At first glance, the pairing of game developer Goichi “Suda 51” Suda and filmmaker James Gunn seemed to come out of nowhere. But a shared love of pop culture brought them together and allowed them to create the madcap world of Lollipop Chainsaw‘s resident zombie slayer, Juliet Starling.
Naturally, neither one could resist packing it with as many pop culture references as they could think of…
The Obvious Reference
Top-to-bottom, Lollipop Chainsaw can trace the majority of its inspiration back to Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both are cheerleaders. Both are trained by older gentlemen who are noted demon hunters themselves. And both are assisted by friends and family in their fight against the forces of darkness.
Juliet even has a habit of posing with her chainsaw in a similar way as Buffy did in the opening credits of her eponymous show.
The Name Game
While the Buffy parallels stand out to anyone who watched more than a few minutes of the show, Juliet’s name should point players in the other big inspiration for Lollipop Chainsaw: Shakespeare. Juliet and her boyfriend Nick are stuck in the Romeo & Juliet role of young lovers kept apart by circumstances beyond their control. Thankfully, Juliet’s sisters Cordelia (also the name of a character from King Lear) and Rosalind (also the name of a character from As You Like It) plot to bring them back together. The other linking tissue between all three Starling sisters… they’re all famous daughters from Shakespeare.
Their father, Gideon Starling, looms large in the world of Lollipop Chainsaw. He’s described by Juliet as one of the greatest zombie hunters to ever live. The name Gideon is actually derived from the Hebrew word for “destroyer” or “great warrior.” The elder Starling eventually lives up to his namesake by delivering a dynamite payload to the face of the final boss.
The zombies of Lollipop Chainsaw are likely drawn to Juliet and her family because someone went around and named everything after famous zombie auteurs. The city of San Romero, which was named after the creator of the modern zombie, George Romero, never had a chance.
The sports teams of San Romero High gallop into battle as the Knights, which is actually another Romero reference. He directed a film titled Knightriders, one of his few non-zombie efforts, in 1981. The movie featured modern-day gangs that jousted while riding motorcycles… which is strikingly similar to Juliet running down zombies on her bike during the game’s opening.
When they’re not in school, the kids of San Romero High spend their days and nights at O’Bannon Farm and the Fulci Fun Center. Dan O’Bannon was the writer and director of Return of the Living Dead, a seminal entry in the zombie canon and one of the last gasps of the genre before it petered out in the late 80s. Lucio Fulci was known as “The Godfather of Gore” and directed multiple films starring the undead, including Zombi 2, an unofficial sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
Writer James Gunn even gets in on the fun by naming one of the early teacher bosses Mr. Fitzgibbon. Gunn always includes a character with this name in his films as an homage to childhood friend Larry Fitzgibbon. Even Gunn himself is a bit of a reference. His last name is an Americanization of MacGilGunn, which is Irish for “God of the Dead.” Finally, Gunn co-wrote and starred in the 2004 film LolliLove (with his then-wife, Jenna Fischer) about a couple who pass out lollipops to homeless people to make them feel better (the homeless people, not the couple).
Lollipop Chainsaw didn’t just borrow the plot from Buffy, it also co-opted the television show’s unique speech patterns. Basically, everything is a reference. And if you’re not sure if something is a reference or not, it’s probably a reference.
Take Zed, the Dark Purveyor in charge of San Romero High. Zed has a lot of angry, punk rock dialogue, but the reference is actually in his name, specifically Shaun of the Dead‘s reference to the modern zombie movie’s penchant for never saying the word “zombie” (“Don’t say the zed word”). So we’ve got a reference to a reference to another reference.
Oh yeah, and when Juliet slices off Zed’s hand with her chainsaw, it gives the world the middle finger, just like in Evil Dead II. And speaking of Bruce Campbell’s magnum opus, during the first level, a student tells Juliet that “Professor Campbell is so hot.” Bruce Campbell has never played a teacher that I know of, but he is a doctor of love, so I’m counting it.
Another amusing quote includes Nick’s observation after seeing zombies running on treadmills: “Running zombies? How ****ing stupid!” As an avowed Romero fan, I agree with Nick, but the Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later were still quality flicks.
Aside from the name of the school, Lollipop Chainsaw’s zombies have little to do with the classic Romero species. For starters, they actually talk! The first police officer zombie Juliet encounters screams “Dying hurts so much” after she cuts off his head. This is another twofer as it references Return of the Living Dead‘s second-most famous quote, “It hurts to be dead,” as well as the most famous, “Send. More. Cops.”
Finally, after dispatching a murder of zombies, Juliet proudly proclaims, “If it bleeds, I can kill it!” Predator isn’t a zombie movie, but it’s good to know that kids today are being exposed to the classics.
Dress For Success
Much has been made of Juliet’s cheerleader outfit (and whether it’s “appropriate”), but you can’t deny that she puts on a very interesting fashion show. That includes her special “Ash from The Evil Dead” costume. Complete with Ash’s short hair and blood-stained blue workshirt, the GameStop pre-order bonus is one of the few costumes that actually keeps Juliet covered.
You can’t say the same about the Sexy Rider costume, though. The skintight tracksuit is a pink copy of the yellow tracksuit originally worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Volume 1 (which was itself modeled off of Bruce Lee’s wardrobe from Game of Death). It’s also the most revealing costume in the game and wearing it in real-life almost caused “official cosplayer” Jessica Nigri to be booted from this year’s PAX East.
Juliet is actually a secret cosplayer herself. After defeating the final boss, gamers gain access to a quintet of costumes that were lifted from several popular anime shows: Deadman Wonderland, Magical Breasts Secret Sword Scroll, Is This A Zombie?, and the very appropriate Highschool of the Dead.
Put Another Dime in the Jukebox and a Quarter in the Arcade
James Gunn grew up in the 80s, so it’s not surprising that Juliet’s musical taste is taken from his pubescent years. This includes the girl power classic “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways and the cheerleading anthem “Mickey” by Toni Basil. “Mickey” actually plays whenever Juliet activates Star Power and lets out her super-cheerleader.
While Gunn used his dimes for music, Suda 51 clearly used his quarters in an arcade as the Fulci Fun Center actually traps Juliet inside three classic arcade games, Tron-style. Well, not exactly. The zombie hunter has to battle her way through deranged versions of Pac-Man (she’s a ghost and has to avoid zombie Pac-Man), Elevator Action, and a 3D version of Pong (balls are deadly).
The King is (Un)Dead
Juliet’s father, Gideon, and the final boss, Killabilly, both get their sense of style from the same source: Elvis Presley. Gideon finds inspiration in young, sexy Elvis, with a perfectly coiffed head of hair and a young man’s swagger, while Killabilly, the “zombie of zombies,” more closely resembles older Elvis, with his weight problem and ill-fitting jumpsuit. This proves that whether you’re a zombie or a walking Happy Meal with legs, the King is still the King.
Thank you, thank you very much!