on 18 January 2007
The UK doesn't produce that many really interesting directors these days, and Richard Stanley is one of those who somehow never quite broke through. Hardware was his first full feature, rumoured to be made for under a million pounds, and with his limited resources he created a cult classic for the early nineties.
The plot is lifted from the pages of a one-off 2000AD comic strip, with a war robot going crazy within the confines of a futuristic appartment. Stanley expanded the premise, but kept the claustrophobic atmosphere of the single setting and crafted a unique horror around it. With gruesome special effects, a pumping soundtrack, and some committed performances from its mainly British cast, the film has an undeniable energy, and Stanley's background in music videos is apparent from the clever camera angles, fast cuts and blend of music and visuals.
Unfortunately, the collapse of Palace Pictures meant that Stanley was unable to capitalise on the success of Hardware, and his second feature, the fantastic Dust Devil, was only finished at great financial cost to himself. Thereafter he seems to have been unable to get another full feature backed and, after a failed attempt to helm The Island of Dr Moreau, sadly Hollywood seems to have turned its back on him.
So - good film, but is this DVD worth purchasing? Well, Hardware was pretty savaged for its original 4:3 VHS release, and its unclear if this DVD is merely a print from that or something more. Buena Vista were due to release a properly remastered version, but it has been cancelled. The only good version currently on DVD is from Laser Paradise, taken from the Japanese original Laserdisc. Unlike Dust Devil, of which at least 2 decent DVDs are available, Hardware still awaits a definitive DVD treatment.
Hardware is a great movie, but that's not why I'm writing this review. I felt compelled to warn people away from this '25th Anniversary Edition'. As its the 25 Anniversary Edition you'd expect some decent extras right? Not one thing. All you get are two tiny art cards. There is no option to adjust the audio, no subtitles for those hard of hearing, nothing. The picture transfer isn't bad, but the audio is shocking. On a decent set up you will need to crank the audio loud just to hear what's going on.
The distributor 'Three Wolves' is well known for the their 'take the money and run' approach to film distribution and are purely in it for the money. They are not film fans judging from any of their releases.
Stay well away from anything they release. There are other versions of Hardware available on Blu Ray that are way better than this version on all fronts.
on 13 October 2009
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.
Does anybody remember Richard Stanley? That erratic South African director / screenwriter responsible for the mini-classic "Dust Devil" and notorious for being booted off "The Island Of Doctor Moreau" by John Frankenheimer? Oh yes, and let's not forget the rumours of him returning to the latter's set and attempting to sabotage it... Which is probably why no film studio will touch him with a barge pole nowadays. Anyway, his first movie has finally gotten the go-ahead for release - "Hardware" (1990) and by God, if any movie needs more attention lavished on it...
Known intimately by only the hallowed few through late-night viewings on old-school Channel 4 and currently the Zone Horror channel, the film details how scavengers Mo Baxter (Dylan McDermott) and Shades (John Lynch)come across the M.A.R.K. 13 droid in a heavily polluted 21st Century landscape and attempt to make use of it - Mainly by giving the remains to Baxter's estranged girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) to turn into an art project. As the name of the robot states (Mark 13 is a New Testament gospel verse that states "no flesh shall be spared") it's out to fulfil it's programming, which entails slaughtering Jill and taking it from there. Everyrobot needs to start somewhere, right? Cue mayhem and Future Shock on a low budget, which you won't mind to tell the truth. And how Stanley managed to persuade Lemmy from Motorhead, Carl McCoy from Fields Of The Nephilim and Iggy Pop's voice masquerading as a radio DJ to feature is beyond me.
