CAPSULE: HARDWARE (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Stanley

FEATURING: , Stacey Travis, Lemmy, voice of Iggy Pop

PLOT: A desert wanderer in a post-apocalyptic wasteland discovers a relic.  It’s the dismembered skeleton of a cyborg used by the government in the war that destroyed civilization, and when a man conveniently buys the creepy-looking thing for his metal sculptress girlfriend (!!!), she pieces it back together and unleashes a mechanical nightmare upon both of them.

Still from Hardware (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Hardware suffers from a terrible bout of conventionalism.  It’s essentially a post-apocalyptic version of Alien set in the confines of a ratty apartment complex.  There’s nothing truly weird about it, other than the cast, which is lousy with hard rock stars.

COMMENTS: Well, it must be said outright that this movie wasn’t bad.  It was breezy, very streamlined.  This is a cyberpunk horror movie about a robot run amok, simple as that.  Usually, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi likes to wax poetic and lament on our ever-dwindling lack of human compassion and kindness toward our Mother Earth.  And I don’t have a problem with that, but when your movie is actually about a killer robot and not about the fate of man’s heart as we hurtle deeper into the future, perhaps being an armchair philosopher is not par for the course.  The plot is based on a story in the British comic staple “2000 A.D”. called “SHOK! Walter’s Robo-Tale”, and it certainly takes the cyberpunk vibe from that series and really goes with it despite a $1.5 million budget.

Well, it’s the 21’st century (THE FUTURE!!!!), and America is devastated by an undisclosed nuclear disaster.  People have to make a living any way they can, and many times that includes scavenging the technology of the past.  One disturbing fellow, called a Zone Tripper, finds the menacing remains of a robot (it is called a cyborg, but since there there are no organic mechanisms implemented into the device, let’s just assume they wanted it to sound cooler than just a plain ol’ robot) in the distant, post-apocalyptic desert.  This intimidating fellow comes to sell his scrap at the typical oddball junk broker in town, but at the counter he meets an interested buyer named Mo, a Space Marine (THE FUTURE!!!) on leave who decides that his girlfriend Jill would like the parts due to her hobby in metal sculpting (excuse me?).  He buys the head and a few other assorted parts for 50 future-bucks and takes off after commiserating with the oddball scrap dealer about the weird robot and how everything sucks in the future.  He brings the parts to his girlfriend, she is happy, they have sex.  Post-coitus, Mo gets a call from the junk dealer in the dead of night telling him that something is up with the robot.  He tells him to bring the rest of the creepy metal menace with him and come back to the shop immediately.  He gets up quickly and goes to the shop, but not sensing the real urgency of the situation, he doesn’t bring the parts.  And that leaves Jill all alone with the robot head.  What Mo finds is that the robot is a government experiment and that its primary capability is killing.  He also learns that the robot can regenerate itself with various scraps, and that leaving it at the house of a metal sculptress was the worst possible thing he could have done.  Oops!

The robot really sells this movie.  Called the M.A.R.K. 13, it is a creepy creation that the designers should be proud of.  It freaked me out on a number of occasions.  It is scary not only because of it’s skull-like head, but its malformed hodge-podge body.  And when it kills people, it rips into them.  There is blood everywhere during a kill sequence, and I was a little shocked at how long they linger on the brutality.  They were excited about the effects, and I can see why.  It skulks around Jill’s cramped apartment at inconsistent speeds, much like the conveniently fast creature from Alien, but I won’t hold that against it too much.  It still creates a palpable claustrophobia with its relentless pursuit of the living, and that is the whole point, isn’t it?

The cast and crew are decent for a shoestring budget.  Director Richard Stanley is quite good at working something out of nothing, and  he pulls a cybernetic rabbit with all the working parts in order out of thin air.  I am impressed, and I hope to see more from him soon.  Our Space Marine hero Mo is played by a young Dylan McDermott; it’s only his fifth movie, and only his second as a leading man.  He is hunky and handsome and all that jazz, but I find him insufferably slick, even in the future.  I cannot believe this guy has ever been in something other than a soap opera, and his performances can’t either because he plays cool so close to the chest in this movie I thought for a moment he turned into the Fonz.  I have never liked him, and while I tolerated him in this movie, he is no leading man for me.  Stacey Travis is Jill, the uh… metal sculptress.  She has done a lot of bit parts, and this looks to be one of her only leading lady roles.  She does a good job.  I am in no hurry to watch her in anything else, but I think she deserves a little more recognition.

Hardware features a number of cameos from rock and roll royalty.  Carl McCoy, lead singer of Fields of the Nephilim, makes an appearance as the Zone Tripper.  He is the only character on the DVD box, and he is very intimidating.  Unfortunately, his screen time can’t even be calculated.  He only has one line, a throw-away one at that.  Lemmy is also in the movie as a boat-cab driver.  He plays his own band’s song, “Ace of Spades”, on the car-boat radio and reminisces on the good old days when you only needed to carry a knife with you when you walked downtown (?).  And Iggy Pop is Angry Bob, an unseen radio DJ who is angry about being in a dystopia.  He is typically obnoxious, but not nearly as bad as an actual DJ.  GWAR can also be seen on a television set doing weird things on stage.  All of these appearances are unbelievably short, but whatever gets you on IMDB, right guys?

So if you like cyberpunk dystopian movies like Demolition Man or Judge Dredd or extremely short rock and roll cameos, you’ll enjoy Hardware, but its weirdness is pretty low on the totem pole, and for seekers of odd movies this isn’t much of a priority viewing.  Otherwise, it’s not bad, but on such a small budget and with a very lean script there is not much movie beyond the menacing robot.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…gritty, trippy and frightening.. one of the best horror movies you’ve never seen!”–Fangoria

2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: HARDWARE (1990)”

  1. fyi the movie is set in the future during the second us civil war, and the city is suppose to be New York or maybe Chi town(not sure). You people really need to watch the movie again.

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