ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 25TH APRIL, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 89 min
REVIEWED BT: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Steve, Larry and Rip are part of a paintball team known as “The Zero Boys”. After winning a tournament, they decide to celebrate. Along with their girlfriends Jamie, Trish and Sue, they venture deep into the woods of California to party. Along the way they hear a woman’s scream, then Jamie sees a woman running through the woods, but nobody believes her. They find a cabin in a remote part of the woods, but Sue sees an eye looking at them through a crack in the ceiling while she’s having sex with Rip, Larry finds a pit full of skeletons, the phone line and lights go out, the car won’t start, and Jamie sees the shadow of a man wielding a very large knife….
My only sampling of the work of exploitation vet Nico Mastorakis up to now was Arrow’s release of his ‘video nasty’ Island Of Death, and to be honest I wasn’t very impressed by a film which had a few interesting aspects but which lacked the required directorial, writing and acting skills to make them work, and which I found a bit of a chore in places. Luckily The Zero Boys, an Arrow release which I almost didn’t ask to review but am now glad I did, seems to me to be a significant improvement on the earlier film. Coming towards the end of the big slasher boom of the 1980’s, where some filmmakers were trying some new ideas in the sub-genre amidst all the lame rehashes, The Zero Boys has that archetypal 80’s slasher feel and is so full of tried and tested slasher clichés that there are times that you may want to laugh more than anything else, but it seems to be aware of the latter, almost venturing into self parody in places, and it does have some touches of originality, such as teenage protagonists who are definitely not your usual inept, weak, defenceless types, and a killer who likes to torture as much as kill in what is partly a precursor to the later ‘torture porn’ films especially the Saw franchise. Something of a minor cult favourite over the years, the picture isn’t any kind of classic, even as a slasher movie, but by the end I realised I’d had quite a good time watching it.
Like many of Mastorakis’s films, The Zero Boys, which was the fourth film to be produced by his own production company Omega Entertainment, but his first movie to be made in Hollywood, was made very cheaply. The script was dashed off in two weeks and the cast were mainly unknowns aside from Kelly Moranis who had just been in Night Of The Comet. The film was shot over 17 nights and one day at Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch, which hadn’t long been used for Friday the 13th – Part 3-D [and would go on to be used in many successive productions though usually disguised] and Newhall Ranch [the beginning sequence], both just outside Los Angeles. Partly due to Mastorakis not being used to working with an American crew, the director was strict with cast and crew in what quite a tough shoot. He wanted Moranis to be nude in one scene, and she said she’d do it for another 500 dollars….which of course was unavailable so she stayed fully clad. A certain Frank Darabont was the art director’s assistant, while a certain Hans Zimmer co-wrote the music score with Stanley Myers. The film was surprisingly well reviewed but went straight to video, suffering 15 seconds of cuts in the UK, while in Sweden the entire climax was removed. Now the BBFC’s website says that the film was downgraded from an ’18’ certificate to a ‘15’ for Arrow’s new release, but it actually carries an ’18’. I assume that the BBFC just changed their mind.
The Zero Boys initially comes across as an odd kind of Western as a group of young people are enacting war games [which seems to be essentially paintballing, though that hadn’t really come along yet] on a Western-type set. This scene is rather long but is rather well shot and executed, and immediately I was struck by how much Mastorakis had improved as a filmmaker in ten years. The ‘heroine’ Jamie is awarded as a ‘prize’ to the leader of the winning team, Steve, by the losing leader, and at first she seems only mildly bothered by this, and later appears to forget all about it. Well, it was the 80’s, and I should say there’s also some, though not very much, politically incorrect dialogue which may not appear in today’s overly sensitive time considering it’s from characters we’re supposed to like, such as, upon hearing a scream: “Somebody’s probably raping mother nature again”. The group soon arrive at the cabin [the journey is accompanied by as cheesy 80’s-style synth music as you can imagine, which of course increases the fun], and assorted eerie things begin to happen and the three couples are not only prevented from having the kind of fun they wanted to have, but are even prevented from leaving the place when they just don’t want to be there anymore.