The DVD (as well as the Blu Ray) is a lavish affair, which is a sight to behold in this Age where four-quid re-issues are the norm. Look, you even get conceptual art cards with it by Gawd! Expect commentary from Stanley himself, deleted scenes and a documentary, "Voices Of The Moon". Apocalyptic film always get's me in a lather, and "Hardware" is right up there with the greats. OKay, maybe not "Def Con 4", but close. That was a joke.
on 23 October 2014
This is an amazing film from back in 1990, a cult classic post-apocalyptic horror about a scavenger who collects junk to try and sell it for cash as parts, he comes across a cyborg skull that he decides to keep and give to his girlfriend who is a metal sculptor, not realising the skull is from a M.A.R.K 13 military killing machine, the cyborg awakes and self builds itself to go on a murderous rampage! The whole movie has a brilliant style to it with its cool original vision of the future and the way everything is dark and dull but lit really well in the right places, the effects are amazing for time with all good practical cyborg and bloody gore effects, the cast is all good and the soundtrack is fantastic too, this truly is a little gem and really worth picking up on Blu-ray as it looks amazing and has some great features, a must for sci-fi horror fans of any period especially the late 80's and 90's.
The Blu-ray looks great picture wise (IMPORT US VERSION) UNCUT
Tons of great features, good long behind the scenes, interviews, short films, extra scenes, commentary.
Region ABC free, 90mins aprox, 1990.
on 5 March 2014
I have always been a big fan of post-apocalyptic dystopian sci-fi and when Hardware came to the cinema in the early 90s I thought it was excellent. Coming back to it decades later on Blu-Ray, I still enjoyed it but it has some flaws and has not aged particularly well.
The grimy near-future setting is generally well done and the low budget adds to the realism - this is not the glossy CGI future of modern sci-fi. Little details like the chicken wire over the door entrance video screen were neatly done. Less impressive is the sense of scope - most of the film takes place in a small apartment and overall there is little sense of what cities look like in the future, though that is probably a factor of the low budget.
A few things annoyed me on re-watching the film. First, at the outset, DJ Angry Bob announces that the temperature will be over 100F (37C), yet all the main characters wear heavy WW2 bomber jackets and overcoats. It's a small inconsistency, but undermines credibility early on. I also agree with another reviewer that Mark 13's prediliction for gratuitous torture seems unncessary and unrealistic. Though again this is a small point, it does take the film into the realm of horror rather than sci-fi.
The other niggle, which has greater impact given the length of the sequence, is the death caused by the injection from Mark 13 and the subsequent hallucination sequence. It is plain awful, far too long and the use of fractals really dates it. The scene where Stanley directs Mark 13 as if a DJ with fireworks exploding around it as it leers forward into the fish-eye lens is inadvertently comical. The whole sequence detracts from the film and betrays Stanley's pop video background.
I should add that the soundtrack is outstanding and one I still listen to regularly. The score from Simon Boswell is brilliant, particularly the tracks Everything Is Under Control and It's Horrible...I Love It...What Is It? The additional music from PiL and Ministry is top notch too.
Overall, despite its flaws, Hardware is still an impressive little cult film. It is such a shame that British cinema now seems obsessed with gangster / geezer movies when it has a great tradition of low-budget sci-fi B movies, of which this is a prime example.
on 17 November 2013
In the future, a nuclear war has transformed the Earth into a radioactive wasteland where the sea has dried up leaving it as an apocalyptic desert.
A scavenger named Nomad discovers a robotic head, arriving in New York City, A space marine named buys the robotic head from Nomad as a Christmas present for his girlfriend Jill, who decides to use it for one of her sculptures.
But hell starts breaking loose, when the head is activated and begins to rebuild itself.
When a junkyard dealer discover the robotic head is a Mark 13, a military cyborg of a project that was abandoned. Moses learns Jill's life is in danger, as the Mark 13 cyborg goes on a violent rampage......
This is an oddity, but a very vivid and almost psychedelic experience. It looks great, right from the opening shot, but it has a very cheap feel to it.
Its as if the makers of the film have defined Steam Punk and put it on screen for all to see. Apart from the two leads, the film is a very British affair, and again, it shows.
The cast are fine, even if a few look bemused, and the actual Mark 13 looks awful, but good in the same I stance.
But the best thing about this is the score, its heavenly and really delivers the film to you in spades.
