Mad Mavericks & Madder Movies: An Ode to Dewey Webb
Updated: Apr 8
The act of creating is a sacred one. When the mind is sharp, the heart is racing, and the path free from all manner of nasty roadblocks (ie. smugness, condescension, malice, Robert Christgau, etc.), then the work becomes not only great but that most magical kind of vital. Coincidentally, vital is the word I would absolutely apply to the late, great Dewey Webb.
Webb was a writer, 1984 Wheel of Fortune winner, and pop culture journalist for The Phoenix New Times during the 1990s and early 2000s. He is also a name that is never uttered enough in cult film and esoteric culture circles and that is a damn shame. Perhaps part of the problem is that, at least to my knowledge, he never scribed for any of the genre zines and mags at that time. No Fangoria,Deep Red, Video Watchdog, Psychotronic, etc etc. Even I’m not quite sure how I discovered Dewey and his tremendous film column, Peep Show, back in the mid-1990s, other than undoubtedly trying to mine the reaches of the web for outsider film intel gold. (No doubt via AltaVista or some other long-out-moded web search portal before the titanically unwavering fist of Google.)
Whatever path that led me to Webb’s digital shores, bless it because his writing quickly become a beacon of light for an extraordinarily dim time for teenage me. While I was far from Go Ask Alice territory, my younger self was mired in undiagnosed severe depression and the occasional suicidal ideation. Any cultural lighthouse that I could seek and find wasn’t just welcome but thoroughly needed. Cue in Dewey and his writing, which is the most righteous blend of sharp wit, light-touch quippiness, sheer joy, the odd bit of good-hearted savagery, and a pure love for all things truly weird and bent. My wee life was forever changed. He was so tuned in to proper outré culture that you knew this was a captain that would never ever steer you wrong. Dewey Webb was absolutely the coolest older friend I longed for with the wildest video collection, the swankiest set of records, and a big ole amazing brain.
Boy howdy, could this man give you a true, dyed-in-the-wool deep cut. This was a cat whose knowledge extended far beyond the expected b-film waters of Plan 9 from Outer Space or Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Though make no mistake, I do still love both to bits.) He was writing about films ranging from Head (1968) to Hated (1993), with no nook or cranny being too unseemly or obscure. Dewey covered the Patty Duke oddity Billie (1965), complete with invoking its inexplicable titular ditty that sported lyrics like “She looks like a Billie should look/Wears her hair like a Billie should wear/Walks like a Billie should/ Talks like a Billie should/On her a Billie looks good.” What???
Looking at some of the titles Dewey was delving into during the 1990s through current eyes as an esoteric film and culture writer, I’m as stunned now as I was then. To this day, I can’t say I have seen many since Webb who has written about films like Daddy’s Gone A’Hunting (1969), Glitter Goddess of the Sunset Strip (1991), Look in Any Window (1961), or Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring (1971). Also, it is Dewey to thank for being the first writer I ever saw talk about Shaun Costello’s infamous classic adult film that’s the enema-bandit equivalent to Taxi Driver, Waterpower (1976). In fact, I brought this shockeroo up on my very first appearance on The Projection Booth podcast, years ago, which would result in its very own episode. No doubt one of eleventy reasons why I’ll never get those sweet, respectable Criterion Collection gigs. Thanks a lot, Dewey! I kid, I kid....life is too short for things respectability!
I mainly knew Dewey Webb for his film writing until years later when I delved into the rich backlog of his assorted articles for the Phoenix New Times. Arizona’s own “valley of the sun” has an incredibly fascinating history involving everything from punk bands, countercultural marijuana selling heroines, drag artists, and beyond. This man was a gift of a writer and like any real journalist and writer worth his/her/their salt, a true-to-the-heart preservationist. Reading, re-reading, and yes, even further re-re-reading Dewey’s work, the words still writhe, wriggle, and engage like they were written a few days ago.
Back when I was first reading his work as a dysfunctional teen and weirdo from conception, I never thought about being a professional writer, even though I had been scribing since I could scribble. Despite that and being a voracious reader, there were very few film writers who made an integral impact upon me like Dewey Webb. Finding out that he passed away back on April 26th, 2017 at only the age of 64, was sobering, to say the least. When you have present-day heroes, especially in the internet age, there is that sliver of hope that maybe you can say hi and even thank them for their light and hard work. After all, for every big-ticket mainstream juggernaut that has too much money and social media acolytes, there is a veritable sea upon shining sea of hard-working creatives who are arguably more deserving of such love, attention, and financial gains. Most of them are you and I and we are all just trying to survive a little better.
Oh well. Regret is for chumps, but I’m a tender-hearted chump who has two artists I especially wish I could have sent a little thank-you for the art, heart, and whimsy. One is Ray Dennis Steckler, the true blue auteur that gave us The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1968), Body Fever (1969), and the Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living & Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964), and Dewey Webb. I like to think that the latter would highly approve of being in such singularly awe-inspiring company of the director that acted under the greatest pseudonym in the world, Cash Flagg. Hell, who wouldn’t?
There should be more out there about Dewey than there is. Lesser writers and staid men are better remembered because of the roll of the dice and its dance partner, sheer dumb luck. But that's not why I am here, because every past, present, and future iteration of me is eternally grateful for the man known as Dewey Webb and I hope you are too. Thank you, Sir, and may the afterlife be full of restored Russ Meyer film prints, obscure punk rock, and the stiffest cocktails.
Dewey Webb-Related Links