Title: Hardware (1990)
Director: Richard Stanley
Stars: Dylan McDermont, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins
Richard Stanley’s films are not conventional in any sense of the word. His films are of the bizarre and strange variety and as some of you might already know, that’s a good thing in my book. Stanley is the kind of filmmaker that Hollywood shy’s away from because they are too edgy, too different, and too risky. Fortunately, for those of us out there who like to watch something a little different, something that’s diametrically opposed to the crap that Hollywood makes every day of the week, well, for those of us, Richard Stanley is an auteur. An artist/filmmaker searching for a way to get his subconscious, his dark side, his dark possible futures on film. Sadly, his future in hollywood stopped dead on its tracks because of a fiasco story known as The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). Lucky for us he did manage to leave two films on his resume. The supernatural slasher Dust Devil ( 1993) and the film I will be reviewing today Hardware.
Hardware was a film that was not easy to make. It had a miniscule budget (1.5 million ) and a crew made up of mostly first time filmmakers. Now, if first time filmmakers have any promise at all, a production like this one can prove to be a prime environment for great low budget b film to get made. Hardware had a couple of future bonafide filmmakers amongst its crew! First of all, the film was partially produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, back when Miramax was in its early stages. Two very young filmmakers Chris Cunningham and Stephen Norrington, worked on the special effects dealing with the robots. Both of them went on to have careers directing films and music videos. Chris Cunningham went on to direct music videos for the likes of Bjork and Maddonna amongst others. Stephen Norrington went on to direct various films. His first one entitled Death Machine (1994) was very similar to Hardware because it was also about a killer robot on the loose. So there was lots of talent involved in the making of Hardware. Richard Stanley himself was part of this new batch of filmmakers on the up and up. He’d produced various short films, some of which you can see on this new DVD release.
Director Richard Stanley
Unfortunately, the film has always suffered from distribution woes. It got a small theatrical release, and was also released on VHS, which is how I first saw it. But problems soon arouse because the killer robot aspects of the story in Hardware were plagiarizing story elements from a story which appeared in the magazine 2000 A.D. entitled Shok! Also, the rights to the film were being disputed amongst the films various producers. But ultimately, that’s all been cleared out and we finally have the film in our hands. It was released on DVD by the fine folks at Severin films. This DVD is jam packed with juicy extras! It includes a feature where they interview cast and crew and they reminisce about the whole production and what a grueling task it was. It includes some of Richard Stanley’s early short films, the ones he made when he was a kid. It even includes the short film on which Hardware is based on. A fan of this film and Stanley himself will be pleased. Also, its an interesting dvd that lets you get into the mind of this offbeat director.
Hardware takes place in a post apocalyptic future, where we the humans have messed up things beyond repair. The landscape is one of toxic wastage; everything is old, decrepit, dirty, rotting. There is garbage and scraps of metal everywhere. The sky looks like it has a permanent shade of toxic orange. Basically, the world is done for and you kind of get the feeling that humanity is on its last legs. Enter Moses Baxter, a space cadet on his way home who decides to get a Christmas present for his girlfriend who likes to make sculptures. So he stops at this scrap shop and buys a robotic skull for her. She loves the skull and decides to incorporate it into her latest work of art. Unfortunately for Moe and Jill, this robot head isn’t dead! The robotic skull used to belong to a government issued killer robot called M.A.R.K. 13. Once Jill incorporates the skull on to her sculpture, the M.A.R.K. 13 reactivates itself and begins killing everyone in sight! Will Jill and Moe get to stop the deadly killer robot?
Hardware has many elements in common with two films I love very much. James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1984). Hardware is like Blade Runner because the world in which this film takes place in is very much like the one we see in Ridley Scott’s film, dirty and decayed. Everyone is living off of other peoples garbage. Humanity and technology are connected, intertwined. Some humans even have biomechanics replacing parts of their bodies. For example Moe, the main character, has a robotic hand. Hardware is also like The Terminator because of the whole killer robot angle. Some shots in Hardware mimic certain shots in The Terminator, specifically a scene in which the robot is reaching out for Jill, trying to grab her with its robotic hand. But is Hardware just a Terminator wannabe? Or is there something that sets it apart? Just what is it that makes Hardware special? What makes Hardware unique? One of the things that is interesting about this movie is that because of its budgetary constraints, the whole film practically takes place inside of Jill’s apartment. Richard Stanley did the same thing that Sam Raimi did in Evil Dead. You keep the story small. Keep your characters in one place. To Stanley’s credit, he managed to keep things interesting in spite of this being a “one set” film.
Does Moe dream of Electric Sheep?
Come on Jill! Press that button and crush the evil robot from the future! Oh wait...
Richard Stanley has a music video background, so he knows how to play with editing and lighting. Stanley has been quoted as saying that he wanted the lighting scheme for this film to be like a Dario Argento or Mario Bava film, which is probably why there are so many sequences that have so much blue and red in them. The film also has some very interesting hallucinogenic sequences, where the characters go on these drug trips. You see, the M.A.R.K. 13 robot has these fang-like protrusions on its face with which it injects its victims with hallucinogenic drugs. When it does this, characters go on these nightmarish dream sequences which give the movie that surreal nightmarish touch. These hallucination sequences together with the killer robot angle are the two elements that give the film its horror vibe. The killings get pretty gory in nature, which is actually what originally got this film its x rating. It had to be toned down quite a bit before it could be released. But the gore and the killer robot are the two elements that keep us watching. Still, this is a bit more then just a horror film.
It has interesting themes as well. The film is drenched in cyberpunk mentality. Lots of nihilism, lots of hatred for humanity and the way things are. That whole theme about humanity messing up the planet beyond repair. Over population has gotten out of control and there are new laws for keeping population down. Nobody trusts nobody. People live in fear, locked up in their apartments. Art thrives in the midst of all the chaos, Jill, one of the main characters in the film is an artist, expressing her frustrations with society through art. Its no wonder that her sculpture ends up having an American flag spray painted on its head. Technology is winning the war against humans, so much so that humans are merging with machines. A theme that we can see through the other main character in the film, Moe, who has a robotic hand. Then theres the “evil government” theme going on here as well, since we later find out that the M.A.R.K. 13 is actually a government issued experiment, made for the sole purpose of destroying the excess population. So it’s a movie that has some great themes hovering amongst the sci-fi and the horror.
The movie has a couple of cool cameos going for it. Iggy Pop plays the voice of a radio dj who puts us up to date on just how messed up the world is in this film. Lemmy the lead singer from Motorhead makes an appearance as a water taxi driver. GWAR shows up on a TV screen at one point. This movie is interesting because its stylish, it achieved a heck of a lot with its limited budget and its dark and grimy. Its gory. Its subversive with its themes. It’s post apocalyptic. A small scale yet ambitious sci-fi horror film. Richard Stanley already wrote a script for the sequel called Hardware: Ground Zero, but it currently resides in pre production hell. Let’s hope it will actually get made one day! Here’s hoping!
Rating: 4 out of 5
The films original poster