Boys Keep Swinging… THE ZERO BOYS reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Regions A&B / 1&2. Arrow. 18.

So, you’re Nico Mastorakis, right? Whadya mean: ” Wrong!”? I’m trying to make a rhetorical point here, just throw me a frickin’ bone, will ya? OK… so you’re Nico Mastorakis and you’ve perpetrated one of the scuzziest films since Thomas Edison cranked up his first camera (a certified “video nasty” into the bargain), 1976’s Island Of Death (also available from Arrow Video… and their release of 1990’s Hired To Kill is on the way)… so, having gained our astonished attention with that mean spirited melange of moral meltdown on Mykonos, what do you do next? You could co- write J. Lee Thompson’s The Greek Tycoon (1978), the story of a super rich Greek shipping magnate who absolutely ISN’T (our lawyers have asked us to point out) Aristotle Onassis. In terms of your own directorial career, you could try  Blind Date (1984), a tech-orientated thriller with Joseph Bottoms and Kirstie Alley… The Next One (also 1984) a time travelling rip of Nicholas Meyer’s superior Time After Time (1979)… and  Sky High (1985), in which holidaying students inadvertently fall foul of the CIA.

Oh, you already did all those? Then howzabout an action adventure yarn in which weekend warrior paintball dweebs celebrate a tournament victory by heading into the backwoods with their girlfriends (sure, I mean how else does anybody ever celebrate anything?) only to find themselves fighting for their lives against a bunch of drooling rural retards who take their hunting games very seriously indeed? That would be The Zero Boys (1986), now available again in one of those spanky blu-ray / DVD combi editions from Arrow.

The flick opens promisingly, with Mastorakis slowly revealing that the apparently genuine firefight in which Steve Larry (Daniel Hirsch), Larry (Tom Shell) and the eccentrically-coiffed Rip (Robbie Fowler lookalike Jared Moses) are caught up is only an innocuous recreational rally. Nice sub-De Palma touch there, Nico. Having creamed their chief competitor, a bozo (later revealed to be Jewish) in pantomime Nazi regalia, the ZB’s collect their prize – Jamie (Kelli Maroney) – and head for the boondocks with girlfriends in tow. Dunno about you, but I’m already losing count of the ways in which this movie is not PC, though admittedly there’s none of the incest / religious fanaticism / dwarf shagging / goat shagging / water sports and so on that made Island Of Death such fun for all the family. If that film was Mastorakis’ Last House On The Left, this is his The Hills Have Eyes…

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“Get your chest over here, babe… you’ve just won a holiday you’ll never forget!”

When they find an unlocked property in the woods the boys cheerfully billet themselves and their floozies in it, seemingly undeterred by the presence of a cabin strongly resembling one in Friday The 13th (for ’tis the very same one) although the dialogue reveals that they are familiar with Sean Cunningham’s 1980 body count biggie. There are plenty of other cinematic antecedents that they might have name-checked, going right back to Herschel Gordon Lewis and Russ Meyer’s mid-60s invocations of deep fried Deep Southern brutalism or indeed, Pichel and Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game / Hounds Of Zaroff (1932) if you want to get all RKO about it… and let’s not forget The Three Stooges. If the ZB’s names don’t set you thinking immediately of Curly, Larry and Mo, their OTT gurning when they discover a back garden full of human remains, a woman’s head in the freezer and a rumpus room in which snuff videos play on a continuous loop certainly will. Still, Three Stooges affinities never did the Evil Dead franchise any harm…

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Jamie initially kicks up a stink when she discovers a cache of semi automatic weapons next to the boys’ paintball guns (“You Nazi lunatics!”) but she changes her tune when she needs protecting from the posse of murderous redneck retards who are hunting them through the booby-trap infested woods. Rip bites the big one on the end of a crossbow bolt but it’s difficult to feel too bad about the exit of this character and his incessant irritating wise cracks.

The chief psycho goes unnamed but is played by one Joe Phelan… born Joe Estevez, this guy is (as you’re probably already aware) the kid brother of one Ramon Esteves, better known as Martin Sheen. Yep, he’s Charlie’s uncle. In all honesty, Joe’s not exactly the most extravagantly gifted of the Esteves / Sheen clan in thespian terms but he’s parlayed his genetic inheritance intro an incredibly prolific career that’s seen him making more screen appearances than Martin… more screen appearances than Donald fucking Pleasance… so respect is due. What he brings to this production is an unparalleled aptitude for looking like his big bro, the morning after a particularly murderous bender… staggering around with a machete, lopping away at foliage while wearing an M&S lambswool pullover and – his highlight – firing a harpoon gun at our heroes while he’s underwater. Unfortunately (for him) he’s not immune to the effects of a taser being dropped into the water he’s under and it looks like what’s left of the Zero Boys and their girls are going to make it home… until Mastorakis opts for the then-mandatory downbeat twist ending. It’s a bit half assed in execution, though (and was allegedly omitted from the American release) so I’d like to think that Steve and Larry survived and having (after a suitably respectful pause) recruited a new Zero Boy (“Shemp”?) are currently cleaning up and pulling chicks on the Paintball senior tour.

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Arrow’s BD transfer comes down on the “natural grain” side of the argument, as opposed to the DNR fudging that marred so many early releases in this format. Zero Boys emerges looking pretty good for a film of its vintage and low budget origins. You get a pretty generous allocation of bonus features, too. Ever conscious of leisure (like paintball, right?) and technological trends (his last completed feature was .com for Murder in 2002) Mastorakis offers here the first (unless anybody knows different) “selfie interview”, in which he (sort of) apologises for Island Of Death and basks in the vicarious glow of various proteges who went on to bigger things… Hans Zimmer, who provides TZB’s pulsing synth score, went on to do the same for any amount of box office hits and two of its minor production personnel, Marianne Maddalena and Frank Darabont, became, respectively, assistant to Wes Craven and director of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, et al. Other interview extras comprise conversations with Zero girls Kelli Maroney and Nicole Rio. Maroney also provides an audio commentary, moderated by Chris Alexander. Of course there’s a trailer and stills gallery and the packaging includes the expected reversible sleeve (with a Graham Humphreys executed option) and glossy booklet, which includes an appraisal of the film by James Oliver.

So, you’re Nico Mastorakis and you’ve made The Zero Boys… good knockabout, numbskull DTV fun, emblematic of its era. 88 must be kicking themselves that they let Arrow get this one…

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“Actually, I think you’ll find that I’M Nico Mastorakis…”

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