Cult film archivists Arrow Video sometimes unearth an obscure artefact from a cinematic bygone era which proves to be something of a lost gem and is rightfully lavished with the kind of praise that has previously eluded it. It’s safe to say The Zero Boys isn’t one of those releases, yet in its own terrible way, there’s much enjoyment to be had here. It’s the kind of film which feels like it was custom made for a ‘bad movie’ audience participatory screening.
It’s chock-full of risible dialogue, deeply illogical displays of human behaviour (the shocking discovery of a decapitated head in a fridge freezer is instantly shrugged off as if it were a carton of out-of-date milk) and nothing throughout the 90-plus minutes running time makes a shred of sense. Add to this a generous lashing of unintentional humour and a young, inexperienced cast largely playing it straight and you have a gloriously awful B-picture. Opening with an elaborate, highly theatrical paintball tournament in a decaying western theme park, the titular winning trio of trigger-happy weekend warriors celebrate by scooping up their ladies (amongst them Kelli Maroney) for a camping trip in a secluded forest.
Before any of them can utter the immortal “did you hear that?” faceless goons lurk around in the woods, watching their every move. Chancing upon a seemingly empty but habitable log cabin, the kids continue to party before it’s made painfully obvious that they’re not alone. Soon enough a torture chamber is unearthed, bodies are discovered, and the machete and crossbow-wielding villains emerge from the undergrowth (the shuffling, zombie-like leader is played by Martin Sheen’s younger brother Joe Estevez – coming up severely short of his sibling in the acting stakes). Held together by an ungainly synth score partly created by one Hans Zimmer, an assortment of sub-genres are put through the wringer before the inevitable overblown, all-guns-blazing finale.
Greek director Nico Mastorakis struggles maintaining any kind of tone although, unintentionally, he actually predates Scream by a good decade or so in peppering his film with self-referential touches. One of the guys addresses a picture of Rambo and utters “eat your heart out, Sly” before springing into action, while Friday the 13th is nervously mentioned as the boys explore an ominous barn in the woods. That the heroes clearly have the upper hand against their backwater aggressors – possessing an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons which would make that era’s Schwarzenegger green with envy – is of zero concern to the filmmakers. Their aims are to entertain at all costs and they succeed in their own special way.