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One of the bleakest, most inventive, and nihilistic films of the 1990s was barely noticed when it was first released, but thanks to cable and video rentals, “Hardware” has slowly gained a following that has earned it cult status. Deservedly so, for “Hardware” is a dark and daring piece of filmmaking that deserves to be recognized.
The film opens in a post apocalyptic world, the kind where you almost expect Kevin Costner to show up trying to save humanity through punctual mail delivery. Who actually arrives is Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott), who brings with him the head of a salvaged robot as a gift to his reclusive sculptor girlfriend (Stacey Travis). What Moses doesn’t know is that the head is much more than it seems; it’s part of a killer robot, the M.A.R.K. 13, invented as part of a “population lowering measure”. Unknown to Moses and his girlfriend, the dangerous machine soon begins rebuilding itself, adding a chainsaw, power drill, claws, and poisons to its arsenal. When Moses realizes the truth about his seemingly innocuous gift, will he be able to stop M.A.R.K 13 from killing his girlfriend and the tenants in her apartment building?
The one thing that’s evident about “Hardware” is that it’s got style and visual panache to burn. Director Richard Stanley has learned his lessons well as a rock video director, giving the film an angry, reddish color that emphasizes the desolation of the environment and the copious amounts of blood that will soon flow. The landscape of “Hardware” is grotesque and beautiful, so ugly you can’t bear to tear your eyes away from it. There’s nary a slow spot to be found in the pacing, and the film barrels along to its tragic conclusion, leaving you mesmerized along the way.
The script (also by Stanley) offers a clever and highly imaginative look at a hopeless future. Based on the comic book Shok by Kevin MacManus and Kevin O’Neil, “Hardware” has been seamlessly adapted to the screen without losing any of the comic book’s impact. The biblical reference in the M.A.R.K. 13’s name is also smartly done, not to mention very chilling. Characters are well depicted and just sympathetic enough so you actually care what happens to them. Also, there’s enough gore to overdose even the most demanding gorehound.
The cast, while small, is quite good in their respective roles. Dylan McDermott (TV’s “The Practice”) is excellent as Moses, a brooding everyman thrust into an extraordinary situation. He just wants to give his girlfriend a present, but instead gives her way more than he or she ever bargained for. As his girlfriend Jill, Stacey Travis handles her part equally well, portraying a strong, independent female character.
But the most memorable character is played by William Hootkins, as the fat, sweaty, and perverted neighbor everyone dreads having. If this guy moves in next door, it’s best to abandon your belongings and leave immediately. Rock fans will also enjoy cameo appearances by Iggy Pop, Lemmy, and Carl McCoy in small but memorable parts.
The music by Simon Boswell is an eerie sounding composition, complementing the despairing tone of the film. Ministry, Motorhead, Iggy Pop, and Public Image Ltd all contribute to the film’s soundtrack, their harsh music accentuating the events happening onscreen. Recognition should also go to Paul Catling, Chris Cunningham, and future director Stephen Norrington (“Blade”) for creating the design of the M.A.R.K. 13.
“Hardware” is arguably the first cinematic masterpiece of the 1990s. It’s not for all tastes, being a downbeat and gory film, but to fans of science fiction and horror, and adventurous viewers in general, this is a sight to behold.
Richard Stanley (director) / Richard Stanley (screenplay)
CAST: Dylan McDermott …. Moses Baxter
Stacey Travis …. Jill