Based on a story from 2000AD comic by Steve MacManus and Kevin O’ Neill, Hardware came under some rather unfair criticism on its initial release for being somewhat ‘Terminator-esque’, not very original and too ‘cult status’ needy. But the intervening years have been kind to the film and to its director, Richard Stanley, who, sadly, never really achieved the sort of A-list director status that his obvious talents so richly deserved.
Beginning with the biblical quote from Mark 13: ‘No Flesh shall be spared’, Hardware starts as it means to go on with a very stylised opening shot of a mysterious zone trooper salvaging in a highly radioactive area (the Dune Sea) sometime after some sort of limited nuclear war has ravaged the planet. He finds parts of an experimental combat robot and takes them back to one of the surviving cities and a dwarf pawn broker’s to sell. A soldier, Mo, back from the front-line, is looking for a gift for his girlfriend and offers to buy the robot bits from the weirdo zone trooper, who consents, thus setting the scene for a kind of robotic ‘monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space’ scenario.
Loads has already been written about Hardware so I won’t bore you with a bit-by-bit plot breakdown, but suffice to say our hero, of sorts, Mo, and his buddy, Shades, head back to the tower block where Mo’s sculptor girlfriend, Jill, lives, and hand over their booty to her. Mo gets a fuck out of his kindness and Shades a peck on the cheek and, when Mo has to leave again shortly after, weird things start to happen in the tower, especially when the killer robot reboots and starts to reassemble itself using all sorts of bits and pieces, including power-tools, that it finds lying around the apartment.
Not only does poor Jill (Stacy Travis) have to contend with a killer robot, but also with a weirdo neighbour who likes to spy on her sex sessions and everything else she does, all the while licking his diseased lips, wearing latex gloves and using a massive telescopic photo lens! Things all come to a head with some nicely staged ‘stalk and slash’ sequences, and a couple of icky death scenes involving drills and lifts!
The production design on Hardware is excellent and Stanley creates a believably decaying world on a pretty low budget. Simon Boswell’s score brilliantly compliments the red-tinged visuals and the music tracks chosen by Richard also work really well within context of the storyline; something which is increasingly rare these days.
The picture quality is pretty good throughout, although there is some grain to be seen, particularly during the early desert scenes. Although it kind of works this viewer wasn’t so keen on the use of strobe-lighting in a few scenes, although I appreciate why it was used.
Stanley wisely doesn’t over-egg the battle-droid and keeps his creation in the shadows for the most part, which makes the robot even more threatening and disturbing. In fact the general tone of the film is more art-house horror than routine, run of the mill horror, which plays in its favour. Probably the best example of this is one of the main character’s rather trippy demise, which is like a bad LSD journey through a psychedelic wonderland played over a wonderful burst of Rossini’s Stabat Mater.
I also quite liked the use of Iggy Pop as the crazy DJ stating great lines throughout the film such as: ‘Nature never knew colours like that!’ and: ‘And now for the good news… there is no f**king good news!’, and Lemmy’s cameo appearance, as a boat taxi driver, is quite amusing too.
Hardware has achieved a kind of cult status over the years with its quirky characters, intense visuals and memorable dialogue. And while I don’t think it’s as good as Stanley’s later Dust Devil, it is still a minor classic of the genre.
Hardware, like many sci-fi films, paints a bleak picture of the future, with its destroyed landscapes and depressing government-backed ads for voluntary sterilization. Even having breakfast in this world doesn’t sound like much fun with only synthetic milk available! It’s also one of those films that bears up to repeat viewing with scenes and songs drilling their way into your subconscious. All together now: ‘We all walk the wibbly wobbly walk, and we all talk the wibbly wobbly talk…’
Hardware was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray on the Hollywood Classics label. There were, sadly, not many extras, which is surprising for the 25th Year Anniversary edition. The only extras being a few small postcards of images from 2000AD artist Clint Langley.