I can understand the hate for the movie, for the most part, I wasn't very interested in it, but I stayed with it, and all of a sudden I was sold by all the absurdity that my eyes and ears were exposed to.
A Gothic Punk treat.
One of those films I was beginning to despair of ever appearing in the DVD format Hardware was originally released in 1990 and is a stylish sci-fi/horror film with an interesting back story .The film is based on a "2000 AD "comic story called "SHOK! Walter's Robo-Tale."The original theatrical release did not mention the comic book despite heavily plagiarizing its storyline. Following legal action a caveat was added to later versions and the strip's creators, Steve MacManus and Kevin O'Neill, now get full writers' credit along with the original writer and director Richard Stanley.
Stanley himself has a fascinating history going on to make the flawed dust Devil before being fired as the director of the remake of The Island Of Dr Moreau [DVD]  which given that it turned out to be a Harryhausen sized turkey may not have been a bad thing. However his behaviour post sacking ( sneaking back onto the set in a Dogman mask and trying to sabotage it ) seems to have stymied his directorial career ( In the mid-90s his adaptation of Robert E. Howard's "The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane" was optioned by Ed Pressman who wanted to set it up with Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role. The whole thing was effectively terminated by the Moreau debacle.)
A great pity as Hardware made on a tiny budget( $1.5 million ) is a terrific little film with a great central idea. Given the memorable tagline that "In the 21st century there will be a new endangered species...man." the plot has Nomad ( played by Carl from the band Fields Of The Nephilim ) discovering a robot head in the radioactive desert .He sells it on to scrap merchant Alvy (Mark Northover ) and it catches the eye of soldier Moses ( Dylan McDermott ) who gives it as a present to his girlfriend Jill ( Stacey Travis) who uses it for her metal art project .
But Alvy discovers that the robot heads comes from a prototype military droid called the Mk 13( Its name is a reference to the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament of the Bible, part of which reads "no flesh shall be spared") and is able to reconstruct itself from any bits of machinery or bits of scrap and will then become a lethal killing machine ..literally.
So before you can shout Robot wars the Mk13 is activated and re-building itself with rather worrying haste and Jill is trapped in the apartment with it though she is also under voyeuristic observation by her sexually perverse neighbour Vernon (Paul McKenzie in a notably repellent cameo) who maybe can offer her a life line .
The film is very effectively rendered building the tension nicely until the action kicks in .Stanley makes proficient use of light and sound and the special effects( by Image Animation who also worked on Hellraiser  [DVD] and Highlander [DVD]  ) are more than sufficient .The acting is variable but good enough and there are notable cameo's for Iggy Pop( pretty good he is too ) as shock D.J. Angry Bob-"Nature never colours like this " referring to nuclear fallout - and Lemmy( rubbish ) as a water taxi driver .
It's good to know the DVD will have plenty of extras with a commentary from Stanley , deleted scenes and a documentary "Voices Of The Moon " ( a 1990 documentary made by Stanley on the Russian invasion of Afghanistan ) and even conceptual insert cards.
The films assertion that the machines we build may ultimately be the death of us is hardly original but the narratives final revelation that the Mk13 is due for mass production is just the sort of thing that probably would happen .As long as human beings want to kill each other for whatever reason homicidal droids are on the agenda. As one of the characters says "Machines don't understand sacrifice - neither do morons."
South Africa's Richard Stanley may be the only director to make Terry Gilliam and Donald Cammell look lucky (perhaps appropriately Stanley even tried to film one of Cammell's unfilmed scripts). Best known for being fired from his version of The Island of Dr Moreau, that just seemed the best-known disaster in a track record filled with debris. Hired by Channel 4 to make a film about the Nazis search for the lost Ark of the Covenant, he got fired for pointing out that it was pure fiction and instead offering to make a film about their quest for the Holy Grail instead. His second feature, Dust Devil, was heavily re-edited and dumped on video after producers Palace Pictures went bust and despite a fair amount in hype back in 1990, his first, Hardware, wasn't quite smooth sailing either. Another of Palace's attempts to break into the US market and co-produced with the ill-fated British Satellite Broadcasting, who managed to go bust before they ever went on air, and Miramax, who promptly re-edited it to get an R-rating, it never really broke out of its niche despite its high concept and ran into an awkward legal dispute over whether it plagiarised a story from UK comic 2000 AD (not helped by the fact that Stanley's cousin was an illustrator on the comic). Even though the extremely low budget film did show a profit, a sequel fell through because the rights were spread between too many bankrupt companies that no longer existed. So, all in all, not one of life's lucky people, then...
