Before tonight I had never seen director Richard Stanley’s oft-talked about film (at least in genre circles) Hardware (1990). I’d gone this far without seeing the film in one of its many unofficial releases, no VHS dupes or under-the-table convention sales for me. All I can say is: good things come to those who wait.
I say that because hands-down the best part of Hardware is the visuals, and that’s saying something when a film includes cameos from not only Iggy Pop but also Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead!
The story concerns a soldier, Moses (Dylan McDermott), who brings home a robotic skull for his shut-in artist girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis), to use in one of her pieces. The skull is actually a Government funded android soldier that re-assembles itself. As we all know government funded androids are never friendly, mayhem ensues.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia that is one part Mad Max, one part Blade Runner with a dash of Orwell-ian paranoia. Stanley and his cinematographer Steven Chivers do a wonderful job bringing us from the macro to the micro in the first ten minutes or so, giving us a taste of the world outside before locking us in one dilapidated apartment building for the rest of the film.
I enjoyed Stanley’s other genre feature Dust Devil (1992, Subversive Cinema released a disc a few years back), but didn’t quite see what all the hoopla was about. For me Hardware was the exact opposite, I came in not knowing what to expect and was very pleasantly surprised. How this film is not a classic (at least a fringe one) I cannot puzzle out. Stanley himself seems to be a bit of a divisive figure, with some critics throwing the word pretentious around. I don’t see that at all: I’m a fan of any filmmaker who can visually reference Dali and Bunuel’s Un chien andalou (1929) in a film about a killer robot who kills people with a powerdrill/phalis.
The film is not perfect (it really gets lost in cliches in the last half hour, but not enough to spoil the freshness and beauty of what came before it) but there is absolutely NO arguing against the disc itself. Severin Films: I love you. For the unfamiliar Severin bills themselves as the “Criterion of Smut.” They’ve done a fantastic disc of the original Inglorious Bastards (1978), a bunch of Jess Franco films (which all had very entertaining interviews with the man himself) and one of my all-time favorite discs Lucio Fulci’s Perversion Story (which ranks so highly because it includes a CD of the amazing soundtrack to the film).
They really went overboard with Hardware. Not only is the transfer colorful and sharp (why did I not get the Blu-ray? Doh!) but there are a bunch of great features on the second disc. The crown jewel being an hour long documentary that covers inception, pre-production, production, and release/reception (including an explanation why the film has gone so long without a proper release) and includes interviews with nearly all the major players (except Dylan McDermott). There is also a feature where Stanley discusses the sequel he wrote for the film, which sounds awesome (even though the director comes off as slightly loony) but will sadly never happen. Also included are three short films, one being the original super 8 version of what would become Hardware, and a few deleted/extended scenes.
If you’re hungry for some cross-genre action or crave a little more food-for-thought with your gore: pick this up!