Arrow Heads Vol. 18: HIRED TO KILL and THE ZERO BOYS Showcase a Great Cult Director

by Frank Calvillo

Arrow Heads

Arrow Video, a subsidiary of Arrow Films, humbly describe themselves as merely a “Distributor of classic, world, cult and horror cinema on DVD & Blu-ray”. But we film geeks know them as the Britain-based bastion of the brutal and bizarre, boasting gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging and bursting with extras (often their own productions). Their collector-friendly releases had traditionally not been available in the U.S, but now Arrow has come across the pond and this column is devoted to discussing their weird and wonderful output.

Arrow Films is fully succeeding in their mission of taking forgotten gems with plenty of cult followers and bringing to them to back into the spotlight with the kind of excellent transfers and extra features the fans feel they deserve. This time out, it’s the classic late 80s/early 90s pair of B-movies Hired to Kill and The Zero Boys which serve as the subject of this edition of Arrow Heads. Both films are the work of revered B-movie director Nico Mastorakis; a filmmaker who may never reached Scorsese-like greatness, but whose love for movie-making and pleasing audiences is not just highly evident in the two films, but remains more than impressive.

Hired to Kill

Co-directed with Peter Radder, Hired to Kill focuses on a gruff mercenary named Frank (Brian Thompson) who is hired by a powerful man named Thomas (George Kennedy) to eliminate a powerful foreign dictator (Oliver Reed) and rescue an important member of that country’s resistance (Jose Ferrer). Aiding him are seven beautiful women traveling under the guise of models on a fashion shoot, but who are in reality highly-trained soldiers, hired to make sure Frank’s mission goes according to plan.

When Hired to Kill‘s first scene shows Frank in bed, suddenly shooting up a ringing telephone after it wakes him up, it becomes more than clear what kind of movie this is going to be. However the outlandish nature of the film only makes it so much more fun. Ostensibly a Magnificent Seven [or Seven Samurai] remake, but with women, there are plenty of heightened moments, including a wonderfully cheesy montage of battle training juxtaposed with a makeover. Meanwhile, lines such as: “This is the only way,” (referring to the mission) recall the kind of campiness which put Snakes on a Plane on the cult radar, while other moments of dialogue garner good-natured howls of laughter. Case in point, when Frank asks Thomas: “You sure you aren’t a politician?”. “I’m much worse,” he replies. “I’m a businessman.”

Thompson is barely there as an actor and even worse when he’s pretending to be the fashion designer in charge of the deadly models. However, Reed is great, even if the role is beneath him, while Kennedy is fun to watch and Ferrer proves much, much better than the film deserves. The fun only continues as Hired to Kill quickly becomes a collection of fashion montages and catfights. There is however a very worthy action sequence in the film’s third act that’s worth it all, and it’s difficult not to admire the overall effort since not too many other films showcase beautiful women saving the day.

The Zero Boys

In this partial B-movie take on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, a group of pretty young people travel to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun after successfully competing in a series of survival games. However, the party soon finds themselves in a real-life game as a pair of killers seem to be hunting them down one by one in various ways.

The acting is atrocious all across the board, no matter which nameless face is on the screen. It doesn’t matter though. Those watching The Zero Boys are watching it for good cheesy fun, which the film certainly offers up for what is actually a half-worthy 80s slasher. It becomes clear that the film is an attack against the up-and-coming yuppie generation, specifically young twenty-somethings who are so beautiful and privileged, that engaging in elaborate survival games and then going off to party afterwards is simply their way of life.

Admittedly, The Zero Boys proves a tad slow-moving given the nature of its plot and genre, with the killers spending most of their time simply lurking around the property without doing anything remotely interesting. It also does become rather hard to decipher who is alive and who is dead due to the fact that the killers’ methods aren’t the most effective and some of these kids kinda resemble each other (in true 80s fashion). Most disappointing however, is the abrupt ending which is a bit of cheat and comes with no resolution whatsoever, especially at a point when things are starting to get good. Still, The Zero Boys is the kind of Saturday afternoon fun that’s easy to embrace and go with for an hour and a half.

It’s more than clear that both Hired to Kill and The Zero Boys are Mastorakis efforts. The most striking aspect of both films is watching the director’s strong sense of how to move the camera in a dynamic way while coping with temperamental actors as well as limited budgets and schedules. Although both are as different as can be in terms of tone and plot, both possess the director’s blend of fun energy and loving care, which raises them a notch or two above other such films in the genre.

The Package

Aside from high-def transfers and commentaries for both films, the two discs include new interviews with the director and cast members. In his interview for Hired to Kill, Mastorakis praises Kennedy, Ferrer, and their respective professionalism to no end. He also details his endless struggles with Reed and his drunken hostility before talking about the tragedy that befell stuntman Clint Carpenter.

Thompson proves an affable personality as he recounts his career and his experience making the film in his interview. The actor also corroborates the same Reed incident told in the director’s interview as well as his thoughts on the stuntman’s tragedy.

The special features for The Zero Boys contains a completely humor-free exercise where the director interviews himself and tells about the various unknowns behind the scenes of the film who would later go on to bigger and better things, such as Frank Darabont who served as an Art Department Assistant and Hans Zimmer, who scored the film. Mastorakis also talks about how quickly he shot the film and the overall experience of making it.

Aside for a pair of cast interviews, there are some specially made music videos for Hans Zimmer’s impressive work for the film, including the movie’s fantastic main theme.

The Lowdown
 While both Hired to Kill and The Zero Boys are fun for anyone who loves good low-level cheese, the releases also prove a worthwhile tribute to a great cult filmmaker.

Get ’em at Amazon:
 Hired To Kill — [Blu-ray + DVD]
 Zero Boys — [Blu-ray + DVD]

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