Hardware set in a post-apocalyptic world following a devastating nuclear war, opens with a shot of a scavenger, Nomad, who retrieves the remnants of a droid. A space marine Moses Baxter buys the head of the machine as a gift for his artist girlfriend Jill Grawkowski. Little do they know it’s the self regenerative extermination M.A.R.K. 13 machine and soon we have Jill desperately trying to escape the apartment as it runs rampant. When Moses finds out about the M.A.R.K. 13 he sets about getting back to the apartment to save his girlfriend.
The director, Richard Stanley establishes an oppressive atmosphere from the outset. The visual style in this film is, for want of a better word, amazing and has a definite cyber punk feel to it. Some of you may recall that Hardware was described as the first unofficial 2000 AD film, based on the strip Shok. However the influence also comes through in terms of Nomad’s appearance, the droid design, the dilapidated New York city setting and the general anarchic violence and grittiness. The film is almost monochrome at points in red and black, everything is shot through a red filter for added effect. This evokes the monotonous, claustrophobic life the characters must endure in a world defined by mass unemployment, relentless warfare, drought, legalised hard drugs, radioactive landscapes and the implication of a soon to be imposed government sterilisation program. You get the impression that humanity is kind of screwed and facing extinction. Indeed one of the best exchanges between Jill and Moses occurs when Jill dismisses the idea of ever having children in such a bleak world. There is no sense of revolution or rebellion that you normally get with dystopian films. The character’s pretty much go along with the status quo as they’re too busy managing to survive.
In addition, this film has a killer soundtrack, Ministry’s Stigmata is a standout tune I’m still listening to weeks after. I like it so much I’m posting a link to it here.
Simon Boswell’s score also compliments the atmosphere of fatigue, emptiness and depression.
The cast in this film features several cameos from rock musicians. The cab driver is played by Lemmy whose cameo is well above the usual standard one can expect from musician turned actors. There’s also a humorous bit of product placement when he tells Moses and Shades to check out this excellent band named Motorhead as he plays a tape of Ace of Spades. (Interestingly, Sinead O’Connor was originally intended to play the cabbie). We also have Iggy Pop giving a great voiceover performance as the radio DJ Angry Bob while Carl McCoy of Fields of Nephilim puts in a creepy turn as the wandering Nomad. This film evidently wears its punk and metal credentials on its sleeve.
William Hootkins is excellent as the pervy, voyeur neighbour Lincoln. It’s a testament to the script writing and Hootkin’s acting abilities that his character comes across as at once utterly repugnant and menacing while being the comic fool in his interactions with Jill. The ‘wibbly wobbly’ song will probably be burned into your psyche. John Lynch does a great job of playing Shades, Moses’s friend. There’s a variation in his character in that initially I had him pegged as a corporate type but then you realise he’s just a street smart, fast talking space guy who has a bit of a drug problem and likes to do yoga in his underwear (this was one of the funniest scenes in the film). Travis puts in a superb performance as Jill, conveying a strong female character type with echoes of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
The droid itself is fairly convincing, given the constraints of a low budget and 90s technology (in any case I prefer animatronics and suits compared to generic cg). I particularly liked the fact that Jill paints it with the stars and stripes, which one could interpret as a commentary on the American military industrial complex.
There is a religious subtext to the film with bible passages being quoted and so on which I didn’t get but that would explain my lack of a critical eye. However, I note just on a cursory google glance that the name of the droid is an allusion to a parable, Mark 13. In addition, the M.A.R.K. 13 is noted in the film to be a Bioelectronic Artificially intelligent Autoindependent Lifeform or BAAL for short. Baal is the Pagan god of thunder storms, rain and fertility so it’s an apt name for a population control droid. As you might guess Stanley has an interest in religious themes, magic and the occult so it’s fitting that it’s symbolically worked into the film.
The gore effects are also pretty good, there is one particular scene where a character is severed that is particularly disgusting. The hallucinatory sequence when the M.A.R.K. 13 injects Moses’s with a toxin also plays into the drug theme, with some pretty scary visuals of bodily disintegration and Mandelbrots. The plot isn’t necessarily that original, it is after all about a killer robot, but this film is moreso about artistic style and symbolism, vivid imagery, world building and characters and in these areas it excels. It is a film that’s impressive after the fact, one that grows on you and therefore has longevity which is not surprising given its cult status.