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the Video Vault

From the Vault: ‘Hardware’ (1990)

A minor cyberpunk achievement and major cult classic, Hardware is a daring exercise in sex, violence, rock and roll, and nihilism that makes up for its shoestring budget and rough edges with inventive filmmaking and cleverly realized vision.

Based on a story from the British science fiction-themed comic book 2000 AD and set in a post-apocalyptic future (is there any other kind?), the tales kicks off with a scavenger salvages the remains of a robot and sales them to vacationing soldier Moses “Hard Mo” Baxter (Dylan McDermott, who apparently no longer ages), who delivers them as a gift to his artist girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis).

Unbeknownst to either of them, not only was the robot designed for population control (read: it’s a killing machine, and good at it), it’s still operational and capable of rebuilding itself. Before long, it’s up and running, and slaughtering the tenants of Jill’s tenement building. Not for nothing is it designated the M.A.R.K. 13, as the movie references Mark 13:20 “No flesh shall be spared.”

Writer-director Richard Stanley (Dust Devil) was in his early 20s at the time of production on Hardware, but had already honed his enough to deliver a thoroughly nasty bit of claustrophobic techno-horror; indeed, it initially earned an X rating in the US, though it seems quite tame by today’s torture porn standards. He smartly tempers the violence with the occasional dose of black humor and comic-book philosophizing and a pervasive “fuck it” DIY attitude that perfectly sets the tone of Hardware‘s bleak, blasted vision of the future and fully captures the feel of its source material.

Topping it of is an addictive industrial/techno/metal score. Stanley cut his directorial teeth working on music videos, and at times it shows — in a good way — with strong visuals carefully woven together with a soundtrack that features an original score by Simon Boswell as well as blistering tracks from Motörhead, Public Image Ltd., Mininistry, and Iggy Pop (observant viewers will spot cameo appearances by Lemmy Kilmister, Iggy Pop, and Fields of the Nephilim frontman Carl McCoy).

Stanley and his effects crew squeeze quite a bit of mileage out of their limited animatronics, more so than the score of Terminator/Robocop knock-offs that preceded it. Sadly, Terminator 2: Judgement Day hit theaters less than a year later, and the subsequent revolution in CGI effects slammed the coffin lid shut on dingy genre flicks such as this. Still, Hardware has held up will over the past two decades thanks to its swagger and originality.

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About Gary Dowell

Professional film critic, journalist, Byronic hero.

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