How zombie comedy ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ pulled off THAT gruesome scene with Selena Gomez

Spoiler alert! What follows contains plot details about the zombie movie “The Dead Don’t Die” (in theaters now). 

If you want to kill a zombie, you’ve got to kill the head. 

That’s the simple directive deadpan police duo Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Cliff (Bill Murray) are quickly forced to learn in “The Dead Don’t Die,” Jim Jarmusch’s super-meta, deceptively melancholy zombie comedy, now playing in theaters nationwide. 

Over the course of the brutal R-rated film, scores of stars are fatally masticated by the undead in gory, darkly funny fashion, including Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover and RZA. (Not to mention Iggy Pop and Carol Kane, both of whom appear as bumbling, coffee-and-chardonnay-swilling ghouls.)

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Zack (Luka Sabbat, left), Zoe (Selena Gomez) and Jack (Austin Butler) stumble into a zombie apocalypse in Jim Jarmusch's "The Dead Don't Die." (Photo: FREDERICK ELMES/FOCUS FEATURES)

But without a doubt, the movie’s most memorable death belongs to Selena Gomez, who plays a wide-eyed hipster named Zoe passing through the sleepy small town of Centerville when the zombies’ carnage begins. She holes up at a motel with her friends to wait out the apocalypse, but her gnawed and bloodied body is later discovered only somewhat intact by Ronnie, Cliff and sanguine cop Mindy (Chloe Sevigny).

Wanting to take no chances of Zoe turning into a zombie, Ronnie reluctantly slices off her head, holding up her decapitated appendage as his stunned colleagues look on in horror. 

Rather than use a dummy head, Gomez helped create the gruesome scene by kneeling on the ground next to Driver, making it appear as if he was holding her by her hair. The rest of her body was then digitally edited out in post-production, with added special effects of guts and black smoke spilling from her severed neck. 

Gomez was “very funny and cool about it,” producer Joshua Astrachan says. “(She) has enjoyed the unexpected magic trick of that shot, and the comedy in it, as we all have.”

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Selena Gomez at the New York premiere of "The Dead Don't Die." (Photo: THEO WARGO/GETTY IMAGES)

According to casting director Ellen Lewis, Gomez was Jarmusch’s first choice to play Zoe, in part because his daughter is a big fan of the actress/singer. Apparently, she is also a mutual fan of his films, and it was fairly easy to set up a meeting once Lewis got in touch with Gomez’s manager. 

“It’s always interesting when somebody has as large a persona as she does and you try to figure out when somebody can meet with the director,” Lewis says. “But it was all very simple. She was in New York, and they literally sat down at a downtown restaurant and had a cup of coffee together. Jim handed her the script, and I know she was really excited to be in the movie.” 

“Dead” marks the first live-action role for Gomez, 26, since she underwent a kidney transplant in 2017. She spent a week shooting the film in New York’s Catskill Mountains last summer, where fans and photographers still managed to scope her out. 

“Even though we were many hours from (New York), we had paparazzi on the sidewalk of the tiny village that we were shooting in,” Astrachan says. “As ever, Selena and her team were cool and poised and wise in helping us handle this, and we got through it without losing a step. Although, we turned that very small town into a very unlikely destination for a few competing photographers for several days.” 

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