THE ZERO BOYS (1986) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Nico Mastorakis
Arrow Video USA

Nico Mastorakis left the ISLAND OF DEATH to take Hollywood by storm with THE ZERO BOYS.

When THE ZERO BOYS win the "Weekend Warriors Survivalist Games", leader Steve (Daniel Hirsch, LADY AVENGER) claims rival Casey's (John Michaels) girlfriend Jamie (Kelli Maroney, NIGHT OF THE COMET) for a weekend jaunt. Although the spunky college sophomore psych major resents being the prize of a bet between macho men, she elects to go along Steve and buddies Rip (Jared Moses, ON THE EDGE), Larry (Tom Shell, BIKINI DRIVE-IN), and their respective girlfriends Sue (Nicole Rio, SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE) and Trish (Crystal Carson, WHO'S THAT GIRL) for a camping trip deep in the Southern California woods. After hearing a scream near their site, they investigate and Jamie thinks she sees a woman running through the woods. The group stumbles upon a farmhouse in time to take shelter from the storm, but brash leader turned killjoy Steve is on edge about their Goldilocksing the house. Soon, Jamie is seeing knife-wielding silhouettes, Sue believes someone is watching her and Larry in bed, screams emanating from the barn draw the guys away and one of the girls mysteriously disappears. Discovering a torture chamber, cameras, and two-way mirrors in the barn, the survivors realize that the killers are not content to just kill them but to have fun with them. For The Zero Boys (and girls), survival is no longer just a game…

Mastorakis' first American-lensed production – although he had already helmed the American co-produced SKY HIGH and BLIND DATE, while THE WIND had only its opening scenes shot in Los Angeles after the Greek shoot – THE ZERO BOYS is part RAMBO, part FRIDAY THE 13TH (with the film knowingly referencing both in the dialogue and visual homages). For years, I had a vague recollection of a slasher film on television with a silhouetted killer in the rain and a couple in bed watched by an eye through a hole in the ceiling. I had assumed that the film was Bill Condon's SISTER, SISTER (the New World library was in heavy TV rotation in the nineties), but it was actually THE ZERO BOYS. Apart from Maroney, performances are likable if uninspired, and the violence is restrained; however, Mastorakis and cinematographer Steve Shaw (FOXTRAP) – who also appears briefly as the Survival Games coach – bathe the film in atmospheric lighting, creepy and striking compositions, and fluid Steadicam work (visually, the film makes an excellent companion piece to Mastorakis' other pseudo-slasher "final girl" thriller THE WIND in which Meg Foster is terrorized in a deserted Greek village by Wings Hauser). The killers – revealing that one of them is Joe Estevez (brother of Martin Sheen) will not spoil the viewing experience – lose some of their air of menace when they stop being silhouettes but the suspenseful staging and the actors ability to work with what little the script gives them makes their plight sympathetic and the denouement satisfying. The score was one of a handful of eighties collaborations between orchestral composer Stanley Myers (COLD HEAVEN) and synth artist Hans Zimmer (GLADIATOR) which also included Mastorakis' THE WIND, Bernard Rose's PAPERHOUSE, as well as Nicolas Roeg's CASTAWAY and EUREKA among others.

Like most of Mastorakis' American output, THE ZERO BOYS first hit DVD via Simitar Entertainment's budget bin line utilizing the existing tape master. In 2000, Mastorakis remastered several of the films in his library, and the film was reissued in a 16:9 transfer by Image Entertainment. Arrow Video's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is derived from a new 4K scan of the film's interpositive that presents the film in all of its grainy goodness, and there's a lot of it in this low budget film shot almost entirely at night. Colors are bold and detail is good in when the Steadicam is at its steadiest (some flare pops up in the backlit shots), and the foggy/rainy night scenes are clearer than before (making one pine for an HD restoration of THE WIND). The Dolby Stereo track is presented in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 with the sound effects and Myers' orchestral cues having more umph than Zimmer's synths. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Extras are headed up by an audio commentary with actress Maroney moderated by Fangoria's Chris Alexander. Alexander is a somewhat unprepared, lacking some of the factoids presented elsewhere here in the extras or even in the end credits, but it is a breezy discussion with Maroney discussing her choice of the project stemming from critic Vincent Canby promoting her in a review of NIGHT OF THE COMET as a potential female action star. She discusses the clashes she had with Mastorakis over his treatment of her and the other cast members, including his habit of giving them specific line readings (he was apparently quite rough on Hirsch), the ways in which the film departs from the slasher formula, her acting choices (including the importance of modulating performance when playing a "final girl"), and the film's stunts. Maroney also appears in the video interview "Zero Girl" (8:19) covering some of the same ground.

In "Nico Mastorakis on... Nico Mastorakis" (27:48), the director humorously interviews himself from his Athens office, covering much of the same territory (although he speaks well of Maroney and the rest of the cast). He mentions that Hirsch had acted for him previously in SKY HIGH and was his assistant on the development and pre-production of THE ZERO BOYS before he decided to cast him in the lead. He points out that the restrained violence and bloodshed was his way of redeeming himself for the excesses of ISLAND OF DEATH. He brings us up to date on the careers of the cast (with the exception of Moses) and the notable crew, including art department assistant Frank Darabont who had scripted A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 by the time Mastorakis next contacted him about working as an assistant on another film (ZERO BOYS art director Gregory Melton would serve as production designer on some of Darabonts subsequent films), production coordinator Marianne Madelena who became Wes Craven's business partner, cinematographer Shaw (a camera operator getting his first DP assignment here after shooting the LA unit footage for THE WIND), and composer Zimmer.

In "Blame It On Rio" (8:29), actress Rio discusses her method for standing out from the many actors who sent their headshots to Mastorakis' ad in Dramalogue, her admiration of the film and its attempt to be different from slashers, and her pleasant surprise that it has as affectionate a fanbase as SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE. Carried over from the Image DVD are two music videos collages of scenes from the film, the film's theatrical trailer (3:09), and a still gallery (1:24). Not supplied for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, and the fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver. (Eric Cotenas)