Yeah, yeah- many people are gonna see this post and be all like “Hardware isn't a Christmas movie! This dude is a couple cans short of a six pack!” Well, you may be right with the six pack thing. But, put yourself in a dystopian setting --where much of the world has been gangbanged into a radioactive wasteland-- and tell me just how fucking holly jolly it would be around the holidays. My guess is that it would be pretty damn close to the atmosphere that this film gives. Christmas would be a mere hint of what it once was (kinda going that direction already), offensively celebrated by those who have been viciously stricken by the state of the world. As far as I'm concerned, Hardware is as Christmas as Christmas could get in such a bleak vision of the 21st century.
Now, before I get into all the things I love about this underrated cyberpunk downer of a film, I gotta bring up one qualm I have with it. Well, not so much the movie itself, but with whomever it was that decided to not give credit where it's due. During its theatrical run, there was no indication that the story was inspired by a 7 page 2000 AD short called SHOK! Walter's Robo Tale, which was featured in the Judge Dredd Annual 1981 --yes, I Wikipedia-ed the fuck out of that sentence. I had honestly never read the short until I decided to do this review, but I was aware that the film was supposedly based from it. After finally checking it out, I gotta throw “supposedly” out the damn window. Sure, the story is broadened, names are changed, and so on, but there's no denying that Hardware is SHOK. Straight up. After some legal proceedings SHOK's writer's were given their credit. But seriously, don't pull that kind of shit guys. C'mon. Anyway, here's a link for the 7 page short. It'll take you all of about 5 minutes to read.
Oh, also, saying Hardware was marketed incorrectly is a massive understatement. Critics crediting it akin to Terminator basically just lined this poor indie up for failure by default. Sometimes I wish review blurbs were chosen differently. Maybe print something along the lines of “I fucking LOVED it! You might, too!” instead of “Terminator without Arnold's dick!” How many times have we been lied to with shit like that? It's annoying. Thankfully, a lot of us have learned how to not buy into it. But there are still those who base their opinion of a movie off of what some critic told them to expect. With all that being said, Hardware is definitely one of those flicks that isn't for everyone, but most of all it's for sure not the balls out Sci-Fi action extravaganza it was trailered as.
Okay, time to jump in bed with Hardware and get pounded proper. As previously mentioned, the setting is a 21st century radioactive wasteland. Most of the population has been forced to live in centralized slums, which are operated by computers that are dumber than Commodore 64s by today's standards. War is a damn near constant. The fucked up-ness of the world is summed up via radio DJ by the name of Angry Bob (voiced by Iggy Pop). A soldier named Mo (Dylan McDermott) is returning home during a Christmas cease fire, and he needs to find a present for his girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis), a blowtorch metal sculpting hermit. Mo and his friend Shades (John Lynch) go to a junk dealer trying to find the perfect gift, while a zone tripper named Nomad (Carl McCoy) brings in some busted up drone parts he's looking to sell. Mo cuts a deal with Nomad and heads home with the metal parts and what he thinks is the head of a maintenance drone. Later, he learns that his purchase is that of a government project known as M.A.R.K. 13- an android capable of self repair by using various metal parts and also can recharge from any source of electrical power. In short, it is one badass motherfucker.
There will be spoilers.
First, Hardware is so much bigger than its $1 million budget. While the story largely takes place in Jill and Mo's apartment and is pretty confined, the torn world is convincingly brought to life with brilliant design. The rooms themselves look like something you might see in a Fallout game. And outside of the apartment, everything we see is drenched with a dusty red appearance. The sky and desert looks no different than my idea of Mars. Nothing and no one is clean. Most building structures are in near ruin. Taxis are boats that travel through toxic rivers. Butcher shops are set up right in the open and in apartment lobbies. A lot of inhabitants are victims of nuclear genetic mutation (this isn't overblown. We aren't talking straight up monsters, here). I just gotta say, I was completely taken into the world that Richard Stanley brings to life here. I believed every bit of it.
The movie is brewing with symbolism of all types, but largely from a religious persuasion. The names Mo (short for Moses) and M.A.R.K. 13, for starters. But it goes deeper, and watching it 4 times in the past few weeks I keep finding new things, either through my own theories, what I've read from others online, and what's just there in plain sight. A shot of the android standing with crucifix-like posture is completely haunting. Chatter on the radio dealing with population control and Mo reading the Mark 13 bible passage “No flesh shall be spared” completely spell out the android's purpose.
