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“No flesh shall be spared” – Mark 13:20
Richard Stanley supposedly based his cult classic on a short story called SHOK! that ran in the British 2000 AD sci-fi comics, but it seems equally inspired by The Road Warrior, The Terminator and the Japanese live-acion Manga flick Testsuo. This midnight movie was released in late 1990 and while some action flicks were still very 80s, at this time, Hardware had a darker, more nihilistic tone and grungier look that would be more distinct to the 90s.
The story is set in a post apocalyptic world where most of the planet is ruined and people live in industrialized cities and scavengers roam the wasteland for anything salvageable/sellable. One such scavenger is Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) or ‘Mo’ who happens upon another scavenger selling parts of what appear to be a maintenance drone. Mo buys the parts for his artist girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) who specializes in metal sculptures. But unknown to Mo or Jill, the parts are actually from a M.A.R.K. 13 combat robot who, while Jill sleeps, rebuilds itself from the parts and the miscellaneous junk Jill uses in her art. Upon a rude awakening, Jill finds herself locked in her own apartment with a lethal and unstoppable killing machine who is carrying out it’s only order…exterminate!
Despite a lot of obvious inspirations and influences, writer/director Richard Stanley uses them wisely and makes Hardware his own as he sets heroine Jill against the self-repairing juggernaut inside a fairly confined space. He gives the flick a lot of atmosphere and despite having a quirky sense of humor at times, the film is very dark toned, though, also oddly comic book as well. Like something out of the legendary Heavy Metal magazine. The film is populated with some very comic book-ish characters too, such as Jill’s perverted neighbor (Batman’s William Hootkins) who breaks into her apartment and is too infatuated with getting in her pants to take her warnings of her homicidal robot guest too seriously. The film can be both cartoonish and very gruesome at times and Stanley gives it a very MTV music video style with a really effective assortment of industrial and metal songs…including Stigmata from Ministry…that blend perfectly with Simon Boswell’s electronic score and the visuals. The look of the film, though somewhat derivative, is also very effective at giving the film it’s post-apocalyptic mess atmosphere and it is bathed in stark colors and well captured by Steven Chivers’ cinematography. If Stanley’s fun and sometimes very intense and brutal film has any flaws, it is that sometimes the more comic book aspects of the flick and some of the offbeat, humorous moments don’t quite always gel with the darker moments and tone. The film also is somewhat moderately paced and takes pretty much halfway through for our robotic slaughterhouse to get going. Then things move with a more accelerated pace. The film also stops it’s picked-up momentum dead in the last act for a psychedelic sequence brought on when the murderous robot injects a character with it’s lethal venom. It’s well staged, but stops the film in it’s tracks for a few moments while it plays out and takes a few more moments for it get going again. There is also some stilted dialog as well, but there isn’t a lot of talking once things get started, so it isn’t overly hurtful to the proceedings.
The small cast are fine with Travis making a very resourceful and tough heroine as she must use her wits and tenacity to outwit her virtually indestructible opponent. McDermott is also fine as Mo, but was slightly wooden in his line reads though his character obviously steps aside for most of the film’s middle to let Travis’ Jill take center stage. Hootkins is really creepy as the perverted Lincoln and the supporting cast play their eccentric characters just fine, too. Rounding out is an amusing cameo by Motorhead’s Lemmy as a cab driver and a vocal performance by punk legend Iggy Pop as a radio DJ named Angry Bob.
I liked Hardware and remember it’s dark and nihilistic tone getting under my skin a bit when I first saw this at the Stanley Warner theater back in 1990. The film has it’s flaws and wears it’s influences proudly on it’s sleeve, but it is an effective sci-fi chiller that can be brutal, gruesome and yet very comic book all at once. Sometimes that blends well, at other times not so much. But overall it is a cult classic and one of the first generation of films to break from the 80s style of filmmaking and embrace the more grim and less over-the-top tone of the 90s, though it does have it’s over-the-top moments, especially when it comes to the gore. A cool and enjoyable little sci-fi/horror…though a little dated at this point…and sadly Stanley never really made good use of the attention the flick got him and this was his only hit, though, he still works proficiently on documentaries and short films.
3 combat robots.