no critical faculties motion picture edition 3: richard stanley’s hardware

A few years ago, in a broad-reaching trailer for Subversive Cinema’s DVD catalogue, I saw the image of a man’s head exploding, of the corpse tumbling headless into the dust, squirting blood onto the camera lens.

This seemed, I guess, like a good time.

A little digging revealed it was from Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil, available in a surprisingly cheap 5-disc set that included a new, authoritative cut of the notoriously tampered-with film, along with a workprint, a soundtrack, and a few of Stanley’s documentaries. When I watched it, I found it a bit messy, a bit cheap, but incredibly atmospheric and effective.

Recently, Stanley’s first feature Hardware was finally released to DVD (and Blu-Ray). I had read a few brief summaries of it, most dismissing it as a Terminator rip-off, but was curious and sought it out, in my idleness, in the only way I have while I’m Over Here.


oh my

Oh my.



Hardware is, like Dust Devil, incredibly atmospheric, setting up its Irradiated Future Earth with economy and skill before plunging into the equally well-realized, but smaller stage of the apartment where most of the action takes place. Of special note is the junky, patchwork, but still-functional technology on display.

Briefly: a soldier acquires a junked robot (designated the MARK 13) to give to his on-again, off-again, artist girlfriend in a Dark Future of horrible overpopulation in crowded cities surrounded by uninhabitable wasteland. Alas, the robot is still operational, capable of reassembling its body and drawing power from any available power source. Further, it’s mandate is KILL ALL HUMANS, so things get a little awkward when Our Heroine is trapped in the apartment with it. So, we have a killer robot after a woman, but it does not stop at emulating Terminator. No, it also rips off:

PREDATOR, so directly I think it has to be considered homage. Frequent shots from the MARK 13’s thermal POV climax in a scene where the heroine hides in a freezer to lower her body temperature and hide from the robot.

-It brings in some of the rape subtext from Alien. At one point, the MARK 13 has the heroine on the floor, and decides the best method of dispatching her is via drill attachment, aimed directly between her legs. This compounds with the peeping tom across the way (Porkins! MALE GAZE ALERT), and a few other details, to blah blah blah.

It suffers from its confined space. The KILLER DEATH ROBOT proves to be surprisingly tentative, somehow intent on stealth when it’s key to the tension, or to the plot. He shies away from killing the heroine when she awakes, apparently not wanting her to be aware of the moment before death. Later, the MARK 13 decides to chill behind some blinds for a while, then proves to have absolutely no problem dispatching the hapless fellow who opens them.

So the movie sacrifices consistency and logic for tension, and to keep this bitch mostly in one location, because, I assume, Money. I suppose this is pretty standard horror territory, and the viewers tolerance for the conventions could decide how much they’re able to enjoy the film.

Hardware really takes off at the end, when it goes from being a textually dense, but still derivative piece of schlock into a textually dense, but still derivative piece of schlock with its own bizarre dream logic. A major character receiving a drug is an excuse for an extended freak-out in which the stroboscopically lit MARK 13 appears to conduct the soundtrack. The heroine communicates with her dead boyfriend via the robot hand the MARK 13 has claimed from him, and that robot hand is instrumental in the final attempt on her life.

Hell, I don’t know.

Here is a note I made to myself, a week ago, when I watched the damn thing:

This is actually a pretty dense, thorny piece of work, wrapped in a low-budget, exploitative monster movie. Goofy, yes, and hardly deep, but rich enough if you’re not too demanding, a young man’s synthesis of B-grade schlock and dubious, half-absorbed philosophy.


So anyway I basically like it one thumb half-cocked.



~ by ironcupshrug on 12/29/2009.

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