Again, for the budget, the overall look of Hardware is awesome. I'm a big fan of matte paintings and this is really what brings the city to life. Additionally, there's a lot of red and blue flash lighting and strobe effects, which is something else that gives a morbid Christmas aspect to the picture. Camera work is fantastic. In particular, a genius segue from the android's eye right into an overhead shot of a shower faucet. Also, a spinning pan-out cam of Jill awakening frantically immediately brought Psycho to mind. There's a couple of voyeurism cam shots, which pretty much mirror the way the android sees its surroundings. Lastly, some great POV drilling sequences inspired me to think of phallic symbolism for the android's cyborg junk. The lot of the movie feels like a long running 80s industrial music video, in terms of visuals, and that makes sense being that Stanley directed videos for PIL and Pop Will Eat Itself.
Hardware isn't big on getting us to know the characters. The personalities of almost everyone in the story can be summed up in two sentences, at most. You know immediately that Mo is a badass military dude, but he does let his heart spill out when it comes to Jill. With her, you know that she is a solitary soul, and is kinda tired of Mo being gone all the time. She also has some fetish thing going on with her man's robo-hand. Dylan McDermott and Stacey Travis serve their parts well. John Lynch as Shades is a bit more complicated, and an early on scene sorta hints that the character may be having a fling with Mo's girl. That's sadly never given any depth, though. Either way, at first Shades just comes off as an eccentric type, nothing more. Later, we see him in his apartment all tweeked out of his mind and in spiritual mode. But the character is later redeemed. Lynch fucking shreds the role, and Shades may be my favorite character. As far as secondary peeps, the unforgettables are Lemmy as the toxic boat cabbie (who likes to jam out to Motorhead, imagine that!), Carl McCoy (from Fields of Nephilim) as the crazy creepy Nomad, and the show stealer- the late William Hootkins, as Jill's pervy neighbor, Lincoln. Every second of this dude on camera is unsettling, but nothing beats his whacked out video phone call to Jill, where he at first attempts to convince her that she's talking to Mo. It's the shit that shivers are made of. Also, as far as voice acting, Iggy Pop owns as the radio DJ.
For SFX, there's some gory bits here and there, especially with the M.A.R.K. 13's first kill. And we get some pretty damn nasty hand and forearm gore. What's most effective in this department is the reconstruction of the android. It's goddamn brilliant, for lack of a better word. The original intention was to use a lot of stop-motion for this, but due to minuscule budget it just wasn't an option. Nevertheless, the reconstruction is one hell of a sequence, and even more proves that Hardware is much bigger than its cost. There's a few instances where the droid is noticeably a dude in a suit, but for the most part, it's hidden by tight camera work and dark shots. I don't even care about errors like that. M.A.R.K. 13 is one creepy fucking android, and that's enough to sell me.
Simon Boswell serves up the film score. This dude has worked on films like Demons 2, Phenomena, Lord of Illusions, Hobo With a Shotgun, and more. I'm having a hard time describing his music for Hardware, but I did feel that at times it almost had a western-esque feel to it. Boswell himself describes it better than I ever could: “As if a Celtic Ry Cooder on acid had discovered God and decided to write opera.” I want to get fucked up with this guy. As far as the rock soundtrack, goddamn, it kills. PIL's “The Order of Death” is more or less the main theme, and it's an infectiously catchy and great jam. Hard to get out of your head. Ministry's fantastic “Stigmata” is played over a GWAR video. Motorhead's “Ace of Spades” is briefly jammed in Lemmy's Toxi-cab. Plus we get Iggy Pop's “Bad Life” and “Cold Metal”. Great soundtrack, to say the least.
Examples of previously mentioned Robo-hand love.
Ho Ho Hobos! With mini Christmas trees!
Santa decor. Yep, Hardware is Christmas as shit!
Sexy mouth closeups.
SynthMilk and Schlitz. The necessities of wasteland life.
Pot cigs. Suddenly, I want to live in this world.
Reno's radiation free reindeer steaks sound mega tasty!
Final Thoughts on Hardware:
I fucking LOVED it! You might, too! Just don't go into it expecting Terminator without Arnold's dick! You will leave disappointed.
Merry Christmas from Shit Movie Fest and Back Online Back On Duty!
P.S.- For anyone interested in reading the Hardware 2: Ground Zero script, go here! I really hope that one day the sequel gets made.
( Today's Shitmas feature came to us from Eric King of "Back Online Back On Duty",
Eric's a great Dude and the Master of the GIFs, I'm very grateful to have meet since I joined Facebook a couple years back
- Tom )