October 13, 2009



directed by Richard Stanley
1990, 93 minutes, UK
Severin Films

Hardware Falsely but understandably advertised as "The Terminator for the nineties" and loosely based on the 2000 A.D. comics (making it a precursor to Judge Dredd), South African-born auteur Richard Stanley's cult-beloved feature debut had only a fraction of the resources James Cameron did for his Ahnuld-pocalypse. But even in its meager limitations, Hardware is both more cynical and conscious of human indignities as a horrific cyberpunk vision of the future. In this ruddy post-apocalypse, lawlessness pervades the land and Big Brother is always watching via omnipresent closed-circuit cameras, but there's no anti-fascist revolution underway; we compliantly voted the bastards in, just as effortlessly as we decimated the environment so that only the fittest scavengers survive. Technically, the villain of Hardware (and here's where that original comparison gets made) is a murderous combat droid called the M.A.R.K. 13, which is capable of regenerating itself with any old electrical appliances. However, what makes Stanley's nightmare more disturbing in an age of environmental crisis and seemingly endless warring is that mankind is responsible for developing this mecha-monster (it's not a next-gen species like the T-800, but a "population lowering" device), and in this world, we're also responsible for destroying the resources that might allow us to defeat it.

Hardware Dylan McDermott headlines as Moses "Hard Mo" Baxter, a former soldier who now scours the scorched-earth area called "The Zone" for post-war debris that he can hock for cash to a shady dwarf. After an extended venture into the field, Mo returns to the post-industrial cityscape (really, everything in this film is "post-"—this is the end, my only friend), and reunites with his fair-weather girlfriend, a reclusive metal sculptress named Jill (Stacey Travis). As a romantic gift that keeps on giving, Mo brings her the skull of a robot carcass that he bought from a radioactively glowing-eyed nomad (Fields of the Nephilim goth-rocker Carl McCoy), a trinket that just so happens to house the brain of the M.A.R.K. 13, uh-oh. As the droid soon switches on, everyone in its path is disposed of via hallucinogenic poison injection, phallic drilling, eye gouging, and other clever gore effects that should be praised for their low-budget ingenuity. This limitation also dictates that most of the survival horror takes place within the confines of Jill's dark, grimy, overly computerized and therefore locked-down apartment, which is being peeped into by an obese pervert (a sickeningly funny William Hootkins), just another debauched consequence of these end times. He'll get his, it's telegraphed, but nobody is innocent enough to be safe, or a hero. (In the original cut of the film, Mo's first scene has him walking by some kids beating up an old man, but then-Miramax honchos the Weinsteins feared it would make him too unsympathetic a character.)

Hardware After the shoddy-looking VHS version of the film that had been floating around (which is how I originally saw the film in the early '90s), Severin Films' remastered two-DVD set finally does justice to Stanley's fussy attention to detail and exaggerated stylization—you can tell he began his career as a music video director. The primary-colored gel filters throughout are straight from the Argento and Bava playbooks, and the monochrome blips and blinks of all the analog technology (which doesn't date the film given this is a devolved future) makes for more lucid imagery in widescreen. Hardware isn't a life-changing piece of genre filmmaking or even fresh storytelling, but its psychedelic unease, heavy-metal textures, nihilistic humor, DIY artistry and hold-your-breath-in-the-dark frights are still gloriously entertaining after two decades of special-effects advancements. Oh, and did I mention the special appearances from Iggy Pop as the voice of radio DJ "Angry Bob" and Lemmy from Motörhead as a surly water-taxi driver? Check out the video links below to see why this one's a truly rock n' roll cult classic...

- Iggy Pop on Hardware
- Lemmy on Hardware

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Posted by ahillis at October 13, 2009 4:53 PM