All the music references in Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die’

The zombie horror romp arrives in cinemas this week

Zombie horror just got star-infested in the form of Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, an idiosyncratic new spin on undead movie tropes. The acclaimed auteur has brought together an ensemble cast of gargantuan proportion headed up by Bill Murray and Adam Driver, who play a pair of police officers trying to stave off the zombie apocalypse when the dead rise up from their graves as a result of polar fracking.

One of the many long-time Jarmusch cohorts putting in an appearance here is RZA, and the Wu-Tang Clan leader’s character offers up some wise advice in the film: “The world is perfect – pay attention to the details.” So, to toast the film’s theatrical release in the UK this week, we took heed of RZA’s words and caught as many musical references in the film as we could — all of which we’ve broken down below.

Welcome to Centerville

The Dead Don’t Die takes place in the seemingly quaint town of Centerville, which in itself is a musical reference to the fictional town in Frank Zappa’s 1971 musical surrealist film 200 Motels. Zappa co-wrote the film with British filmmaker and author Tony Palmer in an attempt to depict life on the road; a scenario that ended up driving Zappa’s band crazy on more than the odd occasion.

How Iggy popped his clogs


According to Jarmusch, Iggy Pop asked him before shooting began what the backstory for his zombie character was. The director explained that Pop’s character and his girlfriend, played by Sara Driver, had been killed while riding the former’s motorcycle in 1973 after leaving a Blue Öyster Cult concert. Jarmusch obviously did his homework with that one, as Iggy actually played a gig with Blue Öyster Cult (and Kiss) back in 1973.

Dean the delivery driver is the C.R.E.A.M. of the crop

We mentioned RZA in the preamble, but we didn’t specify his role. The Wu-Tang man plays Dean the delivery guy, and no other Jarmusch collaborator could have been more appropriate to drive around Centerville in a WU-PS delivery truck than RZA, right?

This is Thriller

When darkness eventually falls across the land one can’t help but draw comparisons with Michael Jackson‘s ‘Thriller’ music video, which was directed by one of horror’s greatest filmmakers, John Landis. Zombie hands slowly start breaking their way through the cemetery turf before Tom Waits’ puts in a zombie assault voiceover Vincent Price would be proud of.

Surfin’ Dead

One of the film’s more obvious homages takes place at the local convenience store. Caleb Landry Jones tells Selena Gomez and her hipster cohorts that their ’70s Pontiac is “very George Romero,” before telling them to “Stay sick” with another kid in the store adding, “Turn blue!” Both of these lines were catchphrases of Shock Theatre host Ernie ‘Ghoulardi’ Anderson (father of Paul Thomas Anderson), whose show was a popular late-night horror TV fixture that ran in the 1960s. But this reference is more than likely a direct tip of the hat to The Cramps’ song ‘Surfin’ Dead’ as the track in question is included in the soundtrack to the Night of the Living Dead follow-up Return of the Living Dead.

The Good Brothers?

When Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones find themselves holed up inside the aforementioned convenience store, they strike up a conversation about two dead locals known as “The Good Brothers” who “came out of the birth canal with guitars in their hands”. We’re clutching at straws with this one, but both actors seemed dead (ha) set on making some kind of a point — so we can only assume that this is a direct reference to twin brothers Brian and Bruce Good, who formed The Good Brothers band with guitarist James Ackroyd back in 1967.

Can you hear me, Major Tom?


*Major spoiler alert* What with Tilda Swinton’s character turning out to be an alien, it’s impossible not to assume that her morgue make-up skills are a direct reference to someone else who “fell to earth.” Can’t think who that might be, though…

Score sound familiar?

No, don’t fret: we’re not talking about Sturgill Simpson’s theme tune. Jarmusch scored the rest of the film with his band, Sqürl; a band he formed with film associate Carter Logan and sound engineer Shane Stoneback. If things do sound familiar, then you’ve most likely seen Jarmusch’s previous outing as the same trio is responsible for scoring Only Lovers Left Alive, the film that many are now calling “the sister film” to The Dead Don’t Die.

The Dead Don’t Die is released in the UK from July 12.

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