Hardware (1990)

tusk

THE TRAILER

THE DIRECTOR
Richard Stanley

THE ACTORS
Dylan McDermott (Moses), John Lynch (Shades), Jill (Stacey Travis), William Hootkins (Lincoln Wineberg Jr.), Iggy Pop (Angry Bob), Lemmy (Taxi Driver)

THE CAUSE
Overpopulation/Nuclear War

THE STORY
“A post-apocalyptic scavenger brings home a battered cyborg skull for his metal-sculptor girlfriend. This steel scrap contains the brain of the M.A.R.K. 13, the military’s most ferocious bio-mechanical combat droid. It is cunnin, cruel, and can reassemble itself. Tonight, it is reborn… and no flesh shall be spared.” – Taken from the back cover of the DVD.

THE RUNDOWN
I messed up, readers. My last article fell on the week of Christmas; I had considered doing Hardware on that week, just because I was itching to talk about it, but I decided it had been too long since I’d done a truly bad movie (because if I do all the good ones first then nobody will be around to read about the career of Albert Pyun) so I rotated Solarbabies into that slot with plans to do Hardware as the follow-up. Hardware is the only post-apocalyptic movie that takes place on Christmas, so far as I am aware, so I totally missed an opportunity to give you folks who haven’t seen/heard of it a new Christmas classic to add to the rotation. So keep this one in mind for next year, folks!

Zone Tripper

Hardware opens on a field of orange sand dunes as a mysterious stranger in a long coat and a gas mask uncovers the ruins of an android buried in a minefield. He brings it to a junk dealer and sells it to Mo (Dylan McDermott). Mo’s girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) is a sculptor who builds elaborate art installations out of junk in her fancy high-security apartment.

Arriving at Jill’s high-rise, we find out that Jill has likely been sleeping with Shades, but Mo either doesn’t realize or doesn’t want to. He presents her with the ruins of the droid and they make up for lost time. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, Mo gets a call from the junk dealer to come meet up with him and he heads out.

The head of the android is bio-mechanical and it’s still alive; the M.A.R.K. 13 battle android. It can recharge itself from any power grid, it lives only to kill and, it can repair itself. Jill is trapped alone in her apartment with it and she’ll be lucky if she survives the night.

M.A.R.K. 13 Head

There is so much to talk about with this movie, but lets start out with the controversy. Richard Stanley was sued by 2000 AD comics, saying that the story for Hardware was a rip-off of a story called Shok (read it in its entirety here) and they won, which is why the end credits feature a nod to Shok and writers Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill are credited as writers. I will admit that there is some damning evidence against the movie as both stories feature a soldier bringing home the remains of a destroyed battle droid to his sculptor girlfriend, the machine reassembling itself and bringing itself back online using the power in the girlfriend’s apartment, the power drain locking the doors to her apartment, and the woman hiding in a refrigerator to escape its infrared sensors. The thing is, while they do stack up rather damningly, I really do think this could have been a solid coincidence or maybe Stanley (having been a resident of England at the time this story was published) had heard someone else speaking about the story and remembered the details and not where they came from. In any case, the “stolen” material isn’t exactly the most original content to begin with and Stanley doesn’t really deserve all the hate that’s been thrown his way for it.

Hardware actually did get Richard Stanley’s name tossed into the hat for Judge Dredd, which he declined in favor of making Dust Devil (the sort-of prequel to Hardware that is amazing and beautiful and only tangentially apocalyptic, so that’s the last we’ll speak of it here.)

If it is an intentional ripoff of Shok, that’s kind of shitty but it does elevate the material immensely. Shok is in line with the average quality of an early 2000 AD story (see: mediocre) whereas Hardware is so much more than a killer robot movie. If I’m inclined to call Hardware a plagiarism of anything, it would be of Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! (it was adapted as Soylent Green) which dealt with the goings on of a small group of people in a massively over-populated New York City. One of the most haunting images of the book (a small toddler tied to a dead woman that may be its mother) appears toward the beginning of the movie as Mo and Shades walk up the stairs to Jill’s apartment.

