” and Team Bartilucci’s favorite, “Human Cannonball.” Even better, at the time the band had just put out DooDad, which included plenty of songs from their then-new movie, Horror Hayride (HH), whose many kick-butt tracks includedTough it Out,” “Sittin’ Pretty,” and amazing cover versions of “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” Meanwhile, Zoo/Praxis’ video arm released Webb Wilder’s Corn Flicks on VHS (c’mon, you remember VHS!), giving us beaucoup bellylaughs for the buck with three short films, all set in the “swampadelic” South and directed by Steve Mims. Each story was framed by tongue-in-cheek advice to fans by either Webb or Ted Roddy, of Ted Roddy and the Backwoods Hipsters, as Special Agent Travis Byrd, renowned for being “the knuckle end of the long arm of the law” and “cool as an October breeze.” Need I say Vinnie and I caught up on the Webb Wilder CDs we’d missed? (During the summer, “Poolside” from WW’s album It Came From Nashville is in heavy rotation!)

Corn Flicks gives us the delicious feeling that our man Webb is in the middle of a series of his hillbilly noir adventures. My favorite among these great shorts is Horror Hayride, written by Field and Steve Mims. It’s set in Nashville—“Nash Vegas, if you will,” as Webb says in his inimitable voice-over. Mims and Field’s characters and the screenplay’s sly, slightly surreal wit won us over immediately. The film opens with an intriguingly foreboding farm scene that morphs into little Webb finding himself in a close encounter of the spaceman kind. No sooner is Webb startled awake from what turns out to be one of his recurring nightmares about flying saucers than the Governor of Tennessee (Dirk Van Allen) stops Webb’s "Economy with Dignity" tour bus, asking our hero to do him a solid. Seems the Governor’s lovely young daughter Kirsten (Cristina Cassin) has finally graduated from Peabody College, having taken eight years to earn a four-year degree (“Who’s counting?” Webb replies gallantly). Her first job out of school is supervising the state’s new Driver Ed film, also titled Horror Hayride. The Guv wants to make sure the film will be “more relevant to modern rural teens. You know, the muscle-car, street-sign-shootin’ set.” Seems that Webb, “the only man who commands the respect of both reckless teens and the highway patrol,” helped put a rubber stamp truck-driving school out of business, and the Governor owes Webb one. Now he’ll owe Webb two as he agrees to help the Governor and Kirsten. After all, as Webb voiceovers in his pleasantly twangy tones, “The Guv was okay, for an authority figure.”
"We don't do retail, do we, Billy C?"
“We’re gonna have to talk to Billy C.” *POW!*
Singin' songs, fightin' crime; all in a day's work for Webb Wilder and Ted Roddy!

Webb has too much to dream (last night) after Briley slips him an LSD Mickey!

Kirsten’s honey is the enigmatic Briley Parkway (Bodie Plecas) the aspiring film director helming the Driver Ed flick, much to the disgruntlement of Mr. Fry, the apoplectic director of the Driver Ed program (Webb is a hoot as he does double duty as the unbilled Fry). Hiwayne, Parkway, Driver Ed films—Mims and Field have cars on the brain! Judging from Briley’s previous art-house opus, Slugtrail, his vision as an auteur seems to be inspired by both Jean-Luc Godard and William Castle (including a decapitated model head). Webb likes Briley’s work, even if Travis doesn’t; as Webb says, “I gave it a thumb-up. Travis only offered a finger.” But why is Briley making secret visits to porno outfit Antebellum Skin, and why is Kirsten raiding her mama’s trust fund to give Briley $5,000 each week? And how are gospel singer Carlsbad Devereaux (Shane Caldwell) and Webb’s former flame, psychiatrist Dr. Barbara Slovine (Janette Friend-Harris), mixed up in all the “swampadelic, psychotronic” goings-on? Soon Webb and Travis are up to their drawls in trouble, fighting a murderous porno ring whose opuses include The South Will Rise Again and Backstage at The Grand Old Orgy. Along the way, Webb and Travis get to sing an ode to Elvis Presley, “If You Don’t Think Elvis was Number One, You’re Full of Number Two;” as Webb sternly reminds some punks during a party scene at Carlsbad’s palatial home, “If it wasn’t for fat dead ol’ Elvis, there wouldn’t’ve been a Jimi Hendrix or a Peter and Gabriel….” True to the “noir” part of HH’s hillbilly noir, Webb also gets slugged, drugged, and loved as he rekindles his romance with the lovely “Doctor Barbara,” who tries to help Webb with those recurring flying saucer nightmares; I guess he never got over his first case!

