Director: Richard Stanley
Starring: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch
Running time: 94 minutes
Cinema release date: October 1990
1990’s Hardware offers up an impressive vision of a post apocalyptic world on the brink, and a plot ripped from the pages of popular sci-fi comic 2000AD – legal action swiftly followed. With a look that owes more to Gilliam’s Brazil than Blade Runner, this is a film with a surfeit of ideas to stuff its slender plot to bursting point. It is very much an example of a throw everything on screen – including the kitchen sink – approach to film-making. And for the most part it works.
From the opening shots of a radioactive wasteland (impressively filmed in Morocco), almost every scene is infused with an orange or red cast. You can practically taste the rust of this decaying and broken world. Out of this wasteland wanders a nomad (Fields of the Nephilim’s Carl McCoy) with something to sell. He finds a buyer in Moses (McDermott), a soldier returning home from a tour of duty. Moses, along with his highly-strung friend Shades (Lynch), takes what appears to be the broken remains of a robot back to the city. Here he uses it as a peace offering to his abandoned sculptress girlfriend Jill (Travis) to use in her latest artwork.
Of course, the robot is more than just a bundle of useless spare parts. These are the remains of an experimental military project called Mark 13 – the biblical reference, no flesh shall be spared, is repeatedly hammered home. The slow build up means that the film is already halfway through before the centrepiece of Jill’s new sculpture finally shows us what the rest of the cast are made of. The Mark 13 soon reveals itself to be a fully self-sufficient killing machine able to rebuild itself by utilising anything that comes to hand. It doesn’t take long before the reconstituted robot has its electronic eye on redecorating Jill’s apartment.
Stacey Travis makes for a resourceful female lead; both Alien and The Terminator are obvious touchstones here. Her performance is marred only, like that of the other actors, by delivering dialogue that never quite sounds convincing. Only William Hootkins, as Jill’s sleazy voyeuristic neighbour, avoids this by giving a performance so off the scale he might have wandered in from another film entirely. It’s quite an achievement given the gallery of oddballs and grotesques that make up the supporting cast.
Dylan McDermott acquits himself well enough as Moses, though director Richard Stanley apparently wanted Bill Paxton for the role. But it’s McDermott’s rather aloof ‘I’m too good for this shit’ demeanour that makes Moses a much more interesting character than he has any right to be. In what way Paxton might have made for a better Moses it’s difficult to imagine.
It’s all rounded up with a sprinkling of rock star cameos – the aforementioned McCoy, Motorhead frontman Lemmy as a taxi driver and the voice of everyone’s favourite insurance salesman Iggy Pop as DJ Angry Bob. The accompanying soundtrack is rather predictably turned all the way up to eleven with Pop and Motorhead contributing, along with the likes of Ministry. The film also makes brilliant use of Public Image Limited’s Order of Death, though curiously includes nothing by Fields of the Nephilim. Simon Boswell fills the gaps between with a bluesy score and the whole thing is topped off with Rossini’s Stabat Mater.
In part a remake of Stanley’s earlier short Incidents in an Expanding Universe, Hardware is certainly an uneven film – the latter half veers wildly from art house pretentiousness to gross out gore silliness and back again. The scene with Jill recoiling from the spinning drill brings to mind the machine fetishism of the previous year’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man by Shinya Tsukamoto, though viewed now Mark 13’s design bears an uncanny and unfortunate resemblance to Sir Killalot from the TV game show Robot Wars.
After this and the subsequent Dust Devil – arguably a better-made film, though it lacks the giddy excess that makes Hardware so entertaining – one might have reasonably expected a successful move to Hollywood for Stanley; careers have been built on much less. Sadly it was not to be. His adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau was beset with difficulties and he was ultimately sacked from his own film. Hardware is still something of a high water mark in Stanley’s career.