Director: Richard Stanley. Starring: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Lemmy, Iggy Pop. USA, 1990. IMDB: 5.9. My rating: 3.5/4. 100% natural cyberpunk.
– My heart…it feels like an alligator.
– This is Angry Bob, the man with the industrial dick, coming to you loud and clear on W.A.R. Radio with the good news and the bad news. Bad news is the heatwave’s not going to let up. As for the good news – there is no fucking good news! So let’s just play some music!
(Angry Bob, the DJ)
Post-apocalyptic future. The world became one big slum covered with radiation. Most seas and oceans have dried, leaving just a devastated radioactive desert. The space marine Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) buys a robotic cyborg head that some nomad found in the desert. It’s a gift for his girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis), who creates works of art of various metal garbage and broken robots. Pretty soon, the head of the robot reactivates and he starts to rebuild himself, preparing for a violent massacre.
Sounds trashy? I bet it does. But oh oh oh, it’s such a beautiful and gorgeous trash. It’s an art-house, it’s a dark comedy, it’s a horror movie, it’s a sci-fi thriller… I don’t know what this movie isn’t not trying to be. You can find it all and even more. The overall feeling is something like if David Lynch filmed the first “Terminator”. “Hardware” is a true cyberpunk. It has a punk soul.
The beginning is a little bit slow, the movie is uneven and clumsy as it goes from one genre to another quickly, but that’s compensated well by everything that it offers. The photography is superb and reflects well the devastated world with its acid and dark colours that are chosen carefully. There is hi-tech stuff, but not enough light and water. “Hardware” shows us a world devoid of any hope, where people just live in one big slum and don’t even remember anymore what the word “hope” means. The characters are kitschy, most of them having something deeply perturbing inside.
Only Jill and partially Moses seem to keep something still human inside. The shower scene is amazing, showing the lost hope and the fragility of the this abandoned world, where two lovers met each other after a long absence – but the attention quickly slips from refreshing their forgotten feelings to a Moses’ huge mechanical arm becoming the main element. Here in the intimate privacy it is an alien element, but as they step outside the bathroom, it seems normal again. It vanishes in this mechanical and empty world, becoming a
n integral element of it.
But there is enough irony and black humour as well. One of the most gorgeous scenes is when an obese pervert (great William Hootkins, who easily steals all the attention) pays a visit to Jill, teasing her. His mockery is interrupted suddenly by the cyborg, and right in the middle of the violent killing the camera shows us an Asian-looking neighbour downstairs complaining about the noise.
The low budget of the movie is not really an issue ($ 1.5 million), because Richard Stanley finds witty and creative ways to compensate it. All the actors did really well and look convincing. Stacey Travis is the purest element that we see. Dylan McDermott is on a halfway between her and this hollow weird world, shifting from her apartment to the streets, then returning again and disappearing. All others did well too, many great episodic characters. Iggy Pop’s voice as the radio DJ and Lemmy as a water taxi driver were awesome.
Surprisingly the movie did quiet well in the box office, gaining roughly $ 6.0 millions. Of course, “Hardware” is not a concurrent to “Terminator” like many compared. They may seem similar only on the surface, but they have completely different approach and leave different aftertaste. “Terminator” was a low budget movie that had some blockbuster spirit though, it was the precursor of the big-budget sci-fi flicks of the 80’s and 90’s, while “Hardware” never aimed to be a blockbuster (at least, this is how it looks 2 decades later). When you dig deeper inside its mechanical punkish sci-fi skin, you find in first place a feeling of a lost human emotion and feeling. That’s why Mark 13 was created, the cyborg. He was created to do the birth control and it seems absolutely logical in a world like this. It’s an absurdist logic, but it works here.
It’s sad indeed Richard Stanley (who is a South African director) almost disappeared from the cinema industry. I am sure he could develop lots of great and ingenious stuff. He was gaining good recognition, but something went horribly wrong during the filming of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” when he was quickly substituted. In 2014, a documentary film “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau” was released.
Worth watching? Absolutely. Cyberpunk at its finest.