Webb's latest opus, Scattergun, at a Webb Fest near you!
The rockin’ rhythms of Webb Wilder the Band work with the tongue-in-cheek detective plot perfectly. Co-writer/director Mims provides lots of atmosphere on a low budget (filming in Nashville helped), and the film’s black-and-white look is like Ansel Adams acting as DP for a Coen Brothers movie (except for one nifty color sequence after Webb is slipped some LSD). The characters take some pleasantly unexpected turns, with acting ranging from sublime (including Webb himself, natch) to amateurish, but that's part of the film’s charm.

The Chicago Tribune
called HH “Twin Peaks with MTV thrown in the middle,” but this crazy little caper packs enough humor, plot, and action into its 36-minute running time to give David Lynch and company a run for their money. Being Southerners themselves, writers Field and Mims treat their characters with respect and affection, but they’re not afraid to poke wryly good-natured fun at themselves, as well as pretentious art movies, film noir tropes, and the country-and-Western music biz (Webb: “In Music City, even ugly girls are good-lookin’.”). The witty dialogue sings like Webb himself, and everyone gets at least one show-stealing line, like in this scene between Webb and Travis when Webb comes to after being knocked out by Antebellem Skin henchman Ike (Charles Gunning of Miller’s Crossing and Slacker, among others):
Travis: “So who adjusted your hat size?”
Webb:
“Some greasy….I fell.”
Travis:
“Right. Maybe next time you’ll trip on a damn .38.”
Webb:
“Happens. I’m pretty clumsy.”
Travis:
“Just tell me what you want on the tombstone. ‘Rock hard, sleep hard, wear glasses if you need ’em, and die stupid?’

Webb & Dr. Barbara. This case is looking up—at Elvis!

The cast of low-key comic actors does a fine job with Mims and Field’s offbeat sense of humor, and the characters are more complex than you’d expect. Webb has an amazing knack for seeming tough and geeky at the same time (in a good way!) Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing Webb Wilder live in concert in our area for Musikfest, among other venues. Even all these years later, Webb and the guys keep rocking like nobody’s business, and Webb still has those Wilder-and-wonderful dance moves and that way-cool cavern-voiced delivery. Mims and Director of Photography Brian O’Kelley prove you don’t need a big budget to create atmosphere. HH is shot in glorious black-and-white except for Webb’s LSD hallucination, in psychedelic color with hilariously, endearingly cheesy ChromaKey F/X and color-wheel lighting, accompanied by WW's awesome cover version of The Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)." If you like deadpan comedy, Dragnet, Twin Peaks, and rock ‘n’ roll Southern-style, I think you’re gonna love Horror Hayride!

Aunt Hallie vs. "old nasty disease."
After HH comes the popular festival favorite Aunt Hallie (AH). Written by Mims and Christopher Hammond, made in 1989 and getting acclaim at film festivals since 1991, AH is a comedy for today’s disease-paranoid world. Roger Brinegar of The Saucer’s Reign narrates this loopy spoof of brave disease-sufferers. The titular Aunt Hallie (Mary Gandy) finds a used condom on her lawn one day (*tsk!* Don’t people have any respect for others’ property?) Convinced that touching the condom has infected her with “Old Nasty Disease,” Aunt Hallie stoically and with dignity tries to keep from infecting her long-suffering kin by going to such daft lengths as never touching things if she can possibly avoid them (wait’ll you see what she does just to get up out of a rocking chair), and burning silverware and china cups and dishes identified as hers with Dyno labels; is that recycling, the genteel Southern way? The expressions on Aunt Hallie’s long-suffering relatives’ faces throughout the films are priceless. AH is one of the funniest stories of a self-styled martyr ever told, and well worth getting the DVD for, even if you’re not already a die-hard Webb Wilder fan!
Happily, all of these shorts and more of Steve Mims’ short films are now available on the DVD Webb Wilder’s Amazing B Picture Shorts. WW’s latest film, Scattergun, has been shown at Webb Wilder events; we live for the day it’ll be available on DVD, too. It also includes footage from Webb Fest 2006! Webb Wilder-mania starts here; won’t you help?

