1980s America. What a fantastic place it was, where any white kid could get a gun and try to solve the world’s problems. Red Dawn, Born American, Savage Streets…the kids end up highly armed and, well, often times dead. Wasn’t it grand?
Enter The Zero Boys. Steve, Larry, and Rip are a paintball team known for being the best. Despite taking on wildly different numbers of folks who apparently didn’t consider coordinating their apparel, the Zero Boys take them all down. Yes, if you have ever wanted to thrill to the joys of paintball in a run down Mexican city where faux-American GIs shoot cowboys, Army jeeps full of other wannabe soldiers, and a Jewish guy in a full freaking Nazi uniform, here you can do it. I get the feeling that none of these folks actually knew what paintball is, particularly director Nico Mastorakis, but who am I to judge?
Anyway, the Zero Boys win, and we discover the Nazi dude had bet his girlfriend, Jamie, in the match. Jamie, of course, was unaware, and while Steve finds the bet entertaining, he also offers for Jamie to simply walk away, because objectifying women as simply playthings to be bartered and gambled with is wrong. Like, seriously dude, that’s messed up. But Jamie opts to go with the Zero Boys and their girlfriends, Sue and Trish, on a celebratory camping trip, and so they wander out into the middle of the Southern California woods, drink beer, have a laugh, shoot guns, and let Jamie serve as both exploitative eye candy and a springboard to plot dump character info…until they hear a scream. The Zero Boys investigate, Jamie thinks she sees a woman, and the group decides to drop in on an empty house nearby just in case.
And then they become trespassers who have a teenage party, because this is 1986 and of course they do. Then a storm rolls in, folks realize there is a weird dude with a knife hanging out and there are human bones all around, and there’s a torture chamber and gear for making snuff films in the barn. Oh, and there’s a body in a trunk in the house. And then the local rednecks, who dress better than I do, start messing with them by calling the house, kidnapping one of the ladies, and generally being dicks. But that’s ok, because our heroes have their paintball guns, which are in fact illegally modified Uzi submachine guns that can shoot real bullets. The Zero Boys smash up the snuff stuff in the barn, use dynamite to blow up the redneck’s truck, and drive away.
And then the rednecks block the road and hunt them with crossbows, machetes, and booby traps. Yes, punji sticks, rope traps, and barricades are all used by our evil redneck killers as they rock their Converses and nice sweaters. When they’re not bothering with traps, they simply walk up in silhouette until right on top of their prey and try to shoot or stab point blank, because why not? Hell, why are these guys even out here in the first place making snuff films and mantraps? And why is one of them a crazy eyed dude with a limp played by one of the Sheen/Estevez family? The world may never know, because the plot certainly didn’t explain it. Hell, the plot’s explanation for why the Zero Boys’ truck briefly didn’t work is “a storm did it.” I wish I was kidding.
Now yes, paintball guns and real guns do not work the same or have the same ballistics, stun guns cannot electrify an entire marsh, and movie plots should at least attempt to make some sense, but that’s not to say that The Zero Boys doesn’t have a few highlights. The first is actress Kelli Maroney, who here plays the prize girl Jamie but had previously starred in the likes of Night of the Comet. She’s tough and smart here, and while the film does fall into the usual gender stereotypes of slasher fodder, she’s still able to hold her own well enough to prevent the killers from winning indefinitely. And her costar, Daniel Hirsch, doesn’t do a bad job either explaining why some of the decisions made are bad ideas, he just tends to get outvoted by the guy that looks like young Ray Liotta and the other guy who is quite probably high throughout the whole film.
But these aren’t the only things worth calling out. Yes, director Mastorakis has a cult following, particularly for his nasty pseudo-slasher Island of Death which would go on to become a Video Nasty in Britain. But the real stand out star? Hans Zimmer. Yeah, the composer Hans Zimmer. While he’s still relatively new to the film composition scene at this point and had only a few titles under his belt, he was also composing in tandem with Stanley Myers, a fellow award winning composer who often collaborated with Zimmer during his early days. Zimmer and Myers would both continue working with Mastorakis for several more films, including a personal favorite of mine, Nightmare at Noon, before Zimmer would go on to an Academy Award nomination in 1988 for Rain Man. From that point on, well, it was pretty much over for Zimmer working with Mastorakis. As for the music here, well, you’re not really going to be getting the full Zimmer experience. It’s not bad, but it’s not memorable the way many of his later works will be. Still, if cinema composers and soundtracks are something you focus on, here’s a great moment to peek in to Zimmer’s career.
Overall, do I like the movie? It’s kinda tough to say. There is a lot of strange ideas I appreciate about it, but there are a lot of questions I have after watching. For instance, why are three crazy redneck dudes in sweaters creating snuff movies in their barn and hunting people? What’s the point? This isn’t exactly Deliverance here where they get a chance to reveal both that they’re depraved and they don’t like outsiders. No, they’re playing a game, but they seem to have a lot of random hobbies in the meantime. Hell, considering they get basically no lines and almost only ever show up as dark shapes or giving the camera crazy eyes, they have no effective personalities whatsoever beyond being the “bad” guys. Come on, give me something!
Yeah, The Zero Boys is a ridiculous concept, and as much as I would like it to be, it’s not really a fulfilling one either. Still, in the wide world of 1980s cinema, it has some factors that make it worth a look for the dedicated cinephiles. If you consider yourself among this number, then maybe check it out. If not…you’ve been warned.