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Greek filmmaker Nico Mastorakis is still best-known for his independently produced, super nihilistic exploitation flick Island of Death (aka: Island of Perversion, A Craving for Lust, Cruel Destination, and Devils in Mykonos, 1975) – a film so relentlessly perverse and cruel that it can only really be appreciated as satire. Unknown to many fans, however, Mastorakis was a proper jack of all trades who dabbled in journalism, radio programming, concert promotion, songwriting, and who was reportedly an ‘instrumental’ personality on Greek television in the late 1960s/early ‘70s. And his film career didn’t end with his notorious Video Nasty; in fact, he was something of a B-movie entrepreneur, who made at least 20 movies in a wide range of genre types.

Following their definitive Blu-ray version of Island of Death, Arrow has introduced two of Mastorakis’ later films: action/horror hybrid The Zero Boys (1986) and cult mercenary thriller Hired to Kill (1990).

Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

The Zero Boys


For a group of young friends, a weekend of survival games in the wilderness turns into a genuine battle of life and death when one of their number turns up dead. Finding themselves hunted by a bloodthirsty band of maniacs intent on slaughtering them one-by-one, the self-styled “Zero Boys” must now play their war games for real. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

At its roots, The Zero Boys is a mix of two converging B-movie genres that peaked during the VHS era – late-stage slasher movies and low-budget, military-themed action flicks, similar to the ones that the Cannon Group made throughout the ‘80s. Mastorakis, who wrote his own script, connects the slasher genre’s typical teen/twenty-something contingent and their goofy antics to survivalist shoot-em-ups by sending his cast on a paintball excursion. The characters are a bit more mature (age-wise) than their straight-slasher movie counterparts, but they walk into a very familiar spooky cabin on the lake-type situation. Following the lighthearted paintball battle that opens the film, this is actually a pretty clever way of reconciling the genre differences and setting up a relatively unique spin on the conventions. With introductions out of the way, Mastorakis and his co-writers, Fred Perry & Robert Gilliam, manage to introduce some surprises, like a group of technologically adept redneck killers that are running a secret snuff ring and characters that are aware of the clichés, well before Kim Henkel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) or Drew Goddard’s distinctly more clever Cabin in the Woods (2011).

While Mastorakis spends too much time on developing characters and setting up a creepy tone that he can’t quite coordinate, he eventually delivers the violence and action that audiences would expect from this type of B-movie hybrid. The action is hampered by a tiny budget, but the creative camera work and lively editing ensure a more stylish production than the average low-budget ‘80s slasher or action movie (the creepy production design is also well beyond average). The fact that Mastorakis is clearly aping more ‘successful’ filmmakers actually works in the film’s favour, because it acknowledges the story’s slightly meta elements and punctuates the child-like charms of the dopey make-believe adventures these supposedly grown men participate in. Just the fact that the protagonists are ‘cool’ (and seemingly successful, based on their houses and vanity plates) because they’re really good at playing paintball is delightful in a completely absurd way. Direct nods tend to fall flat, but only because none of Mastorakis’ jokes are very funny, but, even when they’re failing to garner laughs, the cast is clearly better than their material.

Much to my surprise, The Zero Boys has been released twice on DVD in North America. The first was a non-anamorphic, 1.33:1 disc from budget label Simitar and the second was an anamorphic, 1.78:1 special edition from Image Entertainment. Arrow’s Blu-ray debut was scanned in 4K (not 2K, as the original press release indicated) from 35mm interpositive elements and all grading/restoration was approved by Mastorakis himself. The results are expectedly impressive, considering the film’s age and obscurity. Grain levels appear accurate, despite occasional upticks in the size and frequency of the artefacts, specifically during outdoor nighttime shots. The occasionally fuzzy details seem to be focal issues (on purpose or by accident), because the close-up textures remain sharp. Actual print damage crops up every once and a while, usually in the form of a vertical streak on the edge of the frame. Colours are very strong, though not always consistent from scene to scene. During those particularly grainy dark scenes, the gamma has been pressed high enough that some of the shadows appear bluish, but, on average, blacks are deep.

