Hardware: No Flesh Shall be Spared
Late one Friday night, many moons ago, I was lying on my couch, channel surfing when I came across one of those odd little gems you occasionally stumble into on late night television. The film’s title was generic enough, Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1990), and at first glance it appeared to just be a combination of The Terminator and Blade Runner. However, immediately the vibrant colors and stylized death scenes pulled me in and before I knew it I was hooked. The version I saw that night was heavily cut, panned and scanned, and looked like an old Betamax tape. Until recently that was the only way anyone could see the film. Years later though, Hardware has finally been released uncut on blu ray, but still this wonderful little film has gone largely unnoticed, even amongst cinephiles.
The plot is straightforward enough. Hardware is set in a dystopian future plagued with pollution, overpopulation, and war. A scavenger brings back the remnants of a droid from a desert wasteland. The films two male leads, Mo played by Dylan McDermott and Shades played by John Lynch buy the droid as a gift for Mo’s girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis). Little do they know the droid is actually a prototype for the Mark 13, a new type of drone soldier designed by the military, which is capable of both reactivating and repairing itself. Jill has been working as an artist making sculptures from scrap metal and incorporates the Mark 13 into her latest piece. Ironically spray painting its head with the stars and stripes in the process. About a third of the way into the film the Mark 13 reactivates itself while Shades and Mo are away. It hacks into the security system in Jill’s apartment trapping her inside. The last hour of the film is Jill’s ruthless non-stop fight for survival as the Mark 13 relentlessly pursues Jill and anyone who tries to rescue her.
As the Mark 13 picks off those who attempt to come to Jill’s aid, including a voyeuristic neighbor and a pair of security guards, it becomes clear that Richard Stanley (writer and director of hardware) was heavily influenced by Dario Argento and Italian horror. The rich colors (especially red) that dominate the film, both inside and outside Jill’s apartment, are very reminiscent of Suspiria. The death scenes also remind one of Argento. They are both stylized and gory, gruesome and beautiful, all at the same time.
One of the things I like most about Hardware is its claustrophobic atmosphere. Except for a few scenes in the beginning, the entire movie takes place in Jill’s apartment. She always keeps the blast doors to her apartment closed and locked, security cameras monitor the hallway and staircase. When Mo and Shades arrive she greets them with both suspicion and a geiger counter scan. Jill has locked herself away in this fortress to protect herself from the crime and squalor of the outside world. However, when the Mark 13 uses the buildings security system to lock Jill in the apartment her stronghold becomes her prison. The very mechanisms designed to keep her safe from the outside world are exactly what keeps help from arriving. In this sense the building’s technology isn’t very different from the Mark 13 Droid. Both are ostensibly aimed at protection and security, but provide the opposite. In the final act of the film Jill realizes the Mark 13’s true purpose. Earlier in the film, a radio host (Iggy Pop) announced that the government had passed a population control bill. The Mark 13 droid is their (final) solution to the overpopulation problem.
Hardware is writer-director Richard Stanley’s attempt to warn humanity about the dangers of both overpopulation and environmental pollution as well as drone soldiers and a military-industrial-complex gone awry. With that in mind, the film probably has more relevance now that it did during its initial release in 1990. Despite this fact however, Hardware remains an overlooked and underrated entry in the genre.