Friday, September 23, 2011

DVD Review: HARDWARE (1991)

HARDWARE (1990) 
LABEL: Umbrella Entertainment
REGION CODE: 4 PAL 
RATING: 18 Certificate
DURATION: 93 mins
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 5.1. 2.0
DIRECTOR: Richard Stanley
CAST: Dylan McDermott, Iggy pop, Stacey Travis, Carl McCoy
TAGLINE: You Can't Stop Progress.

Auteur filmmaker Richard Stanley's feature film debut is a stone cold sci-fi cult classic actioner set in the dismal post-apocalyptic 21st century. A desolate place where the world's governments seem to have made good on their DR. STRANGELOVE-ian promise to reduce the world to a nuclear scarred wasteland. Survivors eek out a gritty existence in squalid, over populated city slums foraging the red-tinted radioactive wastelands for scrap metal. One such scavenger or "zone-tripper" (Carl McCoy, of Goth rockers FIELDS OF NEPHILIM) recovers the battle worn skull of a cyborg buried in the sands dunes of the forbidden outlands. He takes his unique haul to the pint-sized scrap dealer Alvy (Mark Northover, WILLOW) where he encounters Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermot, HAMBURGER HILL), a weary soldier returning from a tour of duty, his right hand lost to the ravages of war, a metal-gloved prosthetic in it's place. Both he and friend Shades (John Lynch, BLACK DEATH) are at Alvy's shop when the "zone tripper" arrives with the recovered cyborg skull along with other assorted parts. Intrigued by the skull Moses compensates the scavenger for the parts which appear to come from an unusually well-crafted labor drone. Moses brings the skull to his metal-sculpter girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis, PHANTASM II) to incorporate into he latest project.

Reuiniting with Jill at their apartment they make love (under the watchful eye of twisted voyeur) and discuss the possibility of starting a family but it's a sore subject. Jill fears bringing a child into a post-apocalyptic world ("it's stupid, sadistic and suicidal to have children right now") and worries that years of exposure to nuclear fallout may breed mutant offspring. In the background we hear news reports that the government is soon to pass legislation geared towards making "a clean break from procreation" while radio DJ Angry Bob (voiced by proto-punker Iggy Pop) screams nihilistic noise into the mic ("Kill! Kill! Kill! Today's death count is 578!"). Richard Stanley's film does a pretty decent job of creating a post-apocalyptic landscape through cyberpunk visuals, dystopian TV and radio news broadcasts and shots of overcrowded city slums. It's a modestly budgeted feature but the world building onscreen is quite effective.

Later that night Moses receives an urgent call from Alvy insisting he return to the scrap yard, that he has urgent information but the phone lines have too many ears to divulge it. Alvy intrigued by the android design has discovered that the parts are not from any ordinary drone but from the M.A.R.K 13 military program aimed to create an unstoppable mechanical combat droid capable of artificial intelligence and self-regeneration. Before Alvy can relay the information he is killed by a reactivated piece of the droid left behind, which injects hims with a deadly hallucinogenic toxin. Moses arrives discovering his corpse but is able to piece together the information from design plans and Alvy's PC screen. Alarmed that Jill is in danger he phones Shades who lives nearby but unfortunately hopelessly spaced out in an acid induced daze muttering nonsense ("It's my heart... it feels like an alligator"). With his tripped-out pal hopefully on his way to warn Jill the panicked Mo makes a mad dash to the apartment, but he is slowed down by some MAD MAX styled street punks.

Sure 'nuff the M.A.R.K 13 has reassembled itself using it's own parts, pieces of Jill's metal sculpture and then recharges itself using the apartments computer network. Once fully functional it attempts to cut Jill in half with a buzz saw blade while she sleeps but she awakens at the last possible moment, escaping it's first assault. The crafy cyborg takes up hiding in her apartment just as the pervy neighbor Lincoln (William Hootkins, BATMAN), who is obsessed with Jill after many a night sweatily (and one-handedly) peeping her through a telescope, arrives to offer his assistance having noticed some strange goings on from his perch. He creepily helps her search the apartment for the killer bot while bizarrely singing a song called "Wibberly-Wobberly" but the M.A.R.K 13 is nowhere to be found. The sleazy voyeur is about to be ushered out the door when he notices that the window shades have been drawn, blocking his telescopic view, a perv until the end. As he approaches the window to draw the shades the bio-mechanical cyborg assassin reveals itself and just totally destroys him; injecting him with the deadly toxin, gouging his eyeballs from his skull while a phallic drillbit tears through his torso and repeatedly slamming his head into the floor, this thing ain't fucking around, it's a vicious death 

Alone again with the cyborg Jill finds that she is unable to escape her apartment because the M.A.R.K 13 has hacked her security system and she's left with little choice but to face the unstoppable cyborg which stalks her slasher style through the apartment. Eventually Shades and Moses show up along with the apartment's goofy security staff who are able to break their way inside but one of the security staff is grotesquely severed in half by the apartment's security door, his gun going off shooting the other guard in the face leaving a very-stoned Shades and a desperate Moses to devise a solution to a worsening situation, it's a total cluster fuck.

