Movie Review: Hardware


Hardware (1990)
Directed by Richard Stanley
Starring Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins

“No Flesh Shall Be Spared.” – Mark 13

“The worst possible drug trip.” That is how director Richard Stanley described his first movie. For me, I tend to use the description of “visually stunning” when I start any discussion of Stanley’s debut. Each time I watch this film, I come across something new or totally different that I hadn’t noticed before. Stanley’s look of the future is very bleak and dismal, but probably a good warning for one that is not too far off.


One of the things that I feel sets this movie, as well as Stanley, apart from most is its sense of style. Some directors like to use shades of black and white to add atmosphere, such as Alex Proyas did in his film The Crow. Here Stanley uses orange and red colors, and everything in between, to do the same thing, giving us a very different and very unique feel and look to it. Is the air really that color to due the pollution? It is because of the sun’s rays? In either case, it paints a very different look for the future and for this movie.


Hardware gives us a glimpse into a possible future that is not at all the clean and shiny utopia that some films portray the future, but instead one of misery. A time of poverty, dirty and grimy, and ones where humanity fights just to stay alive. A time when the government passes laws to make it illegal to have too many children, in an attempt to slow down the population explosion. Or as one of the characters points out that to bring a child up at this time would be “stupid, sadistic, and suicidal.” Pretty bleak, huh? That is where Stanley really shines here, giving the viewer a more realistic and gritty view of a possible future. Best described by a cab driver in the film, who happens to be played by Motorhead’s lead singer Lemmy Kilmister, “Fucking bunch of shit what these people are doing to their fucking world.” Amen, Brother Lemmy.


Well enough of that psycho-babble, let’s get to the movie! The basic premise is that McDermott plays a marine or some sort of military man on leave from the combat zone. Before going back to see his girlfriend, he picks up a part of a robot of some kind from a junkman. His girlfriend, played by Stacey Travis, is a sculptor who works with metals and whatever else she can find, and he figured this would make a nice present. The problem is that this particular piece of metal is the brain of a robot called the Mark-13, whose sole purpose is to kill humans, and the brain is still functioning. During the night, it comes alive and starts to rebuild itself with whatever parts it can find lying around in the apartment, such as drills and saws. Then it starts to seek out victims.


All the characters here are ones that just want to stay alive in this brutal world and all play them perfectly. McDermott just wants to spend time with his girlfriend and forget about the world for a short time. Travis’ character Jill is also doing what she can to make due, creating strange and beautiful works of abstract pieces of art. John Lynch plays Shades, their friend and neighbor who uses drugs to help him get through the troubles of the modern day. William Hootkins plays the peeping tom across the screen who is infatuated with Jill and is probably one of the most sleaziest characters I’ve seen on screen before! Watching everything she does through a huge telescopic camera lens, with infra-red and everything, always sweating and wearing latex gloves, he makes the viewer cringe when he comes onscreen. But Hootkins plays the part perfectly.

Special kudos to those that created this robotic nightmare that comes alive on screen. This is like no other mechanical terror that we’ve seen onscreen before and it is quite a sight. One of the team responsible was Stephen Norrington, who would later direct his own killer robot movie, Death Machine in 1994, which also co-starred Hootkins. The conceptual designs were done by famed poster artist Graham Humphreys.


The music also plays a huge part here, which was done by Simon Boswell, formally of the band Alien Sex Fiend. He created an incredible score here that hits all the emotional keys from sad and beautiful to terrifying action pieces. It is one of those scores that really does enhance what we’re seeing on screen and incorporates an audio impact in your brain while it fuses with the images that Stanley shows us.


But it really comes down to Stanley and this incredible visionary path that we’re allowed to follow him on that is the real treat. His use of colors and imagery here are just stunning. There are some scenes where the screen is painted with reds, yellows, and blues, with filters that washes the screen of any normality, sometimes reminding you of some of the work Mario Bava did in the ’60s. But through Stanley’s eyes, it become darker and more sinister, yet are still beautiful in a twisted sort of way. This film really is a treat for the eyes, ears, and mind.


If you’re looking for a ‘feel good’ movie, then you’re going to want to pass this one up. But if you’re looking for one that will show you a possible future, through all the dirt and grit, with pretty much a shitty outlook, then give this one a try. If for any reason, to see the work of a true cinematic visionary.

The Blu-ray released by Severin is just stunning to watch as well, with all the incredible colors and sounds just jumping off the television into your brain. What they did to make this film look as good as they did is just stunning. Highly recommend picking this release up. Not to mention all the extras are amazing.

One thought on “Movie Review: Hardware

  1. An awesome film which seems to be slipping into oblivion as years pass. As a B-movie about a robot trying to kill the girl (at least, this is how it looks most), it has incredible sense of style and colour.


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