“Steve, Larry and Rip: The Zero Boys. A winning team of survival game champions ready for a weekend of fun in the wilderness of Southern California. Then, all of a sudden, the game is no longer a game!”
The Zero Boys is a fair amalgamation of a few popular 80s genres, moving from goofy romp to slasher film early on, and finally through to a Deliverance aping backwoods survival pic in the finale.
The film focuses on three weekend-survivalists and paintball champions, who are nicknamed The Zero Boys in reference to their ability to come in dead last every weekend – before they took it upon themselves to practice hard, and turn their luck around. After winning the latest game – in a classic 80s fake-out opening that would have you believe all of the action is for real, despite clouds of paint smoke – it is revealed that the dudes have literally won their opponents girlfriend (hey, it’s the wonderful Kelli Maroney!). She eventually agrees to follow The Zero Boys into the wilderness, as long as she can bring along a few friends. Shortly after, they stumble upon a highly suspicious and cobwebby house, so of course they decide to start partying inside – but it’s not long before some uninvited guests arrive.
Nico Mastorakis‘ picture actually has some very well-executed moments of palpable tension, despite the sub-slasher level characterizations for the main gang of characters – including a fair share of wince-inducing misogyny (women as literal trophies, anyone?) and homophobia, even for an 80s picture of this ilk.
That said, The Zero Boys almost attains the level of overlooked-gem, thanks to the plot’s inability to sit in one genre for any length of time, as well as some twisty-turns that today seem borderline ahead-of-their-time. At one point, the boys stumble upon a barn full of video tapes and torture equipment, a turn used recently in a buzzed-about film everyone seems to be drooling over.
The backwoods trap-based stuff also features some great moments, such as some surprising crossbow-shots which immediately called to mind Adam Wingard‘s You’re Next. There’s also some lightly-referential work including name-dropping Voorhees and Rambo, which makes the whole film feel a bit more fun than it’s bleak turns may suggest. It’s not overly wink-wink like, say, Unmasked Part 25 or anything, but it’s nice when a film can softly plant its tongue into a cheek, as opposed to firmly and obviously. And that’s not a knock on Unmasked, I love that dang flick.
To top it all off, the villains are never given too much screen time, and are rightfully left in the shadows for a large portion of the picture – adding to the suspense and making the final shot of the film only that much more effective. Honestly, had the editing of the movie been tighter and had the film been just a pinch more violent, people would still be talking about this movie as one of those overlooked VHS tapes that collectors should keep an eye out for.
As it stands, it’s not a huge success, but an entertaining movie to pick through on a weekend viewing, that’s for sure.
Side-note: Despite some solid direction, there were moments where it seemed the Lightning Video VHS I watched may have been edited for content, as there were edits that just felt abrupt and bizarre – in the aforementioned barn scene especially. I can’t be sure if this is a result of the film-making, or some tinkering with the film for video tape for home video release.
The film is available on a fairly expensive DVD released by Omega Entertainment, and is otherwise quite hard to find unless you can find the tape out in the wild.