In 1959, up-and-coming actor Dick Miller starred in the film A Bucket of Blood, an hour-long black and white horror flick set during the beatnik heyday, directed by prolific filmmaker Roger Corman (at that point, Corman had already directed over 20 films in the three short years he’d been making movies); it would prove to be a serendipitous meeting, one that would spawn a character that Miller would end up playing several times over the next 35 years.
In A Bucket of Blood, Miller played ‘Walter Paisley’, a struggling artist who tries desperately to make his mark in the bourgeoning Bohemian art scene. It’s only after ol’ Walt starts killing people and pets alike – and covering them in clay – that he finally gets noticed and starts receiving the attention and accolades he’d wanted for so long. But that was only the beginning for that character. Here’s what Dick Miller recalled about playing Walter Paisley after A Bucket of Blood in a 2012 interview:
“When it first happened, or when it second happened, I didn’t think much of it. [Director Joe Dante] says, “You’re Walter Paisley!” I say, “Again?” He says, “It’s just a name, it’s not the character.” I said, “All right, fine.” I didn’t think about it. And then the third time it came up, he said, “You’re Walter Paisley!” I said, “Oh yeah?” It started to build, it was an inside joke. And by the fourth time he says, “You’re Walter Paisley,” I’m saying, “What is this? Every time there’s no name for the character, I become Walter Paisley.” He says, “So what, it’s an inside joke.”
And so it was. In 1976, Joe Dante – at the time, an unknown assistant to the aforementioned Corman – made his feature film directorial debut with the Corman-produced Hollywood Boulevard. Keeping the camaraderie going, Dante decides to name Miller’s character ‘Walter Paisley’, and with this nod to his boss, Dante would set in motion an in-joke that would pop up in another six films!
Dante would resurrect the Paisley character in 1981 with his awesome werewolf flick The Howling. In the film, Paisley is the owner of an occult bookshop. His role is a pivotal one: he not only provides the protagonist with all the necessary information on how to stop the werewolves…but also the silver bullets to actually get the job done. Miller claims this is one of his favorite roles. The movie also has cameos from Roger Corman, as well as sci-fi cornerstone Forrest J Ackerman (Miller would later play a character named ‘Mr. Ackerman’ in an episode of ER.)
Once again, under the direction of Joe Dante, ‘Walter Paisley’ makes yet another onscreen appearance – this time in the 1983 classic Twilight Zone: The Movie. It’s a brief appearance, as the Paisley cameos sometimes are. This time, Walter is the proprietor of a little diner. He pops up in the third segment of the film which is entitled, It’s a Good Life. Blink and you could miss him.
1986 would prove to be the most active year yet for the character, seeing him show up in two films released just a few months apart. The first was the Corman-produced Chopping Mall from director Jim Wynorski. Walt, a mall janitor, is electrocuted to death by the security robots that are running amok through the shopping center. Paisley isn’t the only fictional character to be carried over from another film to this one. In an odd inclusion, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov reprise their Eating Raoul characters, ‘Paul & Mary Bland’. The film also stars genre staples Barbara Crampton, Angus Scrimm, and Gerrit Graham.
(Fun Fact: Woronov, Bartel, Graham, Miller, as well as Roger Corman and Joe Dante, had all previously appeared together in the Bartel-directed Cannonball!)
Just a couple months after his appearance in Chopping Mall, the Paisley character would pop up again, this time in the Fred Dekker-directed genre bending Night of the Creeps. Paisley is a cop in this film – a role Miller would end up playing in a majority of his movies. Night of the Creeps is intentionally a very referential film, including naming all of the characters after famous horror directors, having Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger play zombies, and even naming the college the kids go to “Corman University”. So it doesn’t seem as though Paisley is there within the Dante/Corman universe, but rather is being paid homage to by Dekker.
Finally we have Rebel Highway, a short-lived television program set during the 1950s that aired on Showtime back in the mid-90s. Each episode ran about an hour and half long, and they were each directed by a different genre director – Robert Rodriguez, John Milius, and William Friedkin – just to name a few. Walter Paisley popped up – playing a cop – in the sixth episode entitled, “Shake, Rattle and Rock!”, alongside the aforementioned Mary Woronov and Gerrit Graham. Curiously enough, Joe Dante would end up directing an episode of Rebel Highway, and would even include Dick Miller, yet the character was named “Roy Farrell”. Makes ya wonder.
So there you have it. Seven times Dick Miller has played “Walter Paisley”. A Bucket of Blood was remade in 1995, with Anthony Michael Hall taking over the lead role. But we all know there’s only one Walter Paisley: that guy Dick Miller.