The 10 Greatest Roles of Dick Miller

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

5. The Terminator

Now come on, you remember this scene. In the original Terminator, after the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) appears naked on the street, he gets his clothes from a gang of punks and then arms up. When he goes to a pawn shop, who is there selling him guns but Mr. Dick Miller himself?

The clerk has no reason to think anything is wrong. An Austrian bodybuilder just happens to be in quick need of some inexpensive weaponry. This was the ’80s when gun laws were probably even more lenient than they are today. The Brady Bill instituting mandatory background checks wouldn’t be passed until 1993, though the attempted Reagan shooting that inspired it had happened three years before The Terminator.

This was also before there was a Terminator 2, Terminator 3, Terminator: Salvation or Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time so it was a surprise to the audience when the Terminator refused to pay for the guns and shot the poor clerk. Well, I guess no one should have been that surprised. It is called The Terminator, after all.

4. Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction

What’s that, you say? You don’t remember Dick Miller in Pulp Fiction? I mean, I know there was a huge cast. Not just John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, but Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette and even Julia Sweeney. Surely, Dick Miller must have been in there somewhere.

Actually, Dick Miller’s scene was cut from Pulp Fiction. Remember when The Wolf (Keitel) takes Jules (Jackson) and Vincent (Travolta) to Monster Joe’s junkyard to dispose of the bloody car? Miller played Monster Joe. The scene is included on DVDs and Blu-rays of Pulp Fiction along with Tarantino’s regrets for deleting it. However, Miller says he didn’t find out until he got to the premiere. Miller says Tarantino was surprised to even see him there, and never gave him an explanation why the scene was cut. At least Miller could watch the DVD if he really wants an answer.

3. A Bucket of Blood

Everyone in That Guy Dick Miller agrees that A Bucket of Blood was Miller’s seminal Roger Corman movie. Running a mere 66 minutes, it has Miller playing Walter Paisley, a local artist who creates marvelously lifelike sculptures. It turns out Paisley’s been pouring plaster over dead bodies to make his magnificent sculptures.

Walter Paisley made such a big impact that Corman conceived The Little Shop of Horrors as a sequel to A Bucket of Blood. Imagine if Seymour Krelboyne had been Walter Paisley, moving on from art to horticulture and feeding his plants blood? Alas, Miller didn’t want to repeat himself, and he now regrets turning down the lead in Little Shop. He did still do a cameo, playing a customer who eats the petals off a plant.

Joe Dante would lovingly name three of the characters Miller played for him Walter Paisley, though he was not intended to be the same Walter Paisley in Hollywood Boulevard, The Howling or Twilight Zone: The Movie. Jim Wynorski also named Miller’s character Walter Paisley in Chopping Mall. It’s Dick Miller’s own “I’ll Be Back” or “See You Next Wednesday.”

2. Gremlins

Okay, now you all must have seen this growing up, and you remember Dick Miller as the neighbor, Mr. Futterman, whose house gets bulldozed by some rampaging gremlins. Futterman even complains about gremlins before any gremlins appear in the movie, but as a kid I didn’t understand that he was talking about World War II legends. Pilots and mechanics would blame mechanical failures on mischievous gremlins.

Mr. Futterman was also spared a mortal fate by the gremlins at the last minute, when producer Steven Spielberg decided there was already too much killing in Gremlins. A news report at the end of the movie was recorded to say Mr. Futterman and his wife were recovering in the hospital. Good thing too, because that led to the number one Dick Miller movie…

1. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

It’s Mr. Futterman’s revenge! Murray Futterman and his wife (Jackie Joseph) visit Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates) in New York. Murray is still appropriately traumatized by his encounter with actual live gremlins at Christmas in 1984. When a genetically mutated Bat Gremlin escapes the Clamp Center, it attacks the Futtermans. This time, Murray fights back and dunks the Bat Gremlin in some conveniently placed wet concrete. After this, Murray sneaks into the Clamp Center to join the fight against gremlins.

Honestly, I did not find out until I was a grown-up that Gremlins 2 was considered a failure. For me it was the most anticipated movie of 1990 and I assumed everyone else realized how awesome it was. It was also my red pill moment when it blew my 13-year-old mind. The gremlins actually stop the movie and Hulk Hogan has to make them put it back on. For crying out loud, Leonard Maltin reviews Gremlins IN Gremlins 2!

Most importantly, though, Dick Miller gets a bigger role as Mr. Futterman and finally gets some justice.

Previously By Fred Topel

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