While it’s certainly an entertaining popcorn and beer-worthy flick with great camerawork, direction and an appropriately 80’s blend of synth-heavy and orchestral scoring courtesy of Stanley Myers and Hans Zimmer, there’s something a wee bit “off” about Nico Mastorakis’ 1986 film The Zero Boys that keeps it from total greatness. Don’t get me wrong, folks: It’s certainly got just about everything it needs to be a perfectly fine cheesy action flick and even adds in some mildly disturbing moments that lend it a solid horror vibe. However, there’s very little in the way of gore here and you certainly don’t want to go in expecting a ton of exploitative nudity even though you’d think a film such as this made at this point in time would include a moderate heaping of both as par for the crowd-pleasing course.
In fact, according to an interview on the Arrow Video Blu-Ray, Mastorakis deliberately made the film this way as a sort of counterbalance to his far more brutal 1976 film Island of Death. If you take away the expletives and make a few minor edits, you pretty much have a PG-rated flick that you could easily show on a regular network or basic cable channel these days. Amusingly enough, by comparison, an average episode of Gotham has a load more violence than what you’ll see here (I kind of liked the first two seasons, but the show’s gotten a bit too grim as a alternate world take on its source material, but I digress…).
That’s not to say the film is totally tame, mind you. It moves from high action and a slightly comedic tone at the start into those more moody and serious scare scenes with relative ease and works well enough on that level. In general, Mastorakis’ films tend to go in all sorts of directions as they blend drama, comedy, action, sexy stuff and lots of suspension of disbelief common to genre films. Of course, if you pay too close attention to the writing, some parts don’t click as well as they should because the story needs to move along, damn the continuity consequences or assorted logic fails. In other words, this is one of those films where any sort of overthinking makes it a lot less fun.
(Thanks, Arrow Video!)
The story kicks off with a gunfight that’s actually a paintball match/too well staged action flick recreation by a group of weekend warriors who seem to meet up regularly to battle it out for bragging rights and a bit of cash. Those Zero Boys are the big winners of the match and the leader of the other team has gone and wagered his girlfriend Jaime (Kelli Maroney) as a prize for the weekend to Steve (Daniel Hirsch) without her knowledge. Much to his dismay, she agrees to go with Steve and his buddies for a trip to the woods that will turn into quite a dangerous diversion. Hey, she’s bored, her bf is a jerkhole and Steve seems nice enough, sooo… it’s off to the races.
It turns out Jaime is quite an asset to the team after the group first stumbles across a woman running away from something in the woods followed by a seemingly deserted cabin the gang somehow thinks its a good idea to move in for the weekend. Sure enough, it’s discovered that the “empty” house is a house of horrors complete with a body in a trunk, a head in the freezer, a torture chamber in the shed next door and yep, the house’s inhabitants thinking they’ve got a batch of fresh meat shacking up in their space waiting to be teen slashered to death. Okay, everyone is past their teen years, but you know what I mean. Soon enough, those survival skills the Boys have will be put to use as they try to survive the night. Atmosphere is everything in this film and the use of fog machines, well-placed lights and other tricks gives the film an overall excellent look. Well, save for some dry ice “mist” used late in the film that looks a wee bit phony (as does the “shocking” effect beforehand).
One of the cooler things is how Mastorakis laid out what could be some early groundwork for “found footage” films while it paying homage to everything from The Most Dangerous Game, Deliverance, Southern Comfort and a few other flicks. The film plays with a few cliché moments and references lines and situations from other genre films nicely and the cast of not quite known actors does a pretty decent job with their parts. The most famous faces here to many will likely be Maroney (Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall), and Joe Estevez (aka Joe Phelan), but there are a few other notable names in the crew (Zimmer, Frank Darabont) before they became much more famous for their contributions to bigger deal Hollywood fare.
As noted above, the film does have some wacky logic gaps including at least four whoppers where people do really dumb things that either endanger themselves or others, some of which leads to unintended eyeball-rolling humor. These bits stand out here because the film’s overall level of polish is pretty good for something shot in under three weeks (or 17 nights and one day, according to the director). The other gripe I had was with the villains because you only clearly see one (Estevez) and he looks a bit too much like someone’s drunken dad with his wild eyed stare and too-comfy looking sweater. He almost looks like a a psychotic Mr. Rogers, but you didn’t hear me say that, right?
Anyway, the film is a cool and recommended slice of 80’s nostalgia, but I won’t mention the rather innnnnteresting ending, which I liked because it’s a fun little surprise you might not expect after a tidy hour and twenty eight minutes. I will note that I watched this with a friend who threw up his hands in the air and yelled “OH, COME ON!” when that ending rolled up, which made me laugh because I then had to listen to his play-by-play commentary for a few minutes afterwards on what he liked and disliked about the film. Hey, at least he liked all the special features on the Blu-Ray, so I’ll call that a win for them holding his attention from start to finish because he’s that guy who never watches them and I had to practically twist his arm (well, offer him the rest of the pizza he’d ordered) to stay seated. Well, a little (food-themed non-)violence between friends is sometimes a necessary evil when the ends justify the means, right?