Hardware (1990)
By: Mr Intolerance on January 1, 2010  | 
DVD
Severin (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. 94 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
Some movies have a difficult birth, to put it mildly. When Hardware had its theatrical release in Australia, you could see it in either the R-rated version, or the milder M-rating, losing much of the film's violence and gore, and thus impact. It seemed to polarise movie-goers, provoking a love it or hate it response – even the most cursory of searches on the ol' internet will reveal folks seeing it as akin to the second coming, and an equal amount of nay-sayers calling it the worst film of all time (have a look on Great Sage Equal of Heaven IMDb for starters, Rotten Tomatoes will further support that claim), which would indicate that a lot of people have never seen an Andy Milligan or Ray Dennis Steckler film. Then of course there's the claims of plagiarism that dog the film, too, but more of that later.

One thing is sure regardless of your view on the film's quality: it hasn't had a release since it played at the movies that did it justice, in terms of how director Richard Stanley really wanted you to experience the film – until now. If you remember the old VHS copy (full-frame, too dark by half and with atrocious colour bleed from the ever present Argento-inspired red lighting), try to block that image from your mind and groove on what the fine folks at Severin films have done with it in terms of restoration and a hefty package of Extras in a sweet 2-disc edition. I'm getting ahead of myself – time for a brief synopsis, I think, for those of you who haven't seen it, or those of you who might be suffering from a little alconesia.

In the future, the Earth is fucked. We've fucked up the environment completely: the sky is a red haze, the temperature is constantly high, and pollution, to paraphrase the Bard, "hath made its masterpiece." As a result, crime is high, radiation poisoning is commonplace, as are birth defects and a short life-span. Not an inviting prospect. The government are trying to curb the birth rate, sedate the public by selling them joints instead of regular nutritious smokes, and the best a body can do to survive is either lock themselves in their flat and ignore the outside world, or get work off-world – the main occupation being that of a soldier. Like I said, not much of a life to look forward to. Mo is one such soldier, he's back on Earth to chill with his pal Shades, and to try to patch things up with his on-again/off-again girlfriend Jill, an industrial artist and willing recluse. Unbeknownst to Jill, she's being perved upon by her unbelievably sleazy neighbour Lincoln – life in the future just keeps on giving, huh?

Anyway, Mo visits a local fence in order to make some quick cash, and in doing so meets a rather eerie 'Zone Tripper', a kind of futuristic nomad who wanders the radioactive wasteland outside the city scavenging for survival. This particular Zone Tripper (played by Carl McCoy, singer with 80s Goth icons Fields of the Nephilim, a band Richard Stanley did some early video clips for in the mid-80s) has found something unusual – the remains of a prototype robot. Mo's convinced its merely a maintenance robot – but not too far into the film we find that he's dreadfully wrong – what he gives to Jill as a present is actually a M.A.R.K. 13 military droid, a new combat model which kills either through more traditional means of violence, or its array of deadly intravenous hallucinogens. And this robot, regardless of the fact that it's initially in pieces, most definitely ain't dead. All things considered, Mo probably should have just said it with flowers.

It's established early on in the film that Jill lives behind electronically sealed heavy duty steel doors (of course, if the electricity is shut off, ingress and egress from that apartment becomes an impossibility), and when the M.A.R.K. 13 (named for the rather apocalyptic passage in the bible that states "No flesh shall be spared") wakes up and goes homicidal, the rest of the script writes itself – an effective and tense game of cat and mouse between girl and robot that has a few surprises up its metallic armoured sleeves, and not just the hypodermics the M.A.R.K. 13 wants to jab into Jill's flesh.

Has Hardware stood the test of time? Yeah, I think so. For a first time feature, Stanley has created a film that lacks in originality at times, and occasionally makes it obvious that its director used to make video clips (note to aspiring Directors: don't try to make POV shots of people tripping out on goofballs – it will always look amateur and more than a little silly), but that delivers the goods. The violence is stronger than I remembered it (a plus, in my book), but the neo-noir post-apocalyptic dark future setting is occasionally a little dated in terms of costume and haircuts – there was a lot of this kind of thing in 80s music video clips (anyone else remember power metal band Queensryche's excruciatingly bad post-apoc sci-fi "epic" clip for "Queen of the Ryche"? Deep Purple's "Knocking At Your Back Door"? Duran Duran's "Union of the Snake"? Stanley's own clips for Fields of the Nephilim's "Preacher Man", or "Blue Water"? I think you get the picture), let alone the Italian post-apoc rip-off boom of a few years prior.

Actually, all of this talk of music leads neatly to the soundtrack, both diegetic and non-diegetic. Rumour would have it that Fields of the Nephilim were originally to score the film, but that sadly didn't happen (a shame too, as they were making some crackingly good music at the time), although Simon Boswell, who did score Hardware, is certainly no slouch. We have cameos from not only Fields of the Nephilim's gravel voiced vocalist Carl McCoy, but also from Iggy Pop (a voice-only cameo, he's kind of the film's Greek chorus – radio shock-jock Angry Bob, narrating several salient plot points at the beginning and end of the film most noticeably – unfortunately the only music of his we get is the truly awful "Cold Metal") and god himself, Lemmy from Motorhead, in a brief but memorable role as a water-taxi driver (any excuse to put "Ace of Spades" on a soundtrack is a valid excuse to me). Again it may just be internet rumour, but John Lydon (Johnny Rotten from The Sex Pistols, for the less musically aware) was an early choice for the role of Angry Bob, but the only presence of Lydon on the finished film is in Public Image Limited's sublime "Order Of Death" on the soundtrack, over the end credits. You'll also hear Ministry's industrial metal anthem "Stigmata" at one point, as part of a music video Jill's listening to while she sculpts, although the footage of the band playing it is of shock-rockers GWAR – go figure. Worse yet, some knucklehead on wikipedia reckons that images during this section of the film are taken from Salo – this fuckwit is dead wrong, simple as that. It's a stupid, ignorant assertion that even the most cursory viewing of Pasolini's film would prove incorrect.