Heed the words of Mr. Fry, kids: "Dismemberment is not cute!"
For concert dates, DVDs, and other Webb Wilder-ness, check out the Webb site!
http://www.webbwilder.com
Vinnie Spins a Webb of his own
I have two aphorisms hanging up in my cubicle at work, Doc Savage’s Code and the Webb Wilder Credo (see above). This offers far too much insight into my mindset and philosophy.
As The Wife has said already, Horror Hayride gives you the impression that you’ve been dropped into the middle of a series of adventures, and you either pick it up as you go, or get left behind. It shares that feeling with a film about which I could (and have) go on about for hours, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension. Both films share a vibe of effortless cool, a bevy of mad characters, and a hero who can rock it with the best of them. No wonder that we tried for the longest time to write a fanfic crossover between the two.
The Saucer’s Reign is a solid laugh-fest with an amateurish air, but Horror Hayride shows what a couple years can do for a director and his actors. They had time to flesh out Webb’s history and character as well. In both stories, the cases that Webb takes on are right in line with the Nash-Vegas (if you will) mindset; Webb might be out of his league fighting Russian mobsters, but he’s right at home taking down a blue movie ring. Often, as The Three Amigos learned, it’s when you stray from the formula that things gang aft aglay.
Webb doesn’t come up North too often, but he visited our humble burg two years in a row recently, both at our big local summer event Musikfest, and at the re-opening of a local public pool and park for July Fourth. He’s still the aforementioned Electrifying Artist, and well worth your time in either live, recorded, or cinematic form. Pick up on it.

27 comments:

  1. Hey, gang, in honor of this week's TotED post about Webb Wilder, here are two of the wryly witty shorts he made for the Hard Rock Cafe! You'll find the rest of the series on YouTube. As Webb would say, pick up on it!

    Cool color promo with Webb doing his dance:

    http://youtu.be/NPxQgXvtfK8

    Dig this cool black-and-white WW spot, too:

    http://youtu.be/cIeYXgCaquk

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  2. Hey, fellow TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED Followers! You know them, you love them, now they've joined the fun here at TotED: please welcome two wonderful writers that don't need introductions, but I'll introduce them anyway:

    1.) Jacqueline T. Lynch of ANOTHER OLD MOVIE BLOG. She's a terrific novelist, too; check out the details of her new novel, THE CURRENT RATE OF EXCHANGE

    http://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/


    2.) Jennifer Garlen, a.k.a. @garlengirl

    http://www.examiner.com/x-13732-Huntsville-Classic-Movies-Examiner

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  3. Dorian, this sounds like something I will love! I have never heard of Webb Wilder, and I laughed until I snorted through your whole article! (I only laugh that hard when I am really guffawing like an insane person, and I always try to do it in private!) I am so glad you gave the information that I can find these on Youtube. Are they all there, and if so is it easy to watch them in order? I know I will become addicted!

    I love this unusual recommendation from you and Vinnie. To me, one of the most fun parts of being part of a movie blogging commmunity is finding out about little gems like this that I would never have heard of otherwise. You have inspired me to do something similar. I am a great lover of H.P. Lovecraft's wonderful and eccentric horror stories, and there many equally odd Lovecraft groups out there. I was lucky enough to find a movie on Netflix about some bizarre people who are into Lovecraft as if his stories are true, and it is absolutely hilarious. It will be a different type of subject from my usual as well, and I hope readers enjoy it and are interested as much as I am about yours. Great job, guys, and something really fun to look forward to!

