Duranalysis: Night Boat

It’s the great Duran Duran-versus-zombies showdown!

The video for “(Waiting for the) Night Boat” came out in 1982. I just saw it for the first time yesterday. How did this slip beneath my radar for so long? How did I go twenty-nine years not knowing there was a video in which the Duran Duran boys get their pretty asses handed to them by a horde of zombies?

As with so many of Duran Duran’s best videos, “Night Boat” was directed by Russell Mulcahy. It was shot in Antigua simultaneously with their much-celebrated “Rio” video; “Rio,” of course, became a breakout smash hit (and was recently voted The Greatest Music Video Ever by viewers of MTV UK) and kicked the Duran Duran international phenomenon into the highest possible gear, whereas “Night Boat” slipped through the cracks. I won’t say a word against “Rio” -- it’s a bright, splashy, joyous video, and it boosts my spirits every time I see it -- but really, folks, which would you rather see: Duran Duran cavorting on a yacht while competing for the attention of a leggy brunette, or Duran Duran getting ambushed by zombies?


So, “Night Boat”: The boys are vacationing together on a near-deserted Caribbean island. In the dialogue-heavy introductory scenes, Roger and John stroll down toward the water, passing various ramshackle structures. They’re chattering to themselves and thus fail to pay attention to a dangling radio, which is transmitting an urgent mayday about a strange ship in the area.

Simon loiters by the water and watches as a boatman ferries Andy up to the dock. You probably can’t really tell that's Andy in the photo below, any more than you could tell it was Roger in the previous one. Clean copies of this video are hard to find, so my screenshots all kind of suck. Factor in how the boys are dressed in similar beach-appropriate outfits and sport relatively similar hairstyles, and how they seem to spend a lot of time lurking in shadows or standing with their backs to the camera, and I had a terrible time sorting out who was who. I watched this an embarrassing number of times before I felt confident identifying this person as Andy.

Of course, some Durans are easier to peg than others. I see you, Nick! I’d recognize that eyeliner anywhere.

And John was kind enough to wear a cute hat for the first half of the video (before he -- spoiler alert! -- loses it in a zombie attack), which makes it easy to pick him out of the bunch. He’s also about a foot taller than Nick, Andy and Roger, so, y’know, that helps too.

Nick chats with Simon. Nick is being his usual magical-pixie self, i.e. slinky and fetching and faintly terrifying all at once. Simon, on the other hand, is acting a little… off. He mutters, “She should be here soon,” while scanning the coastline, then, as though in a trance, starts reciting Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech from Romeo & Juliet (“She is the fairies' midwife…”).

As Simon babbles on, a shadowy figure scurries in front of a full-length mirror, which is showing Nick’s reflection. Mirror-Nick covers his face as the mirror shatters, though in reality, back on the dock, Nick hasn’t moved.

So that’s weird.

Simon snaps out of his trance and looks up in concern when the mirror breaks. John strolls by and asks him what’s wrong. Visibly unsettled, Simon assures him it’s nothing.

(The creepy atmospheric details in this video -- scuttling crabs, creaking boards, crackling radios -- are first-rate. It’s blindingly clear something terrible is about to happen/is already happening to our boys.)

John wanders off to stroll on the beach, and suddenly night has fallen. He clutches his face as he’s plagued by visions of zombies. By the way, when I say “zombies,” I’m talking about the Afro-Caribbean voodoo-related type that were all the rage in the 1980s, the kind that factored into The Serpent and the Rainbow and appeared randomly in Miami Vice episodes, not the diseased and/or radioactive flesh-devouring sort that are in vogue these days. Nobody’s going to rip open John’s pretty head to feast on his brains. Rest easy.

John lets out a long, anguished wail and drops to his knees, then crawls around on all fours, babbling at some unseen foe to leave him alone.

…And all this happens before the zombie horde set upon him and start ripping off his clothes.

Simon, meanwhile, took the time for a quick wardrobe change and is now striding through the darkness in a cool ankle-length black leather coat. Singing all the while, he pays no attention to the zombies lurking behind the shrubbery and in the trees above his head.

Suddenly, we’re back to daylight again, and Simon is once again on the dock, still reciting Shakespeare. Did we just back up in time? Was the zombie attack all a dream? Who knows? It’s not the most straightforward and linear video ever, but it sure is chock full of awesomeness.

Andy and Nick, who seem freaked out of their adorable heads (I can’t tell if they’ve been legitimately spooked by something we haven’t seen, or if they’re just being hammy), scamper up to a zoned-out Simon and ask him what’s wrong. When he doesn’t answer, they scurry off in a panic.

Just as suddenly, it’s night again. Zombies slither around under the dock. Simon, unsurprisingly, has somehow found himself a leggy brunette (wherever Simon may be, leggy brunettes tend to magically appear), who’s probably the bad-news faerie queen he was awaiting.

When next we see him, he’s standing on the bow of a boat, his long coat flapping in the breeze.

Making chipper, personable, garrulous Simon seem at all sinister and malevolent is sort of an uphill battle, but this video takes a decent stab at it.

Roger update: He’s now lying in a motionless heap on the floor of a cabin while zombies swarm about.

He sits up and looks around in confusion as Nick, whom we last saw scurrying for his life, slinks up behind him and touches his shoulder. Well, this is deucedly odd: Nick is now dressed in spectral white instead of head-to-toe black as before. And his hair is styled differently. And it’s a different color. And I think it might be longer, or maybe just teased out to its full glory. He’s also now in his full-speed-ahead, no-pore-left-uncovered makeup, instead of the toned-down no-muss beach-appropriate version (eyeliner, mascara, lipstick) he’d been sporting earlier. Assuming this is not an especially gnarly continuity error, this probably means the zombies have already gotten to Nick.

