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.)