Hardware is what you might call a cyber-punk-rock-movie. But, when it was released in 1990 it was billed as more of a heavy metal horror movie. And despite the presence of Motorhead’s Lemmy in the film (in a brilliant scene where while driving a cab he informs his passengers that the band playing on the radio is great….it’s his band) Hardware is nowhere near the Shock ‘Em Dead, Rock ‘n Roll Nightmares of the late 80’s and much closer to the “fuck the world” esthetic of Johnny Rotten and the boys.
Perhaps the movie gives off that vibe because it comes from across the pond (It’s a British production that’s indie-budget was bankrolled by the Weinstein brothers) and was helmed by maverick South African director Richard Stanley (Dust Devil, Island of Dr. Moreau). Still, if nothing else, it doesn’t take a degree in pop culture to recognize the film’s “no future” attitude.
Based on the story “Shok” from the British sci-fi comic 2000AD (Judge Dredd) and Stanley’s own 1985 short film Incidents in an Expanding Universe, Hardware is the story of Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) a solider of fortune in a post-apocalyptic America, covered in dust storms and radiation, who winds up buying a few broken robot parts from a outlands drifter. Baxter decides to take the Robot skull home to his girlfriend Jill (Phantams II’s Stacey Travis) as a Christmas present. What Baxter and Jill don’t know is that the apparently broken robot is actually a M.A.R.K. 13 patrol droid and it’s designed to piece itself back together. And, once it does, it has got only one thing on it’s mind. Kill ’em all.
Hardware is an austere and trippy film. It’s got one foot in the grave from the get-go. The film takes place in a desolate world. Hope is gone, the inhabitants self-medicate by getting stoned all the time. Baxter doesn’t seem to have any grand plan in a place where you could just die tomorrow. Jill is an artist who makes sculpture of scrap metal, but she’s a shut in, living in her apartment, kept away from the outside work through a computerized security system. The film doesn’t have a huge technology is your enemy overview like The Terminator (the film most closely associated with Hardware), it seems to think that everything about the world is bad, and the people in it are just letting it all go to shit without even blinking twice.
As a linear story, the film is a disjointed mess. We know the robot is gonna terrorize Jill, but the fact that most of the movie is set in the apartment really limits the scope of the production—even as it tries to intensify the terror by trapping Jill. Stanley’s direction is of the uber-flashy music video variety and montages of television sets playing GWAR videos and pornography are interplayed with somewhat graphic sex scenes bathed in disco lighting schemes. It’s like a pop-art instillation piece disguised as sci-fi cinema that eventually devolves into a bad acid trip.
I’m not saying that Hardware is a terrible film full of poor storytelling, it’s just that it’s got so many ideas going on (hardcore sexual overtones mixed with anti-big brother, anti-American propaganda) that it’s hard to wrap your mind around it all. It’s no surprise that the film got an “X” rating when it was first submitted to the MPAA. It’s one of those films that you look at and say “I know it’s wrong, I just can’t pinpoint the problem”. It wants to be epic. The budget is stopping it from getting that far. It wants to be Blade Runner meets Demon Seed meets 2001 on Saturn 3. And it’s got a lot of those things going for it. What it’s missing is the coherency to bring all that together and make it work. It’s William Gibson with ADD.
It’s also no surprise—with all that’s going on in it—that Hardware has become a certifiable cult classic. With crazed voice over from DJ Angry Bob (Iggy Pop), Lemmy’s appearance as the Cabbie, a soundtrack featuring Public Image Limited and Ministry, the film is tailor-made for the kind of fans that elevated filmmakers like Alex Cox and films like Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eat the Rich to legendary British cult status. In it’s own “excess is best” way, it’s kinda crazily entertaining. It may not hold up to intense scrutiny in the eyes of the average filmgoer, but it strains credibility to believe it was ever made for those people to begin with.
The DVD and Blu-ray arrive courtesy of Severin Films and it’s just jammed packed with more than fans of this film ever had the hope of dreaming about. First off the film is uncut, meaning all the nasty pillow talk, heat-signature sex, and phallic robot drill rape scenes are on parade—and the transfer is brilliant. The documentary No Flesh Shall Be Spared spends nearly an hour dissecting the film from all angles, of Pre and Post production and release. The disc also features the full 40+ minute Super 8 short film Incidents In An Expanding Universe as well as some additional Stanley shorts Rites Of Passage and The Sea of Perdition. Stanley provides audio commentary as well as a supplemental interview discussing why Hardware 2 never got made. There are some deleted and extended scenes and an original promo video for the film, sourced directly from Stanley’s sole surviving VHS tapes.
Overall it’s a package that really delivers a lot of respect for a film that despite it’s unexpected success (it grossed over 10 million on it’s 1.5 million dollar budget) is hardly a household name. Who knows maybe if they sell enough DVDs some one will give Stanley a few million more to make that sequel he wrote 20 years ago.