Blu-ray/DVD Review: HARDWARE

An archive review from The Gingold Files.

By Michael Gingold · October 30, 2009, 11:39 PM EDT
Hardware DVD

Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on October 30, 2009, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

“This is what you want…this is what you get…this is what you want…this is what you get…” Public Image Ltd. chants under the end credits of Richard Stanley’s Hardware. If what you’ve been wanting for the last decade is a worthy disc release of the 1990 sci-fi shocker, what you get from Severin Films’ Blu-ray and two-DVD set is everything you could imagine, and a few things you probably couldn’t.

First and foremost is a fine 1.85:1 transfer that holds the hyperstylized, vibrantly hued visual scheme (described by Stanley amongst the extras as “rock ’n’ roll lighting”) extremely well, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio that’s equally aggressive. Stanley’s command of sound and image elevates Hardware above a basic storyline that he freely admits is derivative of any number of past genre films, citing everything from spaghetti Westerns and classic science fiction literature to Kingdom of the Spiders and Killer Fish as influences on the plot points, aesthetics and characters. The only similar flick he doesn’t seem to bring up is Short Circuit—which, to be sure, involves a far friendlier robot-come-alive than Hardware does. Its mechanical villain is M.A.R.K. 13, a “population control droid” discovered in disrepair in a postapocalyptic desert by a wandering nomad, who sells it to a soldier named Mo (Dylan McDermott), who in turn passes it on to his metal-sculptress girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis). The idea is for her to use it in her art, but it comes to potentially take her life instead.

If the ingredients of Hardware are familiar, Stanley cooks them to a boil with a relentless pace and imagery that makes his future a tactile place (credit also to producers JoAnne Sellar and Paul Trijbits, who helped the writer/director stage it on a very low budget). His style is the cinematic equivalent of punk or heavy metal music—complete with Motörhead’s Lemmy in a small role as a taxi driver and Iggy Pop voicing DJ Angry Bob—and when M.A.R.K. 13 puts itself back together in Jill’s apartment and goes on a murderous rampage, “No flesh shall be spared” (to quote the biblical passage from Mark 13 that opens the movie). No blood is either, and Severin’s discs represent the first release of Hardware in uncensored form, restoring a number of nasty bits that were trimmed for an R rating, from gore gags to pervy talk from Jill’s voyeuristic neighbor Lincoln (William Hootkins).

As revealed by Stanley and others on the commentary and in the discs’ 54-minute “No Flesh Shall Be Spared” making-of documentary, the MPAA weren’t the only ones who objected to Hardware’s extremes: The crew mutinied during the filming of a M.A.R.K. 13 attack on Jill that contains particularly sexualized overtones. This is just one of the many revelations between these two supplements, which duplicate material here and there but are both well worth checking out. Stanley’s talk track is moderated by Norman Hill, who keeps things moving and asks plenty of good questions as the filmmaker discusses his movie’s production, themes (including a pro-drug message expressed through some of the onscreen action) and history, with occasional interesting digressions. Among these is a brief history of the attempted UK confiscation of The Evil Dead, whose British distributor Palace Pictures produced Hardware.

“No Flesh” rounds up the feature’s key contributors for on-camera interviews. McDermott sat it out, but we hear from practically everyone else, from Travis (recalling how “your body doesn’t know you’re acting” when performing intense terrorization and providing briefly seen on-set video) to conceptual designer Graham Humphreys, who has also been responsible for some of Britain’s best horror-film poster art, to composer Simon Boswell, who plays a bit of score for us. Together, they provide a thorough examination of how Hardware came together (with a crew whose average age, Stanley claims, was 16), and came apart thanks to cuts imposed by not only the ratings boards, but Palace and U.S. financier/distributor Miramax. About 25 minutes of that deleted material is assembled on the disc, ranging from Jill watching a Holocaust program on TV during sex with Mo to lengthy dialogue passages between the couple, the latter of which was probably better off being streamlined.

Further extras delve into Stanley’s cinematic past and future, most notably Incidents in an Expanding Universe, his 44-minute, crazily ambitious Super-8 initial take on Hardware’s scenario. The latter’s central villain is nowhere to be seen—infidelity, not a killer robot, comes between the protagonists—but Stanley and his collaborators pull off a dystopian city, flying spacecraft and battleground setpieces pretty impressively under the circumstances. A shorter early project, Rites of Passage, sees the director casting himself as a sort of philosophical caveman on the plains of Africa (where he grew up), while the post-Hardware minimovie Sea of Perdition is more technically accomplished but still very odd. This is all intriguing stuff, and it’s a shame Stanley didn’t do commentaries on them as well; it would have been fascinating to hear about his thought processes on these projects. He does spill in a separate segment about his plans for Hardware 2, which got kiboshed by legal wrangling over ownership of the original.

Finally, a vintage video promo for Hardware doesn’t add much to what’s explored elsewhere among the extras, though Stanley does go into a bit of detail here about the environmental concerns underlying the film’s narrative. These days, he’s clearly much more concerned about its vision of military robotics taking over the world potentially coming true, bringing it up repeatedly amidst the contemporary supplements. That branch of technology may be the enemy in his eyes, but after this and the multi-DVD release of Dust Devil a few years back, no doubt Stanley would agree that advancements in digital hardware have been his very good friend.