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  4. Becky, thanks a million for your praise of this Webb Wilder post; it's a real labor of love for Team Bartilucci, because Webb rocks in every sense of the word! :-) And yes, the three main films, "The Saucer's Reign," "Horror Hayride," and "Aunt Hallie" (the others are great, too, but those 3 are my favorites) are arranged in chronological order.

    Knowing your sense of humor and music, Becky, I'm confident that you'll not only love Webb Wilder's music videos -- many of which are available on YouTube -- but you'll also get a kick out of his short films. The "Human Cannonball" video is a good, playful place to start:

    http://youtu.be/CGssb5YKaNM

    Incidentally, should you decide you simply must own your very own copy of WEBB WILDER'S AMAZING B PICTURE SHORTS, I've seen in on Amazon.com and on the Webb Wilder Web site -- a steal at $20, especially considering all the short films on it!

    Oh, and since you mentioned H.P. Lovecraft, I suggest you keep your eyes peeled for a chilling little modern-day Lovecraftian thriller, AM1200. It's available online, and it packs more suspense into its 40-minute running time than many full-length feature films!

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  5. This doesn't have anything to do with your main subject, but I gotta ask: is the Elayne you refer to none other than blogger extraordianaire Elayne Riggs (which would make the Steve you refer to her first husband)? If so, then we have a mutual friend. (It's the spelling that made me think of it.)

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  6. Hey, Rich, glad to hear that we have pals in common! Yes, the Elayne to whom I refer is indeed Elayne Riggs, my dear longtime friend. We're also still good pals with Elayne's amiable ex, Steve Chaput. It IS a small world after all! :-)

    As long as I have your attention, any thoughts about the Webb Wilder blog post, or anything else Webb-related? :-) Either way, Rich, nice to hear from you!

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  7. Hey, gang, I posted the link to WEBB WILDER... on the the "Webb Board" on Webb Wilder's Web site! Got a nice little response, too:

    "Great writeup! I saw that yesterday morning, but hadn't had a chance to post about it here.

    Hunter"

    I expressed my thanks on the Webb Board. Check it out for yourselves and join the fun:

    http://www.webbwilder.com/index.php?goto=webb_board

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  8. Dorian, that is so cool! Between you and Webb Wilder, and me and Rory Flynn, we are really getting the best perks of being movie lovers and writers! Congratulations!

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  9. Thanks, Becky! It's great when admirers like us get responses on labors of love like the blog posts and such that we've been part of. I haven't been so delighted to get a response of this nature since Shugie and I met Adrien Brody at NY Comic Con and discovered first-hand what a nice guy he is! :-)

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  10. Adrien Brody! ***sigh*** I think he is great too!

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  11. Once again, Becky, you prove to be a gal of superb taste, breeding, and overall niftiness, in this case Adrien Brody's appeal! You and Yvette and I can form our own little Adrien Brody Appreciation Society! :-)

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  12. Well, let's see - an Adrian Brody society with the three of us. I really think we should each get a shot at him in alphabetical order. That's the fair way. So, that means -- hey! Becky first, then Dorian, then, well, Yvette you have a lovely name, but you are dead last! LOL!

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  13. Truly we are living up to the title TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED with this blog post's metamorphosis from discussing Webb Wilder to discussing Adrien Brody! :-) There's only one way to solve this: a crossover between Brody and Webb! I say Brody hires Webb to keep an eye on him while he's filming in the South, and in the meantime, Brody's New York street smarts help save the day! :-)

    By the way, I also suggest my pal Lauren Taylor, author of STRICKEN, awesome baker, and all-around Renaissance gal as part of our Adrien Brody lust/lovefest. You can find her on Facebook; tell her Dorian sent ya! :-)

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  14. Well, ok, a Lauren is alright, but no Ann's, Amber's or even Barbara's. I won't give up my #1 spot....