There’s an okay Les Diabolioque-style false scare in a bathtub, a moment where, in a nice reversal of what we expect to see, the killer comes out of a shower to grab somebody who is standing in front of it is pleasing, and a sudden bit with a hanging body in a bodybag that certainly had the desired effect on me, though Mastorakis isn’t very good at building suspense and the switch from a fairly light hearted [the film isn’t at all a spoof, but does at times reveal a slight knowingness] vibe to the nastiness of a torture room where our friends have to watch others being tortured on TV isn’t very well managed. The final section set in the woods is good exciting stuff though. Our protagonists may be tough cookies with weapons [listen out for the excuse as to why they have real weapons….as opposed to fake ones….along with them], but they’re still vulnerable out there where the elements are as dangerous as a mad killer on the loose. There’s a surprise or two in the story, a rather pointless twist ending, and a killer who can be machine-gunned in the chest and impaled on loads of spikes and still be alive….but it’s all quite well handled by Mastorakis in what is really two thirds slasher flick and one third low rent action movie and even has a slight Predator feel about it. In fact, think of The Evil Dead, Wrong Turn, Saw and Predator all rolled into one but given an extremely minimal budget, and you pretty much get The Zero Boys.
Surprisingly, given the excesses of Island Of Death, The Zero Boys shows very little blood and actually holds back on the brutality aside from a rather nasty bit where a tied-up woman is being suffocated. There are several deaths but nothing that should trouble the squeamish. I didn’t feel that the relative lack of graphic material hurt the film, and was more distracted by extremely silly things like somebody being able to fire an arrow from a crossbow underwater and still hit the right target first time, or the killer apparently being skilful enough to put a padlock on the outside of a cabin from the inside. And there’s one of the most unconvincing heads in a fridge you will ever see. The Zero Boys is a surprisingly good looking film though, cinematographer Steven Shaw giving us in particular some very atmospheric shots of the exterior of the cabin at night surrounded by fog, while there’s one lovrly single shot set in a darkened corner of a room with blue from outside streaming in through a window on one side and the yellow of a fire on the other which is very impressive indeed. Most of the film takes place at night-time, and I remember reading once that it’s hard to see what’s going on at times in this film, though I certainly didn’t have that problem watching Arrow’s Blu-ray. I reckon it’s a case much like that of Humongous, much of which seemed to take place in near darkness when seen on video but had just been poorly transferred and was substantially improved when it got a decent release on DVD.
Mastorakis really directs this film quite well [was this really the same filmmaker who made Island Of Death?] and Kelli Maroney, though saddled with an unconvincing character to play, does good as the heroine, while the acting overall is on a much higher level than normal for this sort of thing, though the script doesn’t really make enough of an effort to substantially differentiate the six main guys and gals. If you’re into your movie soundtracks, it actually seems like Zimmer wrote and performed the majority of the score, which is done mostly on a synthesiser, while Myers just composed a few portions in a more melodic and orchestral vein. The mix works okay though the score only occasionally makes a major impression when it isn’t annoying with an electronic variation on Psycho’s stabbing strings. Though, in the end, no great shakes, The Zero Boys, a movie which, being totally honest, I didn’t expect much from, turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining watch. Fans of this genre, some of whom may rate it higher than I did, will need no further recommendation to buy the film’s first release on Blu-ray, while non-fans may be pleasantly surprised.
Arrow’s Blu-ray release on The Zero Boys looks superb in the daytime scenes, belying the time when it was shot and the budget it was shot with, but some of the nocturnal scenes have quite distracting levels of grain [I like grain, but not heaps of it!], though others look fine. It’s probably just down to what the movie was shot with because Arrow often work wonders with their superb transfers, but it’s something you should be aware of. I listened to 20 or so minutes of the commentary featuring ex-Fangoria editor Chris Alexander and Maroney for an audio commentary. It’s a little hesitant, at least for the section I heard, but it’s always nice to hear from a star of a film like this who is actually pleased she was in it. The most notable special feature is a nearly half an hour long piece consisting of Mastorakis interviewing….Mastorakis. Yep, we cut back and forth between a bearded Mastorakis and a clean shaven Mastorakis as he asks himself questions about the production. It’s both highly informative and totally bonkers….in fact I’m still shaking my head in befuddlement over it as I type….and I watched the film and the interview last night!
*Brand new 4K restoration of the film, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Brand new audio commentary with star Kelli Maroney, moderated by writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander
*Nico Mastorakis on… Nico Mastorakis – the Zero Boys director offers up a characteristically unique interview on the making of the film
*Zero Girl – brand new interview with Maroney
*Blame It on Rio – brand new interview with star Nicole Rio
*Original Theatrical Trailer
*Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM content)
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
*Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver