The 10 Greatest Roles of Dick Miller

By Fred Topel in Daily Lists, Movies
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 6:00 am

Dick Miller

You love Dick Miller movies. Maybe you don't know you love Dick Miller movies, but you definitely love Dick Miller movies. He's been in 174 movies and TV shows, but you may only know him as "that guy." Whenever he shows up in a pivotal scene, you go, "It's that guy!" That's why the name of his own movie is That Guy Dick Miller.

That Guy Dick Miller is a documentary about all of Dick Miller's roles. It premiered at SXSW and literally walks us through every Dick Miller performance, featuring interviews with Miller himself and all his directors and costars too. I'm a huge movie buff and it's even my job to watch everything and even I didn't know all of Dick Miller's roles. Of course I knew he was in every Joe Dante movie, but once he's worked with Roger Corman, who can keep track?

If you can't wait until That Guy Dick Miller gets released, we've narrowed it down to the 10 Best Dick Miller roles so you can get started with these. Miller was also just given the IMPACT award from Hollywood Horrorfest. Spoiler alert for any Dick Miller movies you may not have seen.

10. The Howling

Dick Miller played a very important role in Joe Dante's werewolf movie. He was the owner of an occult bookshop who sold silver bullets. You see, real werewolves are not hunky teenagers who work out a lot and don't wear shirts. Real werewolves keep biting you, and if you survive the bite, you just become part of the problem. You'd better shoot 'em with silver bullets before you find yourself imprinting on a baby. Wait, that's still the wrong kind of werewolf.

This was already Miller's third collaboration with director Joe Dante, fourth if you count Rock n' Roll High School on which Dante shot the final day of production. Dante was an old school B-movie fan who got his start in the business from Corman himself, so he would always have a role for Dick Miller, whose character in The Howling doesn't seem to believe in werewolves or even care one way or the other. He just wants to close and get these customers out the door, like when you really need an iPhone charger and the Radio Shack guy doesn't give a fuck, only in this case the iPhone charger is the mythological weakness of a lycanthrope.

9. Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight

Demon Knight was the first movie released under the Tales from the Crypt banner, hosted by TV's The Crypt Keeper, so the 92-minute run time was really more like 80 without the bookends. Billy Zane played the demon chasing the last key containing the blood of Christ. If he gets the last key, then chaos will rule the world, because of course it will.

The demon corners the last key in a remote inn where a group of survivors band together to keep him out and protect the key. Miller plays Uncle Willy, a local who falls under the demon's spell. Uncle Willy is tempted by an orgy of topless women, which Miller referred to as "a dairy farm." Get it? Because milk and teats? His wife Lanie still seems jealous of the Demon Knight babes when she's interviewed in That Guy Dick Miller. Anyway, Miller loved the character and undergoing heavy makeup prosthetics for when he gets possessed. We can also thank him for being partly responsible for the film's gratuitous T&A.

8. War of the Satellites

Roger Corman directed this movie himself, before he realized he could farm off the directing job to his underlings and still manage to spend even less. It was one of Miller's first top billed leading roles, as an astronomer helping the United Nations defeat an alien attack on their space launches. Miller was trying to hide his New York accent and in effect appears as a stoic, heroic leading man.

War of the Satellites must have been the first movie based on the legitimate space race, since Corman began the day the Russians announced Sputnik and had the movie in theaters two months later. A lot of '50s sci-fi was thinly veiled Cold War panic, but this is like Oliver Stone getting W. finished wile Bush was still sitting President. This involves aliens taking possession of scientists and replicating themselves, but don't get too excited. It's still Roger Corman effects.

7. Apache Woman

Apache Woman was Dick Miller's first movie for Roger Corman, and so a legend was born. This one is noteworthy because Miller played two roles in the same film. Not a bad gig for the new guy on the job. Miller did so well playing the Indian, er, Native-American named Tall Tree that Corman asked him to play a homesteader in the same movie. That's a cowboy, and this was when the term "cowboys and Indians" wasn't politically incorrect, so imagine Miller walking in both worlds like Blade.

The western is a vehicle for Lloyd Bridges to play a hero coming to town to save folks from Apache attacks. Boy, was that politically incorrect. Also note that Miller stands 5'5", not exactly a towering Sequoia. He was wearing so much makeup as Tall Tree, though, that Corman thought no one would notice if he showed up again. When Corman offered Miller the second role, Miller asked when the movie was shooting. Corman said, "No, it's this picture."

6. The Terror

Of the Roger Corman movies, The Terror may feature Miller's most instrumental performance. However, it will take a lot of setup to fully understand.

The Terror was one of those movies that Corman would knock off in a few days using spare sets, like The Little Shop of Horrors. They're generally not very good and they're barely over 60 minutes long, but they are end up being legendary Corman anecdotes.

So Corman had filmed The Raven with Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson, and they finished early. The actors were still under contract for three days, so Corman figured he could get another movie out of them. Using the same sets, he started shooting so much random stuff that it would never make any sense cut together. Until they wrote a scene for Dick Miller. Miller has a 90-second monologue that recaps the entire plot and ties everything together, at least well enough to get the movie finished. You've got to wonder if today's Hollywood hacks base all their exposition-heavy scripts on Miller's speech from The Terror

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