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  15. Hi again, Team B. I was able to find The Saucer's Reign on Youtube - you mentioend they were shorts, and this is 12 minutes long. Is that the whole thing? I could not find Aunt Hallie or Horror Hayride. Well, at least I don't think I found HH. There is a 2-3 part post on Youtube called that, but it appears to be a real hayride and is so dark you can't see anything except a few flashes of light now and then. Is that it? I'm going to watch Saucer's Reign soon. Let me know if I have the right stuff! LOL!

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  16. Good morning, Miss Becky ma'am, as Webb Wilder himself might say! :-) Yes, as you saw, the original Webb Wilder short, "The Saucer's Reign," is indeed on YouTube. I was surprised to see that while there are plenty of WW music videos and trailers for the other WW movies, HORROR HAYRIDE and AUNT HALLIE don't seem to be on YouTube.

    Upon further reflection, however, it makes sense; the folks in charge of WW's DVDs and such probably don't want the ...B PICTURES... DVD to be bootlegged and such, especially since they're not part of some gigantic wealthy entertainment conglomerate.

    In the meantime, here are some links for a taste of Webb:

    Trailer for WEBB WILDER'S AMAZING B PICTURE SHORTS:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LRhxQXDKGE

    Info about WEBB WILDER'S CORN FLICKS, which have since become part of the aforementioned WEBB WILDER'S AMAZING B PICTURE SHORTS:

    http://www.webb-wilder.com/media/media/movies/corn.html

    Glad you're caught Webb Wilder fever (no relation to Sean Wilder of THE PARANOIA CLUB :-))! Enjoy, my friend!

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  17. Thank you, thank you for the links! This guy is hilarious! Isn't the title "Corn Flicks" just a marvel of really funny and unique comedy? Love it..

    Yes, I have caught the Wilder fever in many ways from you!

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  18. Becky, if you have to get a fever, Webb Wilder Fever is one of the best kinds to have -- and it's incurable! :-) So glad you're enjoying it, dear friend!

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  19. I just watched THE SAUCER'S REIGN and it is hysterical. A strange mix 50's Sci-Fi and Southern fried noir! Who would of thought?


    John

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  20. John, I'm delighted to hear that you've become a fan of THE SAUCER'S REIGN, too! If you decide to get ahold of the WEBB WILDER'S AMAZING B PICTURE SHORTS DVD, I'm confident you'll love everything on the disc, especially HORROR HAYRIDE. To somewhat paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, let's say that THE SAUCER'S REIGN is the work of a talented amateur, and HORROR HAYRIDE was made by a professional. :-)

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  21. Hey, gang, please welcome Sissy as TotED's newest Follower! Feel free to join the conversation anytime, Sissy!

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  22. Okay. How did we live without Webb Wilder!!

    PS: The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award has headed your way.

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  23. Caftan Woman, my cup runneth over with your witty Webb Wilder comment and your bestowing the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award (ISBA) upon me! Beaucoup thanks indeed! I shall put together my list of awesome fellow bloggers and shockingly goofy facts about myself shortly. Thanks for the ISBA honor and for putting a big smile on my face to start the day! :-)

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  24. Dorian, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I had never heard of WEBB WILDER, PRIVATE EYE...but it sounds just like the kind of quirky short pic that I'd enjoy. By the way, I remember USA's Night Flight fondly (as well as Up All Night with Rhonda Shear). Thanks for the links, too!

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  25. Rick, thanks and you're welcome! :-) I'm most pleased that you enjoyed WEBB WILDER, PRIVATE EYE/THE SAUCER'S REIGN, too! If you ever find yourself with $20 (plus shipping) burning a hole in your pocket, and you're interested in seeing all of WEBB WILDER'S AMAZING B PICTURE SHORTS (which includes Team Bartilucci's personal fave, HORROR HAYRIDE), I promise it'll be money well spent! :-)

    Glad to hear that you fondly remember USA's NIGHT FLIGHT, too, and the adorable Rhonda Shear as well. Ah, for the days when I could stay up most of the night watching late-night movies and NIGHT FLIGHT, and still wake up perky and rarin' to go in the morning! :-)

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  26. Mimy, thanks for your comment, and Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us here at TotED! Feel free to visit our blog anytime!

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