Best Horror Movie You Never Saw: Hardware (1990)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Welcome to Arrow in the Head's The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw, which will be dedicated to highlighting horror films that, for one reason or another, don't get as much love as we think they should. We know plenty of you horror hounds out there will have seen many of the movies we pick, but there will be plenty of you who have not. This column is for all of you!


This week we take a look at Richard Stanley's intense and bleak HARDWARE (OWN IT HERE) starring Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, William Hootkins, John Lynch and Iggy Pop!

THE STORY: In a post-apocalyptic future, an ex-marine named Moses purchases the remnants of what appears to be an android as a gift to his estranged girlfriend, Jill, an artist who works in metals. Unbeknownst to Moses, the android is still very much functional, and part of a government plan to eradicate a portion of the population. When the thing comes alive and literally pulls itself together in Jill's apartment, all hell breaks loose.

THE HISTORY: Writer-director Richard Stanley was only 23-years-old when he made Hardware, which was inspired in part by a short film he made while a young student in South Africa, He had trouble getting many of the scripts he had written made, but utilized the notes that he had gathered throughout the years and threw them all into the Hardware screenplay (such notes being the necessity for a shower scene, a chainsaw, a fire stunt and a cliffhanger, to name a few). His original vision didn't involve a killer robot, but it was one of the only ways he'd be able to get the film made.

The film was produced by Miramax's Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who demanded American leads for it. Stanley's original choices for the two lead male protagonists, Moses and Shades, were Bill Paxton and Jeffrey Combs. The studio didn't want Paxton, so Dylan McDermott was cast. Combs wasn't able to work on it because only two American leads were allowed (including female lead Stacey Travis), so Irish actor John Lynch filled the role of the jittery Shades.

Hardware received an X rating three times from the MPAA before finally achieving an R rating (a memorable sequence involving a malfunctioning door was the main culprit). Another controversy the film found itself embroiled in involved the comic book 2000 AD, which had a strip called SHOK in 1980 that bared several similarities to Hardware. Stanley maintained that he was more influenced by films like Soylent Green and Damnation Alley, but ultimately 2000 AD's publisher won a lawsuit against the film, and later editions of it give the comic book official credit.

WHY IT'S GREAT: By now, dystopian futures are a part of the cinematic lexicon; we've seen plenty of bleak peeks into the world beyond. But they don't come much bleaker than Richard Stanley's HARDWARE, which is an almost oppressively nightmarish horror film that also delves into the time-honored "man vs. machine" sub-genre. Thing about Hardware is that we don't even get a very good look at this terrible world, made of reds and grays and blacks – most of the film takes place in one housing unit – but we're still able to suss out just how hopeless and miserable it is from what we hear about it. There is very little brightness in Stanley's world, and things are about to get even worse for our lead characters Moses "Mo" Baxter and his girlfriend Jill.

If I'm making it sound like a depressing experience, well, it can be at times; even The Terminator wasn't always a barrel of laughs. These kinds of movies have a way of making us uncomfortable about how prophetic they might be. But Hardware's eventually achieves a kind of deranged energy that keeps us gripped throughout. After a fairly routine first act, where we meet Mo and Jill and learn a little about their strained relationship, the movie takes a startling turn when the head of a deactivated android – a lovely present from Mo to Jill, something for her to use in her strange art projects – turns out to be not so deactivated after all. In a creepy sequence that portends things to come, the thing pulls itself together a brand new body, From there, what seems fairly early on in the 93-minute film, it becomes a frightening stand-off between Jill – Mo becomes a secondary character at this point – and the machine, the M.A.R.K 13, which we learn is some kind of population-control device created by the government. It's a scary future indeed if a fleet of these things are walking around out there.

The antagonist itself is a somewhat unwieldy creation, partially because, as mentioned, it has literally built itself from the ground-up, and partially because – one must assume – there were budgetary limitations, but it's still a pretty intimidating customer, a sneaky and mean robot that can exterminate you in more ways than one. And if you thought The Terminator was unkillable, just wait until you see how many times M.A.R.K. 13 comes back from the supposed dead. It's a lot of tense fun to watch Jill and the android stalk each other around her apartment, especially when some other unlucky characters get involved. The gore on-hand, if that's important to you (it is to me!), is pretty severe, so much so that the movie had major problems getting the go-ahead from the MPAA. (If you hear Stanley tell it, the movie was supposed to be even grosser, but time didn't allow for such luxuries.) One particularly nasty moment involves an automated door that just won't quit, while another sees a character's face get mangled beyond repair. Yes, it can be an unfortunate event to run into M.A.R.K. 13, but of course Jill is up to the challenge. Just barely. She's a rather determined fighter in her own right, and almost as hard to kill. Shout out to Stacey Travis for giving a performance that is really engaging; this is the kind of role some actresses might not take so seriously, but Travis is game for Stanley's off-the-road dialogue and the physical torment Jill goes through.

Hardware's not going to be for everyone; I can certainly picture some people thinking it not deserving of high praise, thinking it's just another robot-run-amok movie. That's fine. For me, it's a savage, tightly-wound thriller that goes by shockingly fast and leaves you feeling a little worse for wear. As Iggy Pop (yes indeed!) as a hyper DJ named Angry Bob closes us out with some scary final thoughts (setting up a sequel that never happened), we find ourselves really, really hoping that, out of all the possible post-apocalyptic futures we may have in store for us, Hardware is just about the furthest from being possible.

(And here's a little fun fact that perhaps at least one of you will find interesting: I saw Hardware at a drive-in theater when I was 10-years-old, and to this day it's the only film I've ever seen in such a setting.)

BEST PART: The creepiest character in Hardware isn't the M.A.R.K. 13 at all, but Lincoln, Jill's disgusting next door neighbor who regularly spies on her. When Lincoln comes calling to lend a helping hand to Jill, a rather disquieting sequence follows, thankfully culminating in spectacularly gruesome fashion. (Lincoln was played with slimy menace by the late, great William Hootkins, of Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Batman fame.)

WHERE TO WATCH: Hardware can be found on a Two-Disc limited edition DVD, as well as on iTunes, YouTube and Google Play.

PARTING SHOT: If you want a lean, mean and grim sci-fi horror show that might make you look at your appliances in a whole new light (not to mention your government!), check out Hardware. Come for the dark vision of the future, stay for an epic battle of wills between woman and machine.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.