Wednesday, March 31, 2010

REVIEW: Hardware

Director: Richard Stanley
Year 1990

There are a few movies in your lifetime that come out of no where. The ones that blow you away and boggle your mind for the sheer fact that you never knew they existed. Well Hardware is one of those movies that just came out of left field for me. I'd seen Richard Stanley's other film, Dust Devil and was thoroughly impressed by that one and had heard good things about his apocalyptic Sci-Fi outing entitled Hardware, but had no idea on what a visceral film it would end up being. What a beautiful, desolate, and foreboding wasteland of a film. Filled with carnage and soaked in meaning, this film is something of a lost gem that can finally be found courtesy of the great team at Severin Films. Last year they put out this packed DVD and it was worth the wait it seems.

The red burnt sky of the wasteland.

Hardware is every bit as vivacious as was told by the various reviews I browsed over in anticipation of the DVD release and the inevitable viewing. The colors pop onto the screen and beg to be washed over by a watchful eye. Not only are the colors something to behold, but the imagery is bold and abrasive. Nothing is squeaky clean in this depressing world of Hardware. Everything is used and rusted, discovered by some second hand scavenger given down from generation to generation. Deteriorated until its first intended use is now something quite entirely different. This is post apocalyptic at its finest.

A beautifully shot vista of a broken world.

The story starts out with a lone scavenger crossing a desert like landscape in search of lost and discarded objects. This stranger comes across a broken wreckage of mechanical parts and scoops it up and heads off into the unknown. We then switch over to two men as they travel through what looks like a trash heap, but is really the outskirts of a large shanty like city. One of the men is Moses Baxter played by a strong and heroic looking Dylan McDermott and the other is Shades played by John Lynch. The two make their way across this disjointed terrain on their way to a more civilized portion of town, yet still as dysfunctional as their present locale.

Getting down and dirty with McDurmott as Moses Baxter.

They stop at a junk peddler's shop to browse his wares and maybe trade some of their findings in. The shop owner is named Alvy played by a thick Mark Northover who was none other then Burglekutt for you Willow fans out there. Both Moses and Shades are talking to Alvy when a strange man enters the shop in stylistic splendor.

Now that's a stylistic entrance.

This stranger was the scavenger that we saw at the beginning of the film and he's dropping off his most recent find to see how much it is worth. He leaves as mysteriously as he had arrived and Moses asks if he can buy the scrap metal from Alvy. Alvy gives him a price and Moses pays and takes off.


After leaving the shop, Moses and Shades head to an apartment complex that's just a bit more classy then the rest of the junk heaps around the area. Moses is here to meet his off again on again girlfriend and they haven't seen each other for a long while now. He comes bearing gifts in the form of the scrap metal he has just picked up. His girlfriend is an artist and sculptor and would appreciate such an otherwise shitty gift. His girlfriend is named Jill and is played by the hypnotically beautiful Stacey Travis in one of her earliest screen roles. She's gone on to play a countless number of TV roles, but in this film she shows us that she can really shine in a starring role as the chick you don't want to mess with when the shit hits the fan.

Jill takes a cigarette break from the dismal
landscape outside her living room window.

When Moses first arrives he gets a less then a stellar reception, but after showing her the gift that he had brought she slowly begins to come around. The two make up for lost time and like a sports team after a vigorous game, they hit the showers. This is a great time to bring up the music in this film, because once the shower montage kicks in we're blessed with an amazing song in the form of Public Image Limited's "This is what you want... This is what you get". This song is so catchy, that you'll be singing it days after viewing this movie. Anyways, the shower montage is really beautifully shot with slow fades and recessed motions. It really cranks the film up to an arty level followed by its colorful and tastefully done sex scene.

Is it hot in here or is it just my giant metallic robot hand?

The film really uses its color selections in a striking manner giving great jumps of contrast to the overall composition. For instance the scrap metal that Moses had given Jill for a gift had a robotic helmeted face that Jill decides to spray paint over with the american flag. The look of the face gives such an impression as the star patched left side of the head meets with the red and white horizontal stripes of the right side of its skull. It's a menacing sight and one that adds to the overall doom of the picture and the impending storm that is sure to strike once the robot repairs itself.

The look of absolute terror just before it decides to strike.

As I've just alluded, this scrap metal of robot parts is in-fact a disassembled robot. The only exceptional thing about this robot though is that it's a Mark 13, and a Mark 13 is a self sustaining military drone that is known to slice and dice human skin tissue and ask questions never. It's a ruff and tough hombre and we watch as the film progresses and it slowly starts to rebuilt its body with horrifying results.

Bad Robot! Bad Robot!

