It's a measure of the complex nature of Richard Stanley's career that his lesser-known and less successful work, Dust Devil, made it onto DVD a few years before Hardware, his early cult hit. Indeed, at the same time as this Region 2 release from Optimum, there is also now a Region 1 DVD from another new print with different extras and different commentaries. Suddenly we're spoilt for choice!
Which is the better release I cannot say, but having only ever seen this film on a pan and scan VHS, this version from Optimum is a revelation. Apart from some graininess in the opening desert shots, the picture is crisp and detailed, and the colours much more balanced than ever before. The audio is good too, but although it was touted as being a 5.1 mix it only seems to be available as Pro Logic Surround (a little disappointing but not the end of the world).
The film itself has survived the passage of the years and of my memory, and was even better than I remembered. The claustrophobic confines of Jill's apartment and the low-fi dystopian future setting mean that the film's low budget feel remains vibrant where major Hollywood sfx films of the same era now look incredibly tacky. More than any other sci-fi since, it builds on Blade Runner's legacy without diminishing it - dark, confined spaces, decay mixed with technology , rain and neon. The sound effects and music are used in the classic horror style, building tension and creating atmosphere, then pounding you when the action starts. The lead performances are solid without overshadowing the real star, the Mark-13, who looms in and out of frame and is still genuinely scary.
I've resigned myself to the reality that I'll probably never see a full film from Richard Stanley again - the fragmented and incomplete Sea of Perdition available as an extra on this DVD suggests he's now a long way away from the business end of the film industry. But this release (and the companion Blu Ray) means that at least we can enjoy the existing films in some style.