Hardware (1990)

OCTOBER 6, 2009


Intrigued by the “Predator meets Terminator” look of the poster, I was always interested in seeing Hardware as a kid, but somehow never got around to it. Then I just forgot all about it, until Severin announced plans for a mammoth 20th anniversary edition. So it’s good that I waited; not only do I have another qualifiable movie for HMAD, but I also have a good reason to pick up the special edition, which features some 59696 hours’ worth of bonus material.

OK, it’s only about 5 including the commentary, but still - give yourself the better part of a weekend if you plan on watching everything. Especially if you start with the film, which is presented here uncut for the 1st time on DVD, if I am understanding things correctly.

This is surprisingly not a very violent movie. Whenever I hear of an old movie being released “uncut” on DVD, I assume the MPAA (who were much stricter in the 80s) mangled a very violent and explicit film. But Hardware has a fairly low body count (maybe 5?), and only two of the deaths are really gory anyway. The most sickening thing in it (which, I later learned, was something that was indeed edited for the theatrical release) is the stuff our heroine’s would be rapist says to her as he watches her from across the street and eventually calls her. Even with my well known enjoyment of profanity, I won’t repeat any of it here. Let’s just say it’s the stuff you might say to a hooker that you were paying enough to warrant indulging in your more taboo desires.

And he watches her in her apartment because, really, that’s about the only location in the movie. It starts off in a Mad Max-y post-apocalyptic city, with Dylan McDermott and his buddy trying to sell some scrap metal and other electronica that they found roaming the landscape, but after about 15 minutes they arrive at the apartment and the camera only fleetingly leaves it for the rest of the film. McDermott also isn’t around very much (director Richard Stanley hilariously cuts to him vaguely running through an alley at one point just to try to remind us that he is indeed part of the narrative), so it’s pretty much just Stacey Travis vs Robot.

And what a robot! It can re-assemble itself from other metal and electronic devices, which allows for a continually changing design, a clever way to keep the single location interesting (they have a lot of appliances and such fro the robot to build itself from), and a never-ending sense of “this thing is going to fucking kill you”. It’s the rare film where I was never sure if anyone was safe from the thing, including Travis. I wouldn’t mind a slightly more expansive sequence of events (they never get any further than the building’s rooftop), but it’s still an engaging movie from start to finish regardless.

I could definitely see room to improve should a remake ever come to pass. McDermott’s absence for the entirety of the 2nd act results in a 3rd act conclusion that isn’t quite as engaging as it could have been had he been the actual “hero” throughout the film. Likewise, the supporting cast isn’t given much to do (and Iggy Pop, given 4th billing as a radio DJ, only speaks twice), and again, it feels a bit cramped at times. A remake (preferably with Clive Owen in the McDermott role) could expand on these things a bit, to give the film a more cinematic flair, instead of largely coming across as a play (which would also be interesting).

As for those extras, I can almost guarantee they are among the only ones of their type on a Blu-Ray. For starters, nearly all of them seem to have been taken from a VHS source. Needless to say, they don’t look very good, but they are interesting nonetheless. Two of them are short films from Stanley, the other runs nearly an hour and is sort of a mockumentary telling of the Hardware story, shot years before the feature version. Newly created is a 10 minute piece where Stanley explains both why there has never been a Hardware 2 (various rights holders unable to agree on a distribution deal) and what he would like to do in the sequel should it ever come to pass. I like this because so many retrospective docs talk about sequels as if they are about five minutes away from shooting, so I appreciate the honesty and candor, as opposed to the usual pipe dream/lip service to fans.

The biggest draw is the new retrospective documentary, which reassembles pretty much every major cast and crew member save McDermott, who apparently has no love for the project (I was told that he gave a death stare to a journalist who asked him about the film during a recent junket). It’s a fascinating piece, breathlessly covering the entire production from concept to release, and includes some wonderfully nutty anecdotes (Lemmy dropping a gun into the river is one such gem). And it’s funny to see how quickly McDermott is dismissed; after briefly describing his casting, he is never mentioned again (but, to