The film's finale is completely out of control and reads like the final reel of THE TERMINATOR as filmed by INFERNO era Dario Argento with strobing lights, dark shadows bathed in saturated red and blue lighting and non-stop psychedelic cyberpunk action. Actress Stacey Travis (GHOSTWORLD) really centers the film standing in for Sarah Connor as a frantic but feisty heroine with McDermot ast the ill-fated Kyle Reese character.  HARDWARE was Richard Stanley's feature film debut following a series of shorts, documentaries and music videos and is based on a comic called 'SHOK! Walter's Robo-Tale' which I've not seen but apparently the creators took legal action against the film at some point to receive proper recognition for their work. Stanley next film was the more esoteric DUST DEVIL, a fantastic dreamy South African horror film following the exploits of a shape-shifting demon spirit. Following DUST DEVIL he wrote the screenplay and was to direct the big budget adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel 'The Island of Dr. Moreau' only to be fired from the project four days into filming. I can't help but wonder what his finished film would have been like knowing how awesomely terrible director John Frankenheimer's ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU ended up being following a script re-write. Stanley returned to documentary filmmaking the decade following but the 2000's have seen him return to scripted cinema with a few short films including SEA OF PERDITION (included as a special feature on this disc), a werewolf short BLACK TULIPS and most recently the segment MOTHER OF TOADS from Severin Film's THE THEATRE BIZARRE anthology film which I look forward to checking out as soon as possible.  

DVD: HARDWARE is presented in anamorphic widescreen in it's original aspect ration of 1.85:1 with only minor print damage that betrays the occasional white speck and rare instance of printdamage. Otherwise it's a very nice looking print and the transfer offers a healthy amount of natural grain with decent black levels, color saturation and accurate skin tones. Audio options include English Dobly Digital 5.1 surround sound  or 2.0 stereo. It's a very clean audio presentation with well balanced sound, clear dialogue and without any noticeable snap, crackles or pops. The industrial-rock soundtrack sounds magnificent with contributions from MINISTRY, PUBLIC IMAGE LTD plus a very fine score by composer Simon Boswelll who's name you'll may recognize from from Argento's PHENOMNA, Lamberto Bava's DEMONS 2 and Alejandro Jodorowsky's SANTA SANGRE amon others.

Special features include an audio commentary with director Richard Stanley and producer Paul Trijbits. Stanley regularly voices displeasure over producer interference on the film, it's not an overwhelmingly positive track but it makes for a good listen. It should be noted that the commentary is different than the track featured on Severin Film's Region 1 HARDWARE DVD and Blu-ray. Something I was keen to hear was mention of the SHOK! lawsuit but it's not to be found here, unfortunately. We get a selection of deleted scenes including some behind-the-scenes footage and extended scenes which look like they've been sourced from a VHS tape.

The real treasure here are the short films of director Richard Stanley, four in all totalling over 95 minutes. THE VOICE OF THE MOON (1990) is an experimental super 8mm documentary on the Russian Invasion of Afghanistan which completely glazed over my eyes. Quite the opposite is Stanley's fantastic sci-fi short SEA OF PERDITION (2006). Too short! I wanted more of this one, certainly a film that makes me wish someone would throw some major cash Stanley's way, great stuff. An interesting document of Stanley early films is the 8mm relic RITES OF PASSAGE (1983) which features a suicidal man remembering his past life as a primitive man, weird but compelling, which you can say about a lot of the director's work. The last film is what I consider the centerpiece of the bonus content on the disc;  INCIDENT IN AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE (1985) an 8mm precursor to HARDWARE containing many of the elements and themes of the latter film, the presentation is a bit rough but it's a nice compliment to the film.


SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Audio Commentary with director and producer
- THE VOICE OF THE MOON documentary by Richard Stanley (32:25) 4:3
- Richard Stanley Sci-Fi-short SEA OF PERDITION (8:32) 16:9
- Super 8 Short Film RITES OF PASSAGE (9:49) 4:3
- Super 8 Short Film INCIDENTS IN AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE (44:28) 4:3
- Deleted Scenes, Extended and Behind the Scenes Clips (25:02) 4:3
- Original Hardware Promo (3:22) 4:3

VERDICT: HARDWARE is a psychedelic cyber-slasher nightmare that's honestly pretty derivative of other better-known sci-fi actioners (BLADERUNNER, MAD MAX, THE TERMINATOR) but Stanley's unique visual style and dystopian flourishes prove hugely entertaining, a very strong debut film and one of the 90's better genre films. Additionally I think it's a crime against cinema that Richard Stanley hasn't been given a fair shake, this is a great film and I give it not just a recommendation but declare it a MUST BUY! Umbrella Entertainment's release of HARDWARE is also available on 1080p Blu-ray.

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