In 2009 comic actor Bill Murray appeared as himself in a horror romp titled “Zombieland.” It told about a shy student (Jesse Eisenberg), a pair of sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), and a gun-toting macho guy (Woody Harrelson) searching for the last Twinkie in post-apocalyptic America. They break into Bill Murray’s mansion and wind up shooting him. Murray has a self-deprecating nature, willing to die while playing a grandiose version of himself in a zombie flick.
Bill Murray and pals are repeating the performance later this year in a sequel called “Zombieland: Double Tap.”
Murray must like rising from the dead. He’s currently starring in yet another zombie movie, “The Dead Don’t Die.” You can still catch it at Tropic Cinema.
In this one, Bill Murray doesn’t play himself for a change, instead donning the badge of Chief Cliff Robertson, the head lawman in the quiet little town of Centerville. But the situation changes when the dead begin to rise from their graves.
It all begins when a farmer reports a missing chicken.
Helping Chief Robertson face this horde of zombies are his deputies (Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny), Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), Farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi), juvie inmate Geronimo (Jahi Winston), hardware store owner Hank Thompson (Danny Glover), broadcaster Posie Juarez (Rosie Perez), town drunk Mallory O’Brien (Carol Kane), and sword-wielding mortician Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton). Look closely and you’ll also spot Selena Gomez, Iggy Pop, and RZA.
And you’ll also learn that some zombies are coffee addicts.
Yes, the movie is meant to be funny.
In addition to the all-star cast, there are lots of inside jokes.
Centerville is a reference to the fictional town in Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels.”
The vintage Pontiac is a reference to the car driven by Barbara and her brother in George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”
Adam Driver’s car keys are on a Star Wars key ring.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
As one moviegoer put it, “It is awkwardly funny and the Easter eggs are getting shoved in your face.”
“The Dead Don’t Die” is directed by cult filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, the first wide release (600+ theaters) in his entire 35-year career. He claims Tilda Swinton gave him the idea for the film when she starred in his oddball-but-brilliant vampire movie, “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
As Jarmusch recalls, “I’d told Tilda about the sort of vague idea that I had for this a few years ago, and asked her: Is there any type of character you’d want to play in this weird little town? And she immediately said, ‘Oh, I’d love to be an undertaker!’ Ok, Swinton, you got it!”
“I’m not particularly interested in zombie movies,” Jarmusch admits with a shrug. “To me, the great postmodern zombie director is George A. Romero. He’s the guy. And there are a lot of references for the Romero nerds in my movie.”
Jarmusch adds, “Generally, monsters – vampires, Frankenstein, Godzilla, whatever – they are outside the social structure. They are a danger to it, they are threatening it. With Romero, man, the zombies come from the social structure. They’re something that’s failed in the system. They’re the result of the social structure falling apart. They’re eating it from within.”
He pauses to think about it. “That’s the ironic thing, I guess – I’m not a zombie fan. I’m more of a vampire guy. They are complicated, they are sexual, they’re smart. They have a lot of difficult things they need to do to survive. They’re shape-shifters – now they are a bat, now they are wolf! They’re … cool.”
He continues, “What’s cool about a zombie? They’re lifeless forms. They’re soulless humanoids.”
Soulless humanoids? That may remind you that Jarmusch is the indie director who gave us social oddities as “Stranger Than Paradise,” “Down by Law,” and “Mystery Train.”
Maybe that’s why another moviegoer observed, “The first thing that is absolutely brilliant is the slow pace … and the long shots that remind me of an indie film.”
A fresh eye for a zombie flick.
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