The Zero Boys Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
For a group of young friends, a weekend of survival games in the wilderness turns into a genuine battle of life and death when one of their number turns up dead. Finding themselves hunted by a bloodthirsty band of maniacs intent on slaughtering them one-by-one, the self-styled “Zero Boys” must now play their war games for real. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
At its roots, Nico Mastorakis’ The Zero Boys is a convergence of two B-movie genres that peaked during the VHS era – late-stage slasher movies and low-budget, military-themed action flicks, similar to the ones that the Cannon Group made throughout the ‘80s. Mastorakis, who wrote his own script, connects the slasher genre’s typical teen/twenty-something contingent and their goofy antics to survivalist shoot-em-ups by sending his cast on a paintball excursion. The characters are a bit more mature (age-wise) than their straight-slasher movie counterparts, but they walk into a very familiar spooky cabin on the lake-type situation. Following the lighthearted paintball battle that opens the film, this is actually a pretty clever way of reconciling the genre differences and setting up a relatively unique spin on the conventions. With introductions out of the way, Mastorakis and his co-writers, Fred Perry & Robert Gilliam, manage to introduce some surprises, like a group of technologically adept redneck killers that are running a secret snuff ring and characters that are aware of the clichés, well before Kim Henkel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) or Drew Goddard’s distinctly more clever Cabin in the Woods (2011).
While Mastorakis spends too much time on developing characters and setting up a creepy tone that he can’t quite coordinate, he eventually delivers the violence and action that audiences would expect from this type of B-movie hybrid. The action is hampered by a tiny budget, but the creative camera work and lively editing ensure a more stylish production than the average low-budget ‘80s slasher or action movie (the creepy production design is also well beyond average). The fact that Mastorakis is so clearly aping more successful filmmakers actually works in the film’s favor, because it acknowledges the story’s slightly meta elements and punctuates the child-like charms of the dopey make-believe adventures these supposedly grown men participate in. Just the idea that the protagonists are cool (and seemingly successful, based on their houses and vanity plates) because they’re really good at playing paintball is delightfully and completely absurd. Direct nods tend to fall flat, but only because none of Mastorakis’ jokes are very funny, but, even when they’re failing to garner laughs, the cast is clearly better than their material.
Much to my surprise, The Zero Boys has been released twice on DVD in North America. The first was a non-anamorphic, 1.33:1 disc from budget label Simitar and the second was an anamorphic, 1.78:1 special edition from Image Entertainment. Arrow’s Blu-ray debut was scanned in 4K (not 2K, as the original press release indicated) from 35mm interpositive elements and all grading/restoration was approved by Mastorakis himself. The results are expectedly impressive, considering the film’s age and obscurity. Grain levels appear accurate, despite occasional upticks in the size and frequency of the artifacts, specifically during outdoor nighttime shots. The occasionally fuzzy details seem to be focal issues (on purpose or by accident), because the close-up textures remain sharp. Actual print damage crops up every once in a while, usually in the form of a vertical streak on the edge of the frame. Colors are very strong, though not always consistent from scene to scene. During those particularly grainy dark scenes, the gamma has been pressed high enough that some of the shadows appear bluish, but, on average, blacks are deep.
The original 2.0 stereo-surround soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM. The stereo spread is nice, especially during the action scenes, where gunshots and other mayhem have decent directional movement. Storm effects and other environmental ambience is plenty immersive, as well. The only real problem is that the ghost center channel dialogue sometimes bleeds to the right or left. The Zero Boys is a little famous outside of cult circles, because it was one of all-star composer Hans Zimmer’s earliest scores, one of several he composed alongside Stanley Myers. This is an entirely electronic affair and a particularly aggressive one at that, but the corny and eclectic keyboard motifs fit the mood and sound great.
Commentary with actress Kelli Maroney, moderated by Shock Till You Drop editor (former editor of Fangoria) Chris Alexander – Alexander mostly runs the content of this track, unloading factoids, while also interviewing Maroney, and he does it all while keeping the tone very light. There are some dips in momentum throughout and I didn’t learn a whole lot about the production, but it’s still a very personable commentary that’s easy to listen to.
Nico Mastorakis on...Nico Mastorakis (27:50, HD – Those that own the Island of Death Blu-ray are probably already aware of the strange, self-made supplements that Mastorakis has made in preparation for his films being released on DVD/BD. This is an especially bizarre example in which the director quite literally interviews himself about the making of The Zero Boys – as in, he speaks to himself off-screen, then answers himself, facing the opposite direction while wearing a different outfit and sitting behind a desk. There is plenty of good behind-the-scenes info here, I’m sure, but I was so flabbergasted by the format that I missed a lot of it.
Zero Girl (8:20, HD) – This new interview with Maroney makes a little more sense and covers the actress’ extensive career.
Blame it on Rio (8:30, HD) – Another new interview with actress Nicole Rio, who discusses working with Mastorakis, the film’s cult following, and retiring from acting.
Music videos – Main Theme (2:10, SD), ”The Spelling of S.U.S.P.E.N.S.E.” (1:10, SD)