On the other hand, I also find it eminently plausible that, in the event of a zombie attack, Nick would take a break from the action to change into his own personal version of warpaint and battle armor, just so he could meet his doom with style and aplomb.

(Key Nick Rhodes quote about this era: “I felt very grown up when I was wearing makeup, thank you very much.” I’m looking at a July 1984 issue of Teen Set magazine right now -- oh, don’t ask -- which lists Nick’s favorite foods as “prawns, steak, strawberries and champagne,” and I think this is the moment where I officially embrace Nick as my new role model/personal spiritual guru. He’s fun.)

Roger hightails it across the island, one step ahead of the zombie horde. He reaches his cabin and locks himself inside, then collapses in exhaustion, just out of reach of the zombies, who keep trying to grab him through the slats in his front door.

Simon’s still on the boat, singing up a storm and partying with zombies, who swarm around him and cavort about the deck.

After the zombie horde disperses, Roger emerges from his cabin, looking bedraggled and sad. He stares out over the water and sees Simon’s boat sailing into the distance.

Through the blurry, grainy video, it’s hard to tell anything for sure (grumble, mutter, complain), but it looks like Nick is on board as well. It’s probably a logical assumption the rest of the boys are there, too.

Wow. Even without the gigantic budget and full production resources of Duran Duran’s later works, that’s pretty much a perfect music video, start to finish: cool, creepy, stylish, awesome. Hard to understand why it fell into obscurity.

(You can view a blurry version of "Night Boat" here. If anyone knows of a crisper copy online, by all means, let me know.)


Ingrid Richter said…
Awesome recap, Morgan, as always!

So I always assumed that the "Night Boat" was death (i.e. Charon = Simon Le Bon). If so, and the zombies figure in, why did Roger manage to escape unscathed?

Also, what was the order of zombie-fication/death in the video? Simon = first, Roger = never, but I still can't figure out the Duran Duran guys in the middle.

Glad you're doing these, BTW - you've made my Sunday :-)
Morgan Richter said…
why did Roger manage to escape unscathed?

Roger always seemed somewhat less decadent and purer of heart than the others. Maybe that rendered him zombie-immune?

Also, what was the order of zombie-fication/death in the video?

My first guess is that it went Simon-John-Nick-Andy, but there are creepy little indications ealier on that some kind of (voodoo-based?) possession was taking place right from the start -- Nick's reflection in the mirror, the bottle in the shack where John picks up the bucket rolling by itself. (I'd say Nick might've been possessed/hexed from the start, with the way he was slinking around and peering in windows, but Nick strikes me as an inveterate slinker, so that might be nothing.) Forty-five seconds in, there's an unclear shot of someone muttering to himself -- I've been assuming it's Simon, but it's impossible to be sure. There might be a clue of something there.
Morgan Dodge said…
Given the current zombie trend and lit-mod fetish going on these days (see: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for example) it seems like Shakespeare and zombies is a natural. Right? Maybe?

It just seems like another one of those moments when Duran Duran was ahead of their time.

'Cause it echoes me, echoes me, echoes me!"

I'm personally more of a creeper zombie fan, as opposed to the voodoo zombies, but that's probably just a product of the era.
Morgan Richter said…
I kinda dig the voodoo zombies. More spooky, less brain-eaty. Plus, I figure it's more appropriate for the Caribbean setting.

it seems like Shakespeare and zombies is a natural.

Sure, why not? Ingrid also pointed out that some of the shots are composed like Maxfield Parrish paintings, which... yeah, they're just grabbing influences from all over the place. Just a cool little video.
DKoren said…
Speaking of Roger corrections, that's Roger lying unconscious on the steps, not Andy, in the middle segment when Nick touches his shoulder. Andy seems to vanish in this one after scurrying about with Nick. Nick and John are definitely on the boat with Simon at the end, but I can't spot Andy.

I really love this video. It is full of awesome and I never tire of watching the guys join/resist the zombies. It's just too much fun! You highlight all the cool stuff.
Morgan Richter said…
Speaking of Roger corrections, that's Roger lying unconscious on the steps, not Andy, in the middle segment when Nick touches his shoulder

Yup, you're right. Duly fixed. Andy kind of pulls a disappearing act in both of the videos shot in Antigua.

It is full of awesome and I never tire of watching the guys join/resist the zombies.

It might be my favorite Duran video. I mean, zombies!
Anonymous said…
So glad I found this page! I was at Romeo & Juliet rehearsals tonight, and as Mercutio started in with "She is the faeries' midwife..." my little ears perked up and suddenly I was hearing Simon saying it. I was going nuts trying to figure out why!
Anonymous said…
Great Duranalysis, Morgan! I just want to add my take publicly, some of which you already know from our email convos:

1. The rapid day-night switches are due to reality (day) and alternate universe (night)
2. I think Nick and Andy were "legitimately freaked out of their pretty heads" because they heard John scream.
3. I think the order was Simon, John, Andy, Nick, and Roger. (Yes, even Roger) Andy was overtaken before Nick. That's why he ran with Nick after trying to talk to Simon, but he's not around when Nick was running away from the water. Notice also Nick's hair was wet and his eye makeup was running.

Morgan Richter said…
Hi, Lisa! You are probably exactly right with all of your guesses.
mirrigold said…
The video is an homage to Italian horror film director Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 :)
Morgan Richter said…
Ah, thanks, mirrigold! I didn't know that.
Deanna Duncan said…
I've been a Duran Duran girl since 1983 and I cannot believe that I haven't seen this video! Thank you for making us aware of this...you know they had zombies floating in Wild Boys too! I read In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor he got right with God! So happy for him! (Me too!) He looks so much happier now in photos...but he's always looked good! I've never seen a more beautiful man! Where can I find this video? In the mean time I will be checking YouTube today! :)

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