The original 2.0 stereo-surround soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM. The stereo spread is nice, especially during the action scenes, where gunshots and other mayhem have decent directional movement. Storm effects and other environmental ambience is plenty immersive, as well. The only real problem is that the ghost center channel dialogue sometimes bleeds to the right or left. The Zero Boys is a little famous outside of cult circles, because it was one of allstar composer Hans Zimmer’s earliest scores, one of several he composed alongside Stanley Myers. This is an entirely electronic affair and a particularly aggressive one at that, but the corny and eclectic keyboard motifs fit the mood and sound great.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with actress Kelli Maroney, moderated by Shock Till You Drop editor (former editor of Fangoria) Chris Alexander – Alexander mostly runs the content of this track, unloading factoids, while also interviewing Maroney, and he does it all while keeping the tone very light. There are some dips in momentum throughout and I didn’t learn a whole lot about the production, but it’s still a very personable commentary that’s easy to listen to.
  • Nico Mastorakis on...Nico Mastorakis (27:50, HD – Those that own the Island of Death Blu-ray are probably already aware of the strange, self-made supplements that Mastorakis has made in preparation for his films being released on DVD/BD. This is an especially bizarre example in which the director quite literally interviews himself about the making of The Zero Boys – as in, he speaks to himself off-screen, then answers himself, facing the opposite direction while wearing a different outfit and sitting behind a desk. There is plenty of good behind-the-scenes info here, I’m sure, but I was so flabbergasted by the format that I missed a lot of it.
  • Zero Girl (8:20, HD) – This new interview with Maroney makes a little more sense and covers the actress’ extensive career.
  • Blame it on Rio (8:30, HD) – Another new interview with actress Nicole Rio, who discusses working with Mastorakis, the film’s cult following, and retiring from acting.
  • Music videos:
    • Main Theme (2:10, SD)
    • ”The Spelling of S.U.S.P.E.N.S.E.” (1:10, SD)
  • Trailer
  • Stills Gallery


 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature


Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

Hired to Kill


Frank Ryan (Brian Thompson) is a mercenary sent to track down a rebel leader in hostile territory. Posing as a fashion designer, he won’t be going it alone, as he’ll be aided by seven beautiful – but deadly – female fighters. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

While The Zero Boys flirted with the Cannon Group’s military action model, Hired to Kill skydives directly into the fray, liberally borrowing from the playbooks of Joseph Zito’s B-studio output ( Missing in Action, 1984; Invasion U.S.A., 1985; and Red Scorpion, 1989) and major studio tough-guy, big explosion action (stuff like George P. Cosmatos’ Rambo: First Blood Part II, 1985). Mastorakis screenplay, which was written with Zero Boys co-writer Fred Perry and Kirk Ellis (HBO’s John Adams mini-series, 2008), is about as by-the-numbers as they come, to the point that all of the expositional scenes feel like a total chore – much like the cut-scenes in a video game. Fortunately, the filmmakers have a sense of humour about their mimicry (the jokes are much funnier here than in Zero Boys) and the ‘ Dirty Dozen with women (who are also models in training)’ concept/gimmick is amusing enough to carry the movie through the doldrums of yet another mercenary adventure (along with more dynamic camera work, artful compositions, and good coverage). Mastorakis shares a directing credit with producer Peter Rader, whose only other directing credits include Grandmother’s House (produced by Mastorakis, 1988), a made-for-TV remake of Escape to Witch Mountain (1995), and several episodes of Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. Rader’s real claim to ‘fame’ is as the co-writer of Kevin Reynolds’ Waterworld (1995).

