The Film: 3.5/5
In the ultra-competitive world of combat scenarios restaged as paintball matches, no one beats the unbeatable Zero Boys. Team leader Steve (Daniel Hirsch) and his confident compatriots Rip (Jared Moses) and Larry (Tom Shell) celebrate their latest victory by heading up to the mountains to unwind and then proceed to party hard. Along for the ride are Rip and Larry’s girlfriends and Jamie (Kelli Maroney), the former female companion of rival paintballer Casey (John Michaels) who was unaware that her boyfriend put her company for the weekend up for the taking as a prize only because he didn’t plan on losing to the Zero Boys. Jamie and Steve are looking at the makings of an epic love story when the group begins to notice strange things going on in the woods, including hearing the screams of a woman who they can’t locate. Their search leads them to a cozy cabin in the middle of nowhere that initially appears to be unoccupied, but as the paintball warriors and their dates settle in for the evening the horrors they thought were only figments of overactive imaginations become all too real. A small team of backwoods psychopaths who don’t like intruders on their human hunting grounds makes their presence known in bloody fashion and it’s up to the Zero Boys and their convenient stash of automatic weapons to man up, lock and load, and save their sorry asses.
Let us all now raise our glasses filled with whatever refreshment we choose to imbibe in a toast to Nico Mastorakis, the multi-talented record producer, concert promoter, and independent exploitation filmmaker whose depraved directorial debut Island of Death earned him a spot of honor as one of the odious Mary Whitehouse’s least-favorite people on the planet. His movies have cluttered video store shelves and helped many a night owl cable viewer find easy entertainment value long after the sun went down for decades. He has written and directed over twenty feature films over the course of his impressive career in the industry, even handling the editing on four of them and writing a few songs for the Island of Death soundtrack. Mastorakis is genuine jack of all trades in the world of schlock cinema that’s cheap to produce but loads of fun to watch and his 1986 effort The Zero Boys, a tasty Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of a flick that has a bloody horror center surrounded by some delicious testosterone-dripping action coasting, is one of his best.
Scripted by Mastorakis and Robert Gilliam (with whom the director collaborated on his previous feature, 1985’s Sky High) from a story credited to Mastorakis and his frequent creative compatriot Fred C. Perry, The Zero Boys wastes no time in hurling the audience into the thick of paintball combat. It’s a clever set-up for the violent mayhem and it helps to establish the titular characters as skillful tacticians who take this weekend warrior business pretty seriously. Mastorakis and his cinematographer Steven Shaw (Fear No Evil) stage the extended sequence on an old western backlot town to great effect. After this rousing opener, the story settles down for the rest of the first act and the majority of the second as the Zero Boys and their lovely lady friends let their guard down and the horrific situation they have unwittingly stumbled into slowly begins to dawn on them.
Although some of these scenes of character development tend to run on too long at the expense of establishing the central threat that endangers our unlikely heroes, Mastorakis’ cast proves adequately capable of handling the slim material. In particular, lead performers Daniel Hirsch (Pass the Ammo) and Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet) acquit themselves well, developing a workable romantic chemistry with some of what little witty dialogue can be found in the screenplay. Hirsch makes for a good leader with the strength and charm necessary to pull such a performance off, but Maroney’s beauty and cool-headed grit and guts guarantee you won’t be able to take your eyes off of her. Tom Shell (Surf Nazis Must Die) and Jared Moses don’t humiliate themselves too much when called upon to play supporting action heroes, while Nicole Rio (Sorority House Massacre) and Crystal Carson (JAG) get little to do but scream, whimper, and constantly be in danger, but at least they do it well. The actors cast as the redneck psycho squad terrorizing our heroes don’t get any real opportunities to stand out, with only the incomparable Joe Estevez (credited as “Joe Phelan”) getting the chance to show his face on film long enough to be recognized by the most hardcore cult film fanatic.
The synthesizer-heavy original music score is credited to a young Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight) and the late British composer Stanley Myers (Eureka); they had previous collaborated on the soundtracks for The Story of O 2 (not a documentary about oxygen, oddly enough) and Success is the Best Revenge, while individually they worked for Mastorakis on several films he made before and after The Zero Boys. The main theme composed by Zimmer and Myers is perfectly suited to the late-80’s genre hybrid nature of the project, but a piece that accompanied a scene of the group driving up to the mountains practically had me howling because it sounds just like the sort of overblown cue you might have heard opening some cheeseball syndicated entertainment news magazine show. Frank Darabont, the future director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist, scored an early credit on the production working behind the scenes.
The Zero Boys makes its debut on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in both the U.S. and U.K. with a gorgeous 1080p high-definition transfer framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio made possible by the company’s recent scan of a 35mm interpositive in 4K resolution. Director Mastorakis approved the extensive restoration work performed on his film by the Arrow team. I cannot possibly imagine Zero Boys looking any better on home video than it does here; daylight scenes look their absolute best, with vibrant colors, accurate flesh tones, and vastly improved visual details. Grain content is also balanced and authentic for most of the film, but during scenes set at night or in the dark the presence of the grain becomes heavier most likely due to the condition of the elements. At least the black levels are solid and ensure the night action is easy to follow. The uncompressed English PCM 2.0 stereo audio track, according to Arrow’s included collector’s booklet, “was sourced and conformed from the original digital betacam tapes.” This is a very clear and uncluttered replication of the film’s original Dolby theatrical sound mix with a strong presentation of the dialogue and horribly dated music score across all channels and a refreshing absence of damage, distortion, and intrusive overlap. English subtitles have also been provided.
Lead actress Kelli Maroney takes center stage for an illuminating audio commentary moderated by Chris Alexander and reveals herself to be a trusted source of background info and production remembrances related to the making of The Zero Boys. She is also the focus of a fresh interview featurette, “Zero Girl”, which runs a swift 8 minutes and doesn’t fall prey to anecdotal overlap.
Co-star Nicole Rio gets her own informative interview aptly titled “Blame It On Rio” (8 minutes) and wisely uses her time to offer a broad overview of the beginnings of her acting career and how she came to be cast in Mastorakis’ action-horror hybrid. Speaking of Mastorakis, the director is also on hand for a new interview where he answers questions asked by…. himself. I kid you not. The featurette is titled “Nico Mastorakis On …. Nico Mastorakis” (28 minutes) and though it has an odd premise the prolific filmmaker is far from shy on the subject of making The Zero Boys.
The rest of the supplements package consists of two montages of scenes from the movie set to the Zimmer score and misleadingly titled “Music Videos”, a slim stills gallery containing mostly production stills and a few behind-the-scenes shots as well, the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes), and the screenplay accessible as a BD/DVD-ROM feature.
The great Graham Humphreys has graced this Blu-ray release with striking new cover art, but Arrow has also provided the original poster artwork on the reverse side. Finally, we have another of the company’s fine collector’s booklets, this one featuring an extensive new essay about The Zero Boys by James Oliver, color stills from the film, and details about the restoration. A DVD copy featuring a standard-definition presentation of the main feature and the accompanying extras has also been included.
Plot holes, hilariously awful score, and lack of narrative focus aside, The Zero Boys is a fun little mash-up of backwoods survival horror and macho 80’s action that never takes itself all that seriously and is a strong representation of the unpretentious B-movie greatness Nico Mastorakis could deliver at the height of his career. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray is the one to get for fans of this flick thanks to its stunning new high-definition transfer and interesting supplements. Cheap thrills rarely get to look this good on home video.