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"I Know That Guy!" - A Farewell To Dick Miller

dick miller
We bid farewell to one of the most enduring screen presences.


Words by Eric Hillis


As a movie addicted kid in the 1980s, there was one actor who seemed to appear in every video tape I rented. He wasn't a leading man, far from it, and many of his roles constituted little more than a cameo. I didn't know his name at first - he was simply the gunstore owner Arnie mows down with his own merchandise in The Terminator, the town grump in Gremlins, the not long for this world janitor in Chopping Mall - but later I learned his name was Dick Miller, and this morning I sadly learned that he passed away at the age of 90.

dick miller

As my budding cinephilia led me to look beyond the '80s and explore classic, and in Miller's case, not so classic Hollywood, I realised why Miller was making so many appearances in '80s movies. It was because the filmmakers of that decade had grown up, just like myself, watching Miller make countless memorable screen appearances.



Like so many Hollywood greats, we have Roger Corman to thank for discovering Miller. After serving in the Navy, picking up a doctorate in Psychology and working in various psychiatric wards, Miller headed to Hollywood in the early '50s, initially hoping to start a career as a writer. His first screen role came courtesy of Corman, who cast Miller in two roles - a cowboy and an Indian - in his 1955 western Apache Woman. Miller was known for his many onscreen deaths, and in Apache Woman he got to shoot his own character!

dick miller

In the following decades, Corman would employ Miller more than any other actor, and not just in supporting roles. In 1959, Corman cast Miller in the lead in his black comedy A Bucket of Blood. In a performance that allowed him to fully explore his comic chops, Miller played Walter Paisley, a dullard who finds himself accepted into the beatnik art scene when his plaster-covered dead cat is mistaken as a piece of art, leading Paisley to embark on a killing spree to fuel subsequent artworks. The character of Walter Paisley made such an impact on a generation of future filmmakers that it became a running in-joke to name Miller's characters after the fraudulent murderer. Miller is credited as Walter Paisley in the likes of Joe Dante's The Howling, Jim Wynorski's Chopping Mall and Dante's segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Fittingly, Miller's final screen role sees him cast once again as Walter Paisley in the as yet unreleased horror movie Hanukkah.



What made Miller so loveable was how out of place he seemed in Hollywood with his everyman appearance and unassuming manner. It was as though your hardware store owning uncle had somehow inveigled his way into some of your favourite movies. In Corman's 1963 film, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, Miller has a cameo as a heckler, disrupting Ray Milland's display of his X-Ray powers. It's the role that perhaps best sums up Miller's place in Hollywood - a heckler who made his way to the front of the crowd, stealing the spotlight from more starry performers.

dick miller

To the casual viewer, Miller was the ultimate "That guy!", but for lovers of cult movies, he was an enduring icon, as synonymous with exploitation and grindhouse cinema as yellow credits, wah-wah guitars and Filipino extras falling out of trees. His presence will be sorely missed.





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