As Moses goes out for a few hours, the Mark 13 decides it's time to start some shit so it begins to terrorize poor Jill. It stalks her inside her apartment and starts messing with the lights. The scenes with the Mark 13 creeping around Jill's apartment are great and they're filled with suspense. It's like a scaled down and more intimate version of Ripley and the Alien's "cat and mouse game" from Ridley Scott's Alien. Most people would say that it's too similar to that Sci-Fi epic, but that would be generalizing Hardware to those few precious moments and that wouldn't be fare to such an outstanding film. In Richard Stanley's vision, every shadow lies the grim possibility of death and the lighting scheme that the director has set up for these pieces are rather effective and look stunning.

Stacy Travis looking scared shitless.

You can also see other influences that the director must of had by his other peer's work. Richard's use of color strongly resembles the great Italian horror directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Even Lucio Fulci seems to creep in there a bit by the amount of gore on screen. Large sections of Hardware take a cue right out of Argento's Suspiria, by casting the entire scene in a red hue, giving it an almost fantastical quality. I love these sections of the movie, because I to am infatuated by Bava and Argento's expressive use of color and how it can leave an instant impression and exhume a certain atmospheric quality to the film.

Come any closer and I'll cut your pecker off!

Also, Stanley knows how to compose a striking visual. I've noticed that he's fond of composing his subjects in a symmetrical sense, keeping the frame balanced and even. An example of this is when the robot finally attacks Jill and has her cornered in her refrigerator. He frames the robot's hand in the left side of the frame and Jill's frightened face in the right, balancing out the composition and making a striking visual image.

I imagine that this was the pitch for
the new 3D resurgence. Coming at ya!

Everything in this film is such a treat to look at that it almost appears that this was a pretty expensive shoot, but Stanley is known for creating something out of nothing and he does an amazing job here with what he has. The sets look lived in and the world is just busting at the seems. It's very impressive and something I wished I saw lots more of in the hollywood circuit.

Well, at this point of the movie our hero shows up to save the day, blasting the robot menace to kingdom come with the help of two security guards. The girl is saved and all is well, but like all good movie monsters, the bastard just won't stay down.

McDurmott, happy as a pig in shit.

Once again terror strikes and we're thrown back into a red frenzy, cast into a crimson filter. It seems like the red hues accompany the horror elements of the film and it's an interesting concept to present a visual cue for the event that is at hand. I wonder if this was indeed intentional on the directors part or just something that was a coincidence that turned out for the better. Whatever the reason the films palette is richer for it.

Just need to take a rest from all the colors.

Of course there's the gore that I mentioned earlier. Taking cues from every Lucio Fulci ever created, Stanley brings on the gore and brings it well. No other scene represents this lust for gore better then when the security guard gets cut in half by the automatic doors. Damn that is brutal and Stanley never turns away from the grotesque horror. He keeps the camera almost ground level as we stare at the dying man's intestines as someone tries to pull him away from the door. It's some hardcore stuff and very well done and for a lover of practical horror effects it's a welcomed treat. Nothing's better then using prosthetics and a little creativity.

The horror! The horror! Way to go Stanley!

And we finally come to our conclusion where the once passive Jill is pushed to her limits and must take things into her own hands. She grabs a baseball bat and swings for the fences. She literally loses control and Stacey Travis conveys this wonderfully, really throwing her entire self into those last scenes. She really owns this movie and proves that she deserved the larger role opposite the all male cast. She really shines as the heroine and I wish she would have continued to make movies like this one instead of going into television, but what the heck as long as we have her kicking ass in one flick I'm glad it's this one.

Now that is one bad-ass shot.

Hardware really is an amazing film that could have been lost to a good many people other then for the lucky few that got to see it when it first came out. I'm so glad that I got a chance to finally see it because of the newly released DVD. I got to witness the twisted tale of a post apocalyptic love story fused with a woman on the edge tale that presses the gore button and produces something so visceral and dark yet so vibrant and colorful in both the characters and atmosphere, that it leaves a burned impression in my mind as a damn good film. Must check out for anyone that absolutely loves anything post apocalyptic.

5 out of 5 stars       A colorful post apocalyptic film drenched in Sci-Fi


  1. How cool is it that while reading this, Public Image Ltd. pop up on my internet radio station out of over 200 songs. I just wanted to say that this movie gives me hope that there are other classics out there that I haven't discovered yet and are still awaiting a DVD release.

  2. That's awesome. It's like the Pet Shop Boys coming on the radio when you just reach Union City. Yeah there's got to be more undiscovered gems out there.

  3. Great review. Hardware is a 10/10 film.

    However you and everyone else needs to watch it again, and realize it's about a sinister political adgenda.

  4. Thanks for checking it out.

    I must have missed the sinister political agenda plot. What does it entail?