The sci-fi slasher flick Hardware comes on like some mad nightmarish version of Short Circuit. A crude, squat robot becomes sentient and mayhem ensues. Only in this case, the mayhem is of the blood and guts variety as the M.A.R.K. 13 – not Johnny 5 – comes alive and slices through anyone he can get his hands on. And when he slices, the filmmakers aren’t at all shy about being gutsy with the FX, which gives this movie a little more edge.
In this post apocalyptic Mad Max-ian world, Moses (Dylan McDermott) and his sidekick Shades (John Lynch) search the wastelands for scrap that they can sell to make a living. Moe buys a sack of junk off another, much creepier drifter, and takes that stuff home to his girl Jill (Stacey Travis), an artist who can use this stuff in one of her sculptures. It’s Moe’s version of a Christmas present.
Jill, it turns out, is a bit of a recluse, holed up in a fortified and suitably industrialized apartment, replete with rusted metal and pockmarked walls. A sort of crazed market has taken over the lobby of Jill’s building. A pervert across the way watches her through a zoom lens. A security duo play games downstairs, generally oblivious to criminal goings on, of which there are plenty since the end of the world as we know it. Jill may have good reason to lock herself inside.
All is well – or as well as can be expected in this world – until a piece of Moe’s Christmas present turns out to be the head of a killer military robot with the ability to rebuild itself and – for some reason – inject humans with a drug that kills them. All ceases to be well as all hell breaks loose in the apartment, coming down to a protracted and sometimes tense battle between Jill and the M.A.R.K. 13.
Much of Hardware gets things exactly right. The claustrophobic feel of the apartment is well done. The art direction is spot on. Even the acting, which is usually the hardest thing to pull off in something like this, is pretty stellar. It’s a nice twist on an overdone story, as Stanley cannily mixes dystopian sci-fi with stabby slasher conceits. Much more refreshing than another guy in a mask. Besides any of that, there’s just the energy of this thing – the side characters are going way over the top and it adds to Stanley’s feel for the grotesque.
There are some pitfalls to this mashed up story, though. The opening is so grand and epic that once we settle into Jill’s apartment, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed – like the money has all been spent, so now watch the people do things on this set for the last hour. There’s also Iggy Pop’s DJ character Angry Bob, who we hear on the radio a couple of times – but doesn’t necessarily bring a whole lot to what’s going on. At times we see a little too much of the monster and it loses some of its credibility – looking more like a man in a suit. And the colors… things tend to be lit in red and after a while it’s akin to watching something in black and white. It just feels flat. Toward the end, when Jill and the robot wander into a fully lit kitchen, it’s like a revelation. You wish you could’ve seen the rest of the movie in full color.
And that being said, when things are nicely lit, the picture on this disc is beautiful, especially for a movie that maybe doesn’t have the largest following in the world. While the open is pretty grainy, just wait for that first shot of Moses and Shades walking down the corridor to sell off their scrap metal. It’s a beauty, even as casual a shot as it is.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p. Some parts of the film show its age, but for the most part, this presentation looks pristine. The audio is English Dolby 5.1 and English Dolby Surround 2.0. This audio is also a standout, with plenty of sound effects and pulsing Ministry tracks to show its stuff. Crisp and clear.
Audio Commentary with Richard Stanley – Richard Stanley is a man who likes to talk and he’s not a bad listen. All you might want to know about Hardware is contained herein.
No Flesh Shall Be Spared – Severin Films put together this hour-long doc about Hardware, clearly not just for press purposes. Even more Hardware info to found herein. If nothing else, this piece makes the disc. It’s clear someone cared about this movie. (53:59)
Incidents in an Expanding Universe – A 45 minute short of Stanley’s from younger days, sort of an early version of Hardware. No better than the feature, but it sure is ambitious. (44:30)
Rites of Passage – Another short from Stanley as a teenager. Interesting if you’re a serious follower of his career, but otherwise not necessarily valuable. (9:50)
The Sea of Perdition – A more recent short from Stanley, giving a better idea of how his filmmaking chops have changed – and how they haven’t. (8:33)
Richard Stanley on Hardware 2 – Stanley talks briefly about the travails of trying to bring Hardware 2 to the big screen. (7:40)
Deleted and Extended scenes – More VHS footage, this time showing stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s a bit of a chore to watch at this quality, but it adds to the punk feel of this overall disc. (25:02)
Hardware Promotional Video – A very rough promo video – sourced from VHS – that’s not too bad a watch in that it doesn’t quite have the slick, soulless feel of today’s promo pieces. (3:30)
German Trailer – The German version of the trailer. (2:03)
Hardware is closer to a slasher than sci-fi and though it tends to show its seams, it can be mean, bloody fun.
Severin Films presents Hardware. Directed by: Richard Stanley. Starring: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Iggy Pop. Written by: Richard Stanley. Running time: 93min. Rating: Not Rated. Released on Blu-ray: October 13, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: John Lynch