Funnily enough, many of this film's harshest critics lambast the acting, script and direction. I've read reviews that have stated that nothing happens in the film (what fuckin' movie were these people watching?), that Stanley's work is remedial at best (it's not too shabby at all in my not-so-humble estimation, a couple of MTV moments excepted, and good for a first time feature with a tight shooting schedule and a micro-budget), and that the actors phone in their performances – okay, the guy who plays Shades is as annoying as all fuck, but the rest of the cast do okay (they're a lot better than many of the actors in a lot more highly regarded cult/exploitation/genre films) – special props must be given to William Hootkins' darkly comedic uber-pervert Lincoln; he plasy the part so damned greasily I feel like I need a shower every time he's on screen.

But there are a few issues with the film where I can understand audience dissatisfaction. Firstly, the number of false endings, which I'm putting down to directorial inexperience and the desire to keep the audience on its toes. It kind of reminded me of going to see The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – a movie that ended six or seven times before the credits rolled. Same thing here – on repeated viewings you will probably find it more grating than on a first viewing. And secondly...well, I mentioned plagiarism before and here's what I meant. Prior to 1980, there was a story in UK sci-fi comic 2000 A.D. called Shok! In that story, an off-world soldier buys the remains of a robot from a scavenger who found said remains in a radioactive post-apocalyptic wasteland – the robot is a military droid called a Shok Trooper, a violent psychotic killer at the cutting edge of technology. Initially dismembered, it recombines its component parts and stalks the industrial artist girlfriend of the soldier through her flat, after having first immobilised her electronic doors; a game of cat and mouse ensues with another plot point I don't want to reveal as a spoiler. Sound familiar? It would if you've read the previous few paragraphs. Does Stanley credit the original story in either the Extras or even namecheck the original in the film's credits? No. He states quite flatly in an interview that the story of Hardware came to him in a dream when he was thirteen, and doesn't mention Shok!, not even to deny his having ripped off it's plot wholesale (there's one point where he mentions legal action having prevented some merchandising, but its oblique, a "bump and run" reference). The writer and artist of the comic took legal action and won; credit was reputedly given them on early versions of the film, but I couldn't see their names anywhere here, and believe me, I scoured these discs looking for them. That to me is under-handed, and lacks integrity. I certainly enjoy the film, but that kind of behaviour leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.
Video
Severin take their restoration jobs pretty damned seriously, and Hardware is no exception. I used to own a VHS of this film, and frankly, it sucked. This release is very fine indeed – the colours are rich and vibrant, the picture is clear and sharp – it's an all-round winner. I'll quite often blind buy films based on the company who release them because I know I'm getting a quality disc (think Mondo Macabro, Dark Sky or Blue Underground), with this release Severin have just made that list – well done!
Audio
Again, the sound quality is nothing to sneeze at, regardless of whether we're talking the 5.1 or the 2.0 channel. And the soundtrack is quite impressive, let me tell you. Whoever re-mastered this release of Hardware obviously loves this film – the AV on this disc is without fault.
Extra Features
Talk about a fulsome package of Extras! While it's not quite the 5-disc extravaganza that the recent release of Stanley's Dust Devil was, this is still pretty impressive let me tell you. If you're a fan of this film and you haven't gone down the route of the simultaneously released Blu-Ray version, you need to own this. It's a completist's dream come true. On the first disc you get a director commentary with Stanley (obviously), but it's on the second disc where the goodness lies. First up, there's a brand spanking new hour long documentary called No Flesh Shall Be Spared, which goes into some detail about the pre-, during, and post-production of the film, with new interviews from some of the cast and crew – it's quite comprehensive and enlightening. There are some Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes, nothing that really needed to be in the film – personally I think Hardware could quite easily have been snipped by a further 10 minutes with no damage to the film; probably would have aided its pacing, in fact.

Other than that, if you're a fan of Stanley's work, you get three short films by the man: Rites of Passage (a much earlier piece of work which seems to mirror Stanley's concerns in the other films presented here – including Hardware – about man's place in the greater scheme of things), Incidents In An Expanding Universe (another early film, this one filmed on Super-8, and possibly one of the most ludicrously ambitious projects lensed on that humble film stock – it bills itself on the back cover as an early version of Hardware, but I honestly don't think that's entirely accurate – and at 43 minutes long it's a bit of a chore to watch, given the picture quality) and a much more recent work called The Sea of Perdition, which would appear to be part of a series, and put me in mind of Lovecraft – watch it and you'll see what I mean.

You also get a brief interview with Stanley discussing the missed opportunity that was Hardware 2, a never-realised script exists – apparently it's out there on the web, folks; he posted it himself to let people know what could have been. It certainly sounds like an interesting project, although his assertions about combat droids in the real world come across as a little paranoid – maybe it's those staring eyes... That aside, there's the German trailer, and a vintage promo reel. Oh, and it comes in a nice slipcase – good packaging counts as an Extra in my opinion.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
If you like a bit of sci-fi/horror (or indeed, either one of those genres by themselves) you really should have a look at Hardware. There's a lot to like about this film, and this release in particular. It has its flaws, certainly, but it more than makes up for them in the action that the final third of the film delivers. Investigate and enjoy.

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