BR: Hardware (1990)

August 19, 2015 | By


Hardware1990_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Severin

Region: A, B, C

Released:  October 13, 2009

Genre:  Sci-Fi / Horror

Synopsis: After a returning soldier gives his artist girlfriend the head of a droid, their lives are threatened when it rebuilds itself and proceeds to mete out absolute mayhem.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with Director Richard Stanley  / Making-of documentary: “No Flesh Shall Be Spared” (53:57) / 3 Short Films:  “Rites of Passage” (1983)  (9:51) + “Incidents In An Expanding Universe (1985) (44:30) + “The Sea of Perdition” (2006) (8:32) / Richard Stanley on Hardware 2 (7:40) / Deleted, Extended & Behind-the-Scenes Footage (25:01) / Theatrical Trailer.





There’s no denying Richard Stanley’s Hardware draws from the Terminator franchise, and rode on the wave of post-apocalyptic thrillers where the world has gone to Hell and those who survive do so under a blanket of grime, but Stanley’s economical tale of a revived killer robot rampaging through a spacious apartment has a decidedly Orwellian atmosphere.

The British flavour of Hardware still emerges in spite of the film bearing two American leads to satisfy U.S. producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who mandated everything be set somewhere in a bleak American netherworld, and while there are no digital effects in Stanley’s production, it’s a well-made thriller with especially shocking gore effects and de rigueur nudity that ensured Hardware was tailored for a specific R-rated crowd.

Severin’s Blu-ray features an uncut print with bits of extra gore restored, and the marvelous HD transfer shows off Steven Chivers’ striking cinematography that pays homage to Mario Bava / Dario Argento’s primary colour schemes while using setups akin to music videos and discotheques, including strobe lighting that gives several shots a heightened ‘high-res’ state of chaos.

The core story has ex-special serviceman Moses (The Practice’s Dylan McDermott) returning from a job, hooking up with best friend Shades (John Lynch, always sporting, er, shades) and coming home to girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis), a fiery red-headed metal sculptress who takes one of Moses’ scrap gifts – a robot’s head – and fits it into a metal mandala where it soon revives and rebuilds itself a la Saturn 3 (1980), and is poised to prey on anything that moves.

Only when Moses heads out does the robot go berserk, chasing Jill around the apartment, crushing the noggin’ of a nearby pervert, and bisecting the building’s lawman / concierge, but Jill eventually gets even with the robot, and like Alien’s Ripley, lives to see another day while pretty much everyone around her is quite gone.

McDermott may not have fit Stanley’s original concept of a wiry, worn out soldier, but he maintains a stoicism that works for the character, while Jill is rather meh about the crummy world in which citizens smoke legal dope, live in squalor, and are about to submit to a new sterilization law to keep the population neutral.

While the look and sound design of Hardware is slick – the film features the best use of Public Image Ltd.’s “The Order of Death” ever – the script’s dialogue is very weak, sounding very much like trendy speech scripted by twentysomethings emulating their favourite sci-fi archetypes. In the disc’s excellent commentary track and separate making-of featurette (which does repeat several elements), Stanley admits (rather cheekily) the film was conceived with several mandatory sequences (including naked shower scene), and while the story’s simplicity may sometimes work against it, the machinations that have characters leave / return / exit / run back aren’t wholly contrived.

At 94 mins. the film is perfectly timed, although it’s a shame a deleted desert dream sequence shot in Morocco no longer survives for inclusion among the extras. The BR’s deleted scenes reel features material from what resembles an assembly, and much of the footage involves slow, dull exchanges between Jill and Moses that aren’t missed.

The making-of featurette covers the film’s entire genesis and production, which was quite unique in being one of the first films produced by former Scala Cinema programmers JoAnne Sellar and Stephen Woolley under the shingle Palace Pictures, the rebellious firm that distributed a number of indie films including Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1982), which had the company often butting heads with the BBFC and their restrictive Video Nasties legislation.

Stanley also produced a short Super 8 film to garner the attention of financiers, if not get a contracted directing gig. Incidents in an Expanding Universe (1985) is a really ambitious 48 minute work that recalls Raimi’s own pre-Evil Dead 32 minute short Within the Woods (1978) and Josh Becker’s pre-Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except (1985) 48 minute promo Stryker’s War (1980), with a sizeable cast, visual effects, and décor meant to evoke a grungy variation of Blade Runner (1982).

Universe deals with a returning Moses variant whose life is retold through narration and jarring flashbacks by his long-suffering girlfriend before he’s called back to serve and vanishes from her life. The short has plenty of philosophical narration, weird flashbacks evoking the simians in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and plenty of tracked music, and like the deleted Hardware scenes, the footage comes from a VHS transfer. There’s a serious sync lag between the looped dialogue and footage which was never corrected, but one acclimatizes to the technical flaw and the picture edits that probably made more sense to a 19 year old writer / director Stanley (who also plays off-screen radio DJ Angry Bob).

Both Universe and Stanley’s first short, Rites of Passage (1983), also on Severin’s BR,were shot by Greg Copeland, and feature striking magic hour and high contrast lighting that manages to transcend the innate limitations of the 8mm frame. Rites is narratively experimental, and more or less features a ‘primordial man’ (Stanley) wandering a Kubrickian Dawn of Man landscape to the beats of Giorgio Moroder’s Cat People (1982) score before he clamors up a mountain and has a grisly encounter. Augmenting the pretentious quasi-philosophical narration are bits of music (likely from Richard Band’s Mutant) plus a snatch from Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) that underscores present-day footage of a child, an interrogator, and a lab.

The Sea of Perdition (2006), the last bonus short, unfolds like a chapter from a sci-fi comic, and features strong visuals of a spacewoman (actress / writer Maggie Moore) wandering across rocky Martian terrain before encountering something rather naked in a watery cavern. The narration is dull, the finale incoherent, and although Jóhann Jóhannsson is credited as composer, the dominant orchestral music comes from John Barry’s Moonraker (1979).

The disc’s last extras include a German trailer and a rare promo featurette with younger Stanley, McDermott, and Travis, and plenty of hyperbolic narration that lies about the film’s real conflicts.

Lastly, Stanley also appears in a separate interview to discuss the complex rights issues of Hardware – too many corporate entities claiming ownership on his little film – that ultimately prevented a scripted sequel from materializing. (The director eventually published the script online, realizing Hardware 2 would remain a lost opportunity.)

As of this writing, Hardware is again out of print, and there’s a sense Severin realized their limited window to produce and release a BR edition mandated getting as much apocryphal material on record for a definitive special edition of Stanley’s fun little shocker that proved helpful to the careers of many participants.

The involvement of the Weinstein brothers led to the director’s second film, the troubled Dust Devil (1992) and later the doomed production of The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), whereas executive producer Stephen Woolley would become Neil Jordan’s lead producer, and co-executive producer JoAnn Sellar would similarly produced all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films.

Also among the crew was a young effects whiz named Stephen Norrington who would make his own directorial debut with the killer robot movie Death Machine (1994) before landing the plum studio gig of directing Blade (1998). Not unlike Stanley, Norrington managed to parlay that success into the big budget / ill-fated / messy The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), but aside from a bitter satire on fame – his auteurish The Last Minute (2001) – further feature films have eluded him.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography — Composer Website
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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