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A VERY promising debut from Richard Stanley, HARDWARE, which appeared back in 1990, appeared to be the start of an auspicious career.  Unfortunately, that career only yielded one more film (thus far), 1994’s DUST DEVIL.  HARDWARE remains an intense and enjoyable effort, even if it isn’t “the best science fiction thriller since ALIEN” (as an overenthusiastic Fangoria reviewer claimed). 

The Package 
      HARDWARE announced the debut of a unique, though vastly underutilized, talent in writer-director Richard Stanley, who despite his limited resume has remained a ubiquitous presence on the genre scene.  His extensive commentary about his aborted production of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU was more entertaining than the eventual John Frankenheimer directed film (on which Stanley got himself hired as an extra, so as to get a first-hand look at its unmaking).  With his second film DUST DEVIL Stanley managed to create a mild sensation by buying back the negative after the film was reedited against his wishes and, with his own money, create a director’s cut. 
     I’ll write more about DUST DEVIL in a separate review--for now let’s concentrate on HARDWARE, an independent production adapted from an illustrated short story called “Shok!” that appeared in the comic anthology 2000 A.D.  It was made for a reported $1.5 million by England’s Palace Pictures (and co-executive produced by none other than Miramax’s former heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein), for whom it was a considerable critical and financial success.  One might think that would insure a promising future for its talented creator--unfortunately, that future, the director’s cut of DUST DEVIL aside, has yet to materialize (though at least Stanley has kept his wits about him--he reportedly turned down offers to direct JUDGE DREDD and SPICE WORLD, wise choices both).  For that matter, HARDWARE itself, despite its initial success, has become pretty obscure, having never made it to DVD in the US. 

The Story
     In a desolate, pollution-choked futuristic landscape, a masked figure wanders through a parched desert where he digs up the scattered pieces of an android.  The masked figure turns out to be a big city punk named Mo, who takes the android pieces back to his girlfriend Jill, a sculptor who lives in a vast high rise.  Jill decides to use the android scraps in a sculpture, but one night, while she’s in the apartment alone, the droid begins to reconstitute itself.  As it does so it replays its history through a series of conversations embedded in its innards: it turns out the thing is a Mark 13, a government created population control device whose function is to destroy whatever gets in its way.  Then the droid embarks on a rampage of destruction.
     Jill manages to flee into the apartment of her creepy, effeminate neighbor Lincoln, but he’s no help, and the Mark 13 wastes no time killing him.  At this point Mo returns to the apartment and is pressed into battle against the Mark 13.  It kills him and bisects another of the building’s tenants in an elevator, leaving Jill to fight it by herself.  Luckily for her, it isn’t invulnerable, despite the fact that it’s clearly impervious to fire and bullets.  Water, it seems, is toxic to the Mark 13, so all Jill will have to do is get it into the nearest shower, which is easier said than done! 

The Direction 
     With this film, Richard Stanley accomplished what many have attempted but few have managed to pull off: mixing art and exploitation in a film that satisfies both as a thoughtful futuristic thriller and an incredibly intense gorefest.  This was Stanley’s first outing as a director, and one might rightly complain that HARDWARE’S first hour is too arty for its own good, and the final third too implausible in its relentless cavalcade of destruction.  It may also show its influences--ALIEN, THE TERMINATOR, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE--a bit too obviously, and the central characters aren’t nearly as interesting as Stanley seems to believe they are (evident in Mo’s incredibly drawn-out, ludicrously over-dramatized death scene, done with all the solemnity of a Presidential assassination).  The middling performances of Stacey Travis and Dylan McDermott add little outside the sight of Travis’ generously exposed bod; of the cast, it’s the late William Hootkins, in a small role, who makes the biggest impression.  You’ve seen Hootkins in appearances in STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and many other films, and here, as usual, he makes the most of a throwaway role.
     Still in all, the film works.  It contains eye-catching, gorgeously multi-colored visuals (nearly every scene is bathed in a different color filer), and succeeds in creating a fully realized futuristic landscape on an extremely limited budget.  The Mark 13, created by Image Imagination, looks reasonably menacing, even if it is a bit overly reminiscent of the skinless Terminator ‘bots of THE TERMINATOR and its sequels. 

Vital Statistics

Millimeter and Palace Productions 

Director: Richard Stanley
Producers: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Trybits
Screenplay: Richard Stanley
Cinematography: Steven Chivers
Editing: Derek Trigg
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Iggy Pop, Carl McCoy, Mark Northover, Paul McKenzie, Lemmy, Mac McDonald, Chris McHallem, Barbara Yu Ling, Oscar James

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