Oh the '80s! Was there a better decade for watching bad movies? The advent of home video not only meant you could watch bad movies from the comfort of your own home, but it also ushered in the era of direct-to-video productions and thousands of more bad movies coming out every year. The action and horror genres probably got the biggest boost as you could make those films on the cheap and genre fans would eat them up without necessarily caring if the production quality was all that good.
Cashing in on this concept, director Nico Masorakis smashed the two genres up and made The Zero Boys in a straight-to-home-video release in 1986. It has all the hallmarks of the decade of Reagan and Schwarzenegger and should scratch that classic '80s itch we all get from time to time.
The Zero Boys are a group of survival fanatics who take their games of paintball way too seriously. The film starts in classic '80s action fake-out style with our heroes, Steve (Daniel Hirsch), Larry (Tom Shell), and Rip (Jared Moses) right in the middle of a (sort-of) realistic shoot-out with a gang of hoods. It's all fake of course and when the final villain falls, the Zero Boys take their girls, Sue (Nicole Rio) and Trish (Crystal Carson), out for a bit of partying in the woods. Jamie (Kelli Maroney) comes too, though she was the rival's girl, but was "won" by Steve in a side bet over the paintball outcome. She seems put out by this bit of sexism, but comes along anyways and forgets her anger once she thinks she sees another girl running for her life in the woods.
The gang stops at a (seemingly) unoccupied cabin for a bit of tom-foolery. But soon creepy noises, power outages, and a little peeping-tommery gets everybodys Scooby senses jangling. What follows is a lot of basic horror-movie tropes circa 1986 with some b-grade Rambo action sequences and ahead-of-its-time bits of found-footage torture porn thrown in for good measure.
Though the boys are loaded up with big guns, they hardly think to use them even though are being stalked by obvious psycho killers and have plenty of chances to do so. I guess blowing the bad guys' heads off in the first half hours makes for a dull second half. Instead, we get a series of increasingly bad decision-making by our heroes, a couple of genuinely creepy moments, and lots of time spent wishing I had friends as funny as those fellas from Rifftrax along for the ride.
Make no mistake, The Zero Boys is a bad movie. But it's so straight out of my childhood that I can’t help but have that old nostalgic feeling for it, even if this is the first time I’ve ever watched it. The film is so full of goofy ridiculousness that you can’t really hold being lousy against it.
Oddly, being a non-rated, straight-to-video, low-budget flick it is so tame in terms of graphic depictions (of either violence or sex) that one starts to wonder if it wasn’t intended for broadcast television. There’s no nudity, only a touch of (fully covered) sex, and while there is plenty of violence, pretty much all of the blood and gore occurs off screen. Maybe they were hoping to reach the family rental set.
The video boasts a new 4K restoration, which was approved by the director, making it doubly disappointing it looks so terrible. That’s probably too harsh, but this is not a good-looking print. When the scenes have full light, like the opening moments in broad daylight, or when they are in the cabin before the electricity is cut, things look decent. But as soon as things get dark (or the director uses too much zoom on the camera as in the driving scenes) the grain comes out to the point of distraction. Other than the grain, the print looks mostly clean, though I did notice a few scratches here and there. Presumably, the whole film was shot on cheap video, so this is likely as good as it will ever look.
The audio sounds good. Dialogue comes out clear and the ambient noise works as well as can be expected on this sort of thing. The highlight is the totally '80s score from Hans Zimmer, one of his earliest jobs.
Extras include a very fun and informative audio commentary with star Kellie Maroney and former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander. They are very chatty, which makes it a much more enjoyable listen than your typical "boring critic dryly discusses the film's merit" commentary one often gets these days. There is an odd-ball 27-minute interview with Nico Mastorakis by Nico Mastorakis. Yep, the director interviews himself, which is as goofy as it sounds. There are too-brief interviews with Kelli Maroney and separately, Nicole Rio. They discuss their careers, which is cute but not really informative, especially the one with Rio as she’s sitting in a noisy park, which is distracting. Then you get the usual trailers, stills gallery, and book with loads of photos and a new essay.
The Zero Boys is straight up '80s cheeseball action/horror hybrid. It's not particularly memorable from any sort of standard critical view point, but if you love your cheese covered in bit '80s hair and bombastic Hans Zimmer scores, then this is totally for you.
The Zero Boys (2-Disc Special Edition) will be released on April 26, 2016.