Link

The world of Hardware is built up to be crushingly depressing. Radio DJ Angry Bob (voiced by Iggy Pop) tells of a world filled with war, poverty, and over-leaden with people. Perhaps the most depressing of all is that this post-apocalyptic movie isn’t even really post-apocalyptic at all. Society still putters on doggedly: there’s a government, a military, even a space program. It’s this dissociation of civilization and collapse comes across rather starkly in the opening moments where Shades, an astronaut, tries to convince Mo to go with him to New York city so that they can harvest scrap to sell. When the duo walk into the lobby of Jill’s apartment building, it looks like a third-world bazaar, with dirty people huddling in the corners draped in tattered rags while vendors hack up ugly hunks of meat for display in the background. Mo comments on the derelicts and Shades tells him that someone crashed a rover through the security gates and that once they’re in you can’t really get them out.

Milk and meat are apparently very hard to get (at least the real stuff) and Jill constantly dips out of a pack of name-brand marijuana cigarettes as she flips through channel after channel of violent and subversive programming on TV (she watches a holocaust documentary as her and Mo have sex.) Its Harry Harrison, Aldous Huxley, and Harlan Ellison all rolled into one bleak and disheartening ball.

The M.A.R.K. 13 is likely tied into a proposed bill being discussed in the background of the movie that would seek to curb population growth by sterilizing most of the citizenry to keep them from procreating. It’s a ridiculously lethal creation, sporting 9 limbs (six of which contain weaponry; including a chainsaw, buzzsaw, and a phallic drill-bit) and a cell-destroying toxin which acts in seconds and causes the victim to actually enjoy the sensation of liquifying from the inside out. The movie reveals that the only reason the droid hasn’t gone into mass production yet is its sensitivity to moisture.

Then there’s the religious symbolism to the movie. The movie opens with Jill receiving visions of the M.A.R.K. 13 as she meditates, Shades takes a tab of acid as he prays at an altar to the destroyer god Shiva prior to the chaos of the movie, and Mo wears a cross and insists he’s “divinely protected.” At one point Mo actually reads out of the 13th chapter of the book of Mark where Jesus describes the end times to his apostles. He seems to be paraphrasing, as very little of what he says appears in any version of the bible of which I am aware, but the movie’s tagline supposedly listed from Mark 13 “no flesh shall be spared” is the gist if not the literal text of that chapter. That bit was apparently not in the script; Dylan McDermott pointed out the thematic appropriateness of Mark chapter 13 to the M.A.R.K. 13 and Stanley loved it so much that he put it in the movie.

M.A.R.K. 13 again

Many critics consider Richard Stanley a thief because he takes inspiration from others’ work, which is just silly because I’m sure they love Quentin Tarantino. In any case, Stanley doesn’t so much steal as he takes small abstract concepts from other movies and uses them as building blocks for his own movies. On the DVD, Richard Stanley relates some of his influences in reference to the movie citing things as far and wide as Kingdom of the Spiders, Stage Fright (1950), and Sergio Leone films. He also states that his inspiration for the structure came from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 where Tobe Hooper dealt with all of the relevant plot details early in the movie, leaving the bulk of the runtime as an extended climax which continued to one-up the gag as it went on.

Visually this is one of the best movies I have ever looked at. Almost every frame could easily be taken on its own and used as a painting. Stanley uses bold colors, lots of dark reds and blues, greens. It’s stark like an Argento movie but more industrial; evoking the oily interiors of the Alien series or Blade Runner (this is another trait the movie shares with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.) There are only a couple of scenes shot in natural color and most of the rest are shot in low lighting given off by torches, computer screens, TV screens, strobe lights, or other similar things.

The color scheme lends a comic book feel to the movie, but it’s more evocative of Heavy Metal than 2000 AD. In the commentary, Richard Stanley mentions Heavy Metal, Creepy, and old EC Comics titles like Tales From the Crypt as inspiration. If you’ve ever wondered what the art of Frank Frazetta, Richard Corben, or Jean-Michel Nicollete would look in live-action, Hardware can answer that question.

