Release Date: September 14th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Richard Stanley Actors: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, Iggy Pop, William Hootkins
he little known 1990 thriller “Hardware” mimics many of the sci-fi masterpieces that preceded it. Surprisingly, it succeeds in producing a creatively original post-apocalyptic setting and its fair share of unique ideas. Ultimately, however, it can’t stand up to Ridley Scott’s “Alien” or James Cameron’s “The Terminator” – but it’s definitely worth a look, just to see how close it comes.
War-ravaged Earth resembles a harsher version of Tatooine, where scavengers roam the wastelands and a thick orange haze blankets the skies. Moses (Dylan McDermott) and his brother Shades (John Lynch) cross paths with a cryptic stranger whose escapades combing the deserts find him in possession of a mysterious robot’s head and hand. Seeking an appropriate Christmas gift for his estranged girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis), Mo barters for the android parts. He quickly realizes his mistake when he discovers they belong to the highly advanced, self-repairing military droid M.A.R.K. 13, who begins a murderous rampage across Jill’s apartment.
Bizarre characters fill out the cast and only McDermott and Travis attempt to play it straight. While Mo provides a believable rogue soldier, it is Jill who becomes the hero of the film, exuding a little of the tough-girl attitude that worked so well for Ellen Ripley. Much like her obvious role model, she thankfully doesn’t become overly gung-ho when she faces the powerful renegade robot throughout the climax. By far, the strangest character inclusion is that of the perverted voyeur neighbor that spies on Jill from afar during intimate moments. Cult director Richard Stanley chooses to build the character into a truly disgusting villain, but then fails to have him act accordingly on his vile intentions, even when he has trapped Jill alone in her apartment. He becomes a wasted opportunity to drum up additional suspense and his departure doesn’t bring the closure it should have submitted. At least, he manages to break out in a creepy singing session before that time.
The special effects in “Hardware” provide the majority of accomplishment, appearing as a cross between “Mad Max 2” and “Alien 3.” Dark reds and burnt orange hues wash over the entire picture, while desolate, debilitated buildings evoke the required post-apocalyptic feel. M.A.R.K. 13 himself is an interesting blend of leftovers from “The Terminator” and “Saturn 3,” with his design and movement relating a primary function of destroying all life forms (though the slim cast doesn’t allow as much of a body count as one might hope). Utilizing poisonous needles, saws, and blades makes the nearly unstoppable robot all the more frightening, though his appearance reflects the movie as a whole – lots of style but little substance.
“Hardware” takes a great idea (though not an entirely original one) and limits the scope of its impact by giving a monstrous robotic villain a tiny apartment to play in. The compact setting affords a claustrophobic mood, but also fewer possibilities for massive mayhem. Though at times the film tries too hard to be cool (such as opera music infused in the final battle and a lengthy psychedelic poisoning scene), fans of obscure sci-fi thrillers will likely appreciate at least some aspect of Stanley’s contribution to the genre.
– Joel Massie