Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Moses aka Moe (Dylan McDermott) is an army dude turned drifter who trades scrap metal for cash. His girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) is an industrial artist. One day, Moses picks up a robot head resembling a human skull from a 'zone tripper' and gives it to Jill, who attaches it to a sculpture. Unbeknownst to both, the head belongs to a defective population control droid named M.A.R.K. 13, which is still online. The droid proceeds to repair itself using the various appliances and scrap around Jill's apartment, and sets its sights on doing its job.
When your friend and mine reviewed this baddie, I was immediately intrigued. Since I hadn't seen the film (or heard of it, for that matter), and the fact that it had TERMINATOR vibes mixed in with JUDGE DREDD, I obviously had to check it out. While I wasn't as enamoured with the film as The Arrow was after seeing it, there was still some sweet meat for yours truly to dine on and savour.
Right away, the film screamed of 2000 AD comics. It's kind of obvious, seeing as the film is based on a comic called SHOK! Walter's Robo-Tale, which is set in the same universe as the JUDGE DREDD comics, a 2000 AD franchise. The whole wasteland desert motif, the urban decay of the city and the overarching cyberpunk themes are kind of hard to ignore. That, and the fact that a everybody's got a sheen of sweat to them. It's even more impressive that director Richard Stanley was able to get this all across on such a small budget. Adding to all of this is the Dario Argento-esque use of colour, which helps out the film's 'otherworldy' vibe.
Props to Stanley for also casting Stacey Travis as Jill. Despite being about a killer robot, HARDWARE needed that human aspect to it, which Travis supplies with her presence onscreen, as well as being a strong heroine. Travis certainly also makes up for McDermott's lack of enthusiasm in the film, as well as his overall blandness. The guy needed to look scruffier than he did. As for everyone else, John Lynch was a pleasant surprise as Mose's wired pal, Shades. The role is more or less a sidekick to McDermott's character, but Lynch's quirky interpretation almost shows up McDermott's performance in some respects. While infrequent, the gore was a pleasant surprise (especially the payoff for Jill's voyeur), as was the tension involving Jill playing a cat-and-mouse game with the M.A.R.K. 13.
Despite the strong visual style and Travis' performance, HARDWARE isn't perfect. Yeah, it was shot on a shoestring budget, but that's no fault of Stanley's. Aside from McDermott's flat performance, the big problem comes from the editing of the film, which becomes all the more apparent once you delve into the extras. Some character ideas are barely introduced at the start of the film but never really explored further, such as Moses' cancer or what Shades does for a living. Also, the film is heavily weighted in terms of action on the second half, unlike the first half which is devoid of any bloodshed. True, it was common to have films start out slow in order to get character development up and running. However, the fact that it's hinted right at the beginning of the film that the robot isn't exactly dead when its head is found kind of had me wishing for a little more excitement.
Still, HARDWARE is impressive when you look at its humble beginnings. A lot of the shortcomings of the film can be seen as a lack of the green (the film was shot for less than $2 million), making what's here even more impressive. From surreal visuals of a dystopian future to the suspense-filled second half, HARDWARE is a gem, flaws and all. See it, if only for Iggy Pop's 'industrial dick' alone.
Video: The film finally gets some loving in this 1.85:1 anamorphic 1080p widescreen transfer. The big thing is the colour, obviously. The thing's full of it. Some scenes consist entirely of pure red and black, and thankfully there's no compression to be found. Grain is present throughout, but it adds texture to the film, if nothing else. Great detail throughout, with only some minor damage her and there. This is as good as the film will ever look, bar none.
Audio: Unfortunately, Severin gives us lossy audio tracks for HARDWARE, but it's not that big of a deal. First up is the Dolby Digital 5.1, followed by a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Obviously, the 5.1 mix is superior, given the use of the rear channels, but both are pretty good given that both focus on the center channel for the action. Dialogue is clear, and directional sounds are used effectively.
First up is an information-filled audio commentary with director Richard Stanley. While the guy says right off the bat that he doesn't believe in commentaries, he certainly doesn't show it with the amount of information he has. Stanley goes over the behind-the-scenes stuff, as well as his inspirations (a laundry list of them), his personal beliefs and what was cut from the film to secure an R rating (this version of the film is uncut, by the way).
Following an extremely interesting commentary is an equally-interesting and information-packed feature length documentary No Flesh Shall Be Spared in HD. It doesn't repeat too much from the commentary (if that was possible), and covers things such as Stanley's background in music videos and Super-8 films, pre-production and production on HARDWARE, all the way up to the film's release in North America. As well, we get input from cinematographers Steven Chivers and Greg Copeland, actress Stacey Travis, producers JoAnne Sellar and Paul Trijbits, executive producer Stephen Woolley and conceptual designer/storyboard artist Graham Humphreys. Heck, even Lemmy comes on board to chat about his role as the taxi driver in the film, marble-mouthed and all.
The other big extra is the deleted scenes montage, which clocks in at just over 25 minutes and presented in 1080p HD. Being that the source of the footage is from VHS tapes of Stanley's, there are a few anomalies associated with it, but they're not too noticeable. Scenes include an elongated sex scene with Moses and Jill, character interaction, Jill on M.A.R.K. 13 action, and raw footage of the voyeur getting axed. Since there's no explanation to go along with why they were cut, Stanley touches on them in the feature length doc.
Following that are some of Stanley's Super-8 films. Incidents In An Expanding Universe was shot in 1985, and follows the general plot structure of HARDWARE. It's a bit plodding and amateurish, but still interesting. Rites Of Passage is from two years earlier, and is just as rough as the former. Still, given that Stanley was 15 when he shot this, it's impressive. The Sea Of Perdition was shot in 2006, and is strange, to say the least. All three films are presented in 1080i HD.
Rounding out the extras are Richard Stanley on HARDWARE 2, which has Stanley talking about the fate of the sequel (read: legal issues), a vintage promo segment from a VHS, and the film's German theatrical trailer, which carries the original title of M.A.R.K. 13. Unfortunately, the film's overblown North American trailer isn't included, nor is any input from Mr. McDermott. Still, given that there's a wealth of info to be had here, as well as some nifty goodies in terms of the deleted scenes and short films, it's a damn solid set.
Despite its obvious flaws, HARDWARE is a great little trip down cyberpunk lane. Add to that some great extras and a strong video transfer, it's a no-brainer to get if you're in the mood for some late-80s dystopian horror. Remember to close the blinds, though.