Group Shot

I can’t cite a bad performance in this movie but I think I should cite the best one. William Hootkins plays Jill’s sleazy neighbor, Lincoln Wineberg Jr., he’s an amazingly disgusting human being who installed her security system and is now stalking her (from the collection of shoes tacked on his wall, it would appear that Jill isn’t the first.) When he isn’t lasciviously licking his greasy, blistered lips as he watches her through his telephoto lens, he’s ringing her doorbell and running off, or calling her up and making lewd remarks at her as he peers through an eye-hole that’s cut out of the crotch of a photograph of a naked woman. Hootkins plays the most disgusting human being ever depicted on film and apparently had a bit of trouble getting work afterward because of it. To be fair, a lot of Link’s demeanor, mannerisms, and lines were ad-libbed by Hootkins and (according to Richard Stanley) he remained in character on the set making lewd comments to the make-up people and just generally being a scuzzball the entire time. It’s still a masterful performance and the small amount of time Hootkins spends on screen is delightful in its awfulness.

I also want to give a shoutout to Dylan McDermott because he plays Mo with an amount of honesty and restraint that you wouldn’t expect if you were familiar with the all-caps style of acting he uses nowadays. Mo is full of equal amounts of swagger and vulnerability that 1990s Dylan McDermott pulled off perfectly.

Hardware is one of the few cyberpunk movies that really works. It’s got the techno-industrial grunge feel, it has the pop-art look and color scheme, it’s got the heavy metal/industrial soundtrack to back it up. The theme song, “Order of Death” by Public Image Ltd. works perfectly with the movie having a certain hypnotic quality that makes the movie really pop. Hardware is easily in my top 5 post-apocalyptic movies of all time. It’s fun, it’s deep, it’s visually arresting, and it’s just a joy to watch and I enjoy spreading its gospel to anyone and everyone I can. Watch this movie!

BONUS REVIEW!

Bonus!

Incidents in an Expanding Universe

Intro

THE TRAILER
There is not actually a trailer available for this movie.

THE DIRECTOR
Richard Stanley

THE ACTORS
Charles Helps (Max), Nicola Kench (Nicky), Anton Beebe (Shades)

THE CAUSE
Overpopulation/Nuclear War

THE STORY
“2037. Rugged soldier Max and weary sculptress Nicky try to sustain a relationship in a bleak totalitarian future plagued by war, nuclear fall-out, and overpopulation. Flashbacks show Max and Nicky’s doomed romance throughout the years as things get worse and the world deteriorates all around them.” - Taken from the movie’s IMDb.com page.

THE RUNDOWN
So there is another sort-of prequel to Hardware other than Dust Devil. It is a 8MM student film by Richard Stanley called Incidents in an Expanding Universe. There’s no killer robot, but the skeleton of what would be Hardware is kind of pieced together.

Our main character is a world-weary soldier with a robot hand, who is named Max (I don’t think I have to speculate on why his name was changed to Mo when Stanley went back to the well in 1990) and his girlfriend Nicky who lives in a high-tech bunker apartment and sculpts. There’s also his friend Shades, who is an astronaut (you can tell by his goofy orange padded suit and big doofy bubble-dome helmet). The story is basically about the deterioration of Nicky and Max’s relationship alongside the general state of the world. There’s flying cars, mutants, and Angry Bob even makes an appearance though he sounds a bit too genteel and milquetoast to be saying words that would sound a lot more convincing coming from Iggy Pop’s mouth.

The movie is 8MM and it’s from the mid-80s so I don’t think I have to tell you that it looks like hammered shit. There are fire-damaged prints from the dawn of film that look better than this blurry and scratched mess. They’re wonderful compared to the sound, which is badly dubbed by different actors and on par with that ancient episode of Days of Our Lives that your mother taped on VHS and lost behind the dryer. This is forgivable as it’s a student film and might as well have been chiseled on a clay tablet for all the quality of 8MM film.

But if you look past the horrible, grainy, warbling, awfulness that is Incidents‘ production quality, you’ll find that the story is pretty bad too. It’s trite and hackneyed, it’s only 44 minutes but feels like hours. There are a few interesting things, like how Stanley managed to do semi-quality special effects and a good use of miniatures, but it’s mostly a shitshow and really only for completionists.

THE SHILL
Both Hardware and Incidents in an Expanding Universe can be found on the Severin Blu-Ray and DVD available through Amazon. You can also watch Hardware on Netflix Instant, so watch it now!

If you’re interested in the Hardware sequel which will most likely never be made due to reasons to stupid to mention, you can check out the script (along with a whole slew of other missed opportunities in Richard Stanley’s brutally murdered career) you can check it out here.

Shades and Jill

NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
“You’ve achieved an amazing feat. You’ve not only bored me, but my fetus too.”