by Adam M. Wilcox
Sometimes you review a movie you love so much, that you find it hard to talk about, because you are afraid that you will not give the movie enough justice. A lot of work was put into this masterpiece, that holds up surprisingly well on a low budget. It doubled its budget and put director Richard Stanley on the map as more of a serious filmmaker rather than just a music video director.
Cyberpunk is quite often taboo in science fiction, or even independent movies. Nobody wants to deal with the harsh cynical and dystopian outlook of a society that has bastardized technology, consumed every natural resource, and even compassion has become an outmoded concept. Then there are some lunatics out there that love the art style that surrounds it like yours truly.
To do this review proper justice, I have to take you back to where this movie first impacted me, and gave me a feeling that still has not gone away. James Cameron’s movie The Terminator had a HUGE impact on me. I was maybe 10 or 11 when I first saw it. I had never seen something so dark, brutal and awesome as that movie before. I wanted more, and there were plenty of nock offs but I didn’t see them until much later. I also was HUGELY influenced by John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, and the first 3 Mad Max movies. Hardware is similar in comparison to these films, but operated on a lower budget, yet managed to evoke a visual style, that is unlike all of the others I have mentioned.
When I first saw Hardware, I was a freshman, or sophomore in High School, and I suffered from chronic insomnia. Often I would flip on the TV at night until I would drift off to sleep. TVs in the early 90s had boxes, and we had HBO, and Cinemax, but they didn’t have scrolling menus. We had no internet at this time. We didn’t bother with TV guide. Sometimes we would have maybe a cut out from the newspaper, but it didn’t print much past 1am. So if you wanted to know what was on, you had to catch the very beginning of the movie, or maybe catch the “coming up next” screen that showed in between films on HBO. For years, I would catch this movie on super late at night, always inconveniently after the movie already started, and it became a mission in my life to figure out the name of this movie. I was so totally blown away by it. The visuals took my breath away. The music was incredible. I was already a Ministry fan in the early 90s, but I thought it was weird that they would play it over a GWAR video, and then Lemmy from Motörhead shows up? This movie is incredible. Now anybody who grew up in the 90s would have to remember the PAINFUL process of trying to describe a song to a music store clerk by either humming the song. So if you would say: “I don’t know the song name or artist, but there are a lot of synthesizers, bass, a steady cadence of a drum beat, and some guy keeps saying “this is what you want this is what you get” over and over and over again, they would look at you like you were tripping balls, and make an excuse to not help you. No person ever found that song for me, and funny it wouldn’t be later until I would finally find and purchase the song “The Order of Death” by Public Image LTD, which doesn’t sound much like the band’s other stuff at all really. I had to use the internet to find a song from the 90s. Eventually I figured out the name of the movie by finally catching it on TV before it showed, and the description perfectly outlined the plot. I recorded it, and for years, that was my only copy. It wasn’t until around 1996 when I found a really beat up VHS copy of this movie in a pawn shop that looks like it may have belonged to a video rental place at one point. Somewhere around October of 2009, I finally saw a Blu-ray copy of this movie for sale at Best Buy or something, and didn’t even bother to look at the price. As of the time of this writing, it is my only copy of Hardware. I never had it on DVD, and my VHS player ate the tape beyond repair. The Blu-ray copy is perfect. It also introduced me to the wonderful and weird Richard Stanley himself, as well as how he got into film, and made this movie.
Hardware is visually stunning but it is based on a relatively simple story originally published in the European comic series 2000AD. A scavenger; Nomad finds a robotic skull in the desert wasteland, sells it to soldier Mo Baxter, who gives it to his girlfriend for Christmas who happens to make her sculptures out of old tech. The skull turns itself on, and uses appliances in the house to rebuild itself along with recalling all the other missing parts. The skull, now turned robot with a strangely painted head, and poison syringes that resemble fangs, goes on a killing spree that takes place entirely inside an apartment building. That is basically it! There are a series of several unfortunate circumstances that happen along the way that make it visually awesome, but that is basically the movie. You could say this movie has some similarities to Alien, or Terminator, but it really is its own thing. It has some very gory moments, and maybe a little bit of sex and nudity, but if you have read this review this far, none of that is going to turn you off, at all, in fact that might be a selling point. In fact, the shower scene with Dylan McDermott, and Stacey Travis might be one of the hottest sexiest love scenes I have ever seen in my entire life, even better than porn. Ironically, the shower scene becomes a stage for some iconic action and imagery that happens later in the film.
While this movie now has a very distinguished cult following now, I still don’t feel like this movie gets mentioned enough. When you talk about Cyberpunk, you always hear about Terminator, Robocop, Blade Runner, all fine films, but also films with much larger marketing and budgets. The fact that this movie is able to do so much on such a low budget, with an extremely talented visual director, is almost kind of depressing. The world right now, needs more movies like Hardware. Not just this story, but proof that all movie budgets don’t have to be made with enough money to fund a small country. In fact, it might kind of piss you off. I never tire of this movie, and every time I watch it, it feels like the first time. 5 out of 5 possible cheese curds. Buy this movie on Blu-ray, but at the very least, rent it, or see it next time it pops up in a streaming service, or cable channel. Make it your life’s mission to see this movie!
So if dark gothic dystopian violent science fiction is what you want, this is what you get!