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…".
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!|
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 included “Tough 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!)
|"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!
|Webb's latest opus, Scattergun, at a Webb Fest near you!|
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!
|Aunt Hallie vs. "old nasty disease."|
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!
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.