Hardware (1990)
By: James Gillett on November 20, 2009  | 
DVD
Severin Films (USA). Region A, B & C, 1080P. 1:85:1 (16:9 Enhanced). English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround 2.0. 93 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Richard Stanley
Starring: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins
Screenplay: Richard Stanley
Country: UK
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
After years without a reasonable DVD release to speak of (or none at all if you're only counting English speaking territories), fans of this low budget flick had just about given up hope of seeing it at home in the manner it which it deserves. It comes as something of a treat then that now that it's finally being given the remastered DVD treatment, Severin have seen fit to give us a brand spanking new Blu-ray version simultaneously.

Yep, it's a great day for Hardware fans.

Back when Richard Stanley was just a child of 13, he had a peculiar dream of a man wandering a lonely desert wasteland. Before long, the man came across a cybernetic skull buried in the sand. The metallic skull, human in shape, possessed two camera lenses for eyes and syringe like spikes in the place of teeth.

The dream must have stuck with him, because some years later it's that same sequence of events that serves as the opener for his debut horror sci-fi movie Hardware, a film that since its release in 1990 has continued to be held in high regard amongst genre fans.

Deservedly so too. Hardware is an interesting effort. It's low budget nature, that the prodcuers will testify was a definite inconvenience during production, lends it a welcome grit and griminess. Set in a decrepit polluted future, Hardware is anything but a typical Hollywood offering. Its dark deliberately gritty tone was always strongly a part of the production design, but it's also something that you can't quite imagine coming through in the same way in a larger slicker production. With the bulk of events essentially playing out in one location, the film also benefits from a certain claustrophobic feel that only heightens the ensuring terror.

What terror you ask? Well, unfortunately for our protagonists, that creepy skull from the wasteland soon finds its way into the hands of Mo (Dylan McDermott), a kind of wandering solider who, after buying it from a scavenger, brings it home as a gift to his sculptress girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis). Only before long, she finds the object is not so inanimate after it reassembles itself back to functionality. What follows is an intense battle for survival as that nasty piece of hardware begins to hunt her in her small high-rise apartment.

The first thing visually apparent while watching Hardware is its strong use of reds. From the opening almost surrealistic desert landscape to the dark sweaty interiors, red simply dominates the colour palette, giving a real feeling of overwhelming heat and post-apocalyptic desolation. Director Standley states his greatest influences being that of Italian horror masters Argento and Bava, which makes sense when you consider they too had a tendency towards heavy colours and stylistic lighting to attain mood and atmosphere. Even the violent set-pieces of Hardware were, according to Stanley, designed to play out like 70's European horror, only translated into the Science Fiction medium. It's a mix that works, and creates a visually arresting film with a impressive helping of atmosphere and dread.

That might not be enough if the chief menace wasn't up to scratch. Thankfully Hardware's cybernetic creation is something different in the best possible way. Dubbed the Mark 13 (a biblical reference to the book of Mark chapter 13, and more specifically the line "No Flesh Shall Be Spared") it's design, un-humanoid apart from its head, is best described as a mass of pistons and motors. It's blatantly phallic rotating drill appendage (something most of the crew members weren't comfortable filming, leaving only a skeleton crew to do the job) is so overt it's almost comical. In interviews, Stanley talks of its inclusion as a way to address possible misconceptions of an unconscious undercurrent of misogyny. Does it work? Or does it just come off as exploitive? You be the judge, but either way it certainly rises the Mark 13 to one of Sci-Fi's more memorable robotic death dealers.

So how do the humans fair? Well, characterisations are performances are good if a little inconsistent, but that's not to say they're not memorable. Dylan McDermott is fine as Mo, the closest thing to a well balanced individual the film has to offer (apparently he was written as something of a likable junkie loser until McDermott signed on). Stacey Travis is great as the reclusive Jill, she really has to carry much of the film and proves up to the task.

But what you'll most likely remember is the strange cast of sub-characters. Shades (John Lynch) as Mo's friend is something of an aptly named oddity with his ultra 80's sunglasses and typically wired demeanour. More disturbing is the obese voyeur Link (William Hootkins) who's actually creepier than the cyborg. His scenes interacting with Jill (after previously spying on her while spouting sexualised obscenities) make for some of the films tensest and most unsettling moments.

Cameo watchers should look out for Lemmy from Motörhead in an early scene as a cab driver who gives Mo and Shades a lift (he even puts on a Motörhead track). Also none other than Iggy Pop can be heard as 'Angry Bob', the nutty radio DJ who serves as a kind of narrator for the films introduction.
Video
After years of only seeing Hardware via an old ex-rental VHS, watching the film in HD was like seeing it for the first time. Displayed in its original aspect ratio of 1:85:1 at 1080P 24fps, it truly looks great here. Severn have done a fine job maintaining detail, clarity and accurate colour reproduction that, coupled with strong black levels, means the transfer stays true to the film's intended look. It's hard to imagine Hardware looking much better than this, making this a difficult one to fault.
Audio
What we have here is a choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Surround 2.0 tracks (unfortunately there's no lossless master track here). Still, the 5.1 is strong with more than adequate clarity. Separation is good and the FX and dialogue are well balanced. All things considered, it's a uniformly pleasing listen, despite the compression.
Extra Features
A really solid set of extra's here starting with an entertaining and detailed commentary track from the director. Most notably there's' also a particularly informative and engaging making of Documentary, No Flesh Shall Be Spared. Full of interviews with cast and crew, it charts the genesis, production and reception of Hardware.

Also on offer are three shorts films from director Stanley, two of which - Incidents In An Expanding Universe (HD - 44:30) and Rites Of Passage (HD - 9:50) - were shot on super 8 in the 80's (with Incidents In An Expanding Universe serving as the groundwork for Hardware itself) and the final being the interestingly odd short The Sea Of Perdition (HD - 8:33) from 2006.

Deleted and extended scenes (HD - 25:02), Richard Stanley on 'Hardware 2' featurette (HD - 7:40), Vintage Hardware Promo Video featurette (3:31) and the
German theatrical trailer complete the package.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Hardware is an impressive and entertaining foray into Sci-Fi horror. With a memorable villain (or two), arresting visuals, not to mention a strong sense of atmosphere, it comes as something of a standout of the sub-genre.

Thankfully Severin's Blu-ray does it justice. Impressive picture and sound coupled with a whole swag of quality extras means fans of Hardware need to get hold of this disc asap. For those yet to see it, there's never been a better time.

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