Assuming you’re not a rabid fan of late ‘80s/early ‘90s gung-ho B-action or excessive training and runway-walking montages, Hired to Kill still has an unusually impressive cast. It was intended as a hero vehicle for Brian Thompson – whose distinctive visage ensured that he spent most of his career acting as villainous fodder for Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger – but is probably better remembered for featuring down-on-their-luck former superstars Oliver Reed, George Kennedy, and José Ferrer, all of whom are game for the material. We’re not talking career-best performances, but Kennedy and Ferrer don’t half-ass their extended cameos and Reed is in prime weirdo mode. Hired to Kill was also the feature debut for cult actresses Michelle Moffett and Barbara Niven, as well as an early appearance for Jordana Capra. The women have more screentime than the aging stars and do a good job supporting Thompson (who proves he works much better as a character actor than a serious lead) with their tough girl scenery-chewing.

Hired to Kill was never released on DVD here in North America, though it was released from multiple VHS companies during the ‘90s and a non-anamorphic, 1.33:1 DVD from UK company Hollywood DVD (I’m guessing that, based on its cult reputation, there were also DVD and Video CD versions available throughout Europe and Asia). Like The Zero Boys, this Blu-ray debut was scanned in 4K from a 35mm interpositive and digital clean-up was approved by Mastorakis. The 1080p, 1.85:1 image is similar to the Zero Boys transfer in clarity, though there is significantly more daylight photography, so there are fewer noisy dark sequences. Details are relatively tight and the mostly neutral colours are neatly separated. The issue here is the prevalent fuzziness, which sometimes affects the close-up edges, but is a bigger problem for gradations and grain structure. Super-fine grain isn’t necessarily expected from interpositive sources and the the artefacts don’t necessarily look like telecine noise to me, but the chunky gradation levels are suspicious. I suppose it is also possible that Mastorakis and cinematographer Andreas Bellis were aiming for a foggier look and that this is just what the film is supposed to look like. Rest assured, it looks just fine in motion or at least better than it appears in these still screen-caps.

The original 2.0 soundtrack is presented in LPCM alongside a 5.1 remix. The box claims that the 5.1 track is DTS-HD, but my system swears to me that it is a compressed Dolby Digital. Whether Arrow mislabeled the track or my system is having issues, the stereo/surround track seems preferable either way, because it recreates the intended sound design. The set-recorded dialogue/ambient noises are occasionally inconsistent in terms of clarity (volume levels dip slightly and some effects are tinny), but the action sequences are lively and aggressively mixed.  Composer Jerry Grant, who also worked on Mastorakis productions Bloodstone (1988), Darkroom (1989), and Ninja Academy (1989), supplies a lively electronic score that successfully apes the studio action movies of the era, while also supplying a number of enjoyable original themes. The opening titles are pretty great.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with editor Barry Zetlin, moderated by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher – Given Zetlin’s long history of editing cult and horror titles – including Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror (1981), Robert C. Hughes’ Hunter’s Blood (1987 – a movie that is begging to be rediscovered on Blu-ray), John Carl Buechler’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), and many others – Felsher basically interviews him about his entire career, rather than sticking to the specifics of his work on Hired to Kill. Some fans might be upset by the lack of screen-specific information (his work with Mastorakis doesn’t even come up until about the one hour mark), but it’s still a very good and complete retrospective interview.
  • Hired to Direct (27:30, HD) – Another new interview with Mastorakis. “Interview” really isn’t the best term, though, because he’s not accepting any questions – he’s just talking about the movie while looking directly into camera. Just to be a little extra weird (because Mastorakis clearly isn’t interested in typical BD/DVD featurettes), all footage of the director speaking to camera is in black and white. He also reads directly from his script at times. Very strange.
  • Undercover Mercenary (17:30, HD) – During this Arrow-exclusive interview, star Brian Thompson discusses his introduction to acting in college, developing a character actor persona, getting the Hired to Kill gig because he was Mastorakis’ son-in-law at the time, and working with the cast & crew.
  • Trailer
  • Stills Gallery
  • Original Freedom or Death screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM)


 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature

 Nico Mastorakis Double-Feature


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