One side-effect of all this misfortune is that, while it's guaranteed Stanley some cult cachet as a kind of cinematic Ancient Mariner, it tends to overshadow the fact that he's an awfully average director at best. A post-apocalyptic cyberpunkish number, Hardware sees Dylan McDermott ill-advisedly buy some robot scrap metal as a Christmas present for sculptor girlfriend Stacey Travis only to find out too late that it's actually a self-repairing military robot programmed to kill and she's all alone with it in her apartment... But too late seem the operative words. While Stanley takes his time setting up an irradiated and complacent decaying world where cities are more like junkyards in the aftermath of either a `limited nuclear exchange' or global warming, he also takes way too long getting the plot and the carnage started, which is a big problem for what is essentially an exploitation movie with its eye firmly on the then-thriving video market. It's not exactly dull getting to the punch, but with the movie nearly half over before the Mark 13 reawakens and precious little in the way of foreboding while you're waiting, it's a surprise in this case that the Weinsteins didn't cut the film more heavily to cut to the chase.
Unfortunately even then it never really shifts into high gear, the action scenes clumsily staged and edited so that the better ideas don't work as well as they should, which is a pity because there aren't many good ideas in the few action scenes to begin with, rendering what there is unexciting and unsurprising stuff. The apartment is too small for a chase or to play hide-and-seek but its claustrophobic potential is never really exploited, the opportunities to have the robot reinvent itself or hide in her industrial sculptures are never taken and the cast of characters too small to provide much slicing-and-dicing if that's what you're looking for in a killer robot on the rampage movie, which is a reasonable expectation. Even the notion that the robot is designed to indiscriminately kill to keep the contaminated population down is thrown away in a couple of lines of dialogue.
With its heavy metal and punk rock aesthetic (Lemmy from Motorhead cameos as a cabby while Iggy Pop does DJ duty on the soundtrack) and Argento-inspired lurid color palette alternating with the kind of orange and teal look that's become so overused of late, the film's cluttered and oppressive look is suitably unappealing for its story, but it doesn't exactly endear it to you. It's the kind of cult film that a few will truly love and many will outright hate for not really delivering on its premise, but it's ultimately too average to really earn either reaction - the kind of film that just washes over you and is quickly forgotten.
Still, there's an excellent extras package on the original Blu-ray release - director and producer's audio commentary, two of Stanley's early home movies, a documentary he directed about the Mujahideen, a fairly pointless more recent short Sea of Perdition, a couple of vintage promos and lengthy deleted scenes - and the Bluray has a very good widescreen transfer. Unfortunately none of that applies for Three Wolves' 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, which drops all the extras for a poor bare-bones presentation.
on 3 July 2009
The picture is a vast improvement over any previous versions I've seen, except in the cinema, and the Audio is very good, but unfortunately not 5.1.
There's a commentary from Stanley and the Producer that's entertaining.
There's two of Stanley's short super 8 films, one of which is the short that became the feature HARDWARE.
There's also deleted and extended scenes, and some brief behind the scenes stuff. Pretty interesting.
The Sci-fi short SEA OF PERDITION is brief but entertaining.
The excellent documentary THE VOICE OF THE MOON is included, but has nothing to do with the film. It was previously available on the DUST DEVIL 5-Disc set.
Also inside is a 26 page booklet full of information about the film, and a few collector's cards. Nice!
Overall a good Blu-ray. It's just a pity they didn't give it a 5.1 mix. A making-of documentary would have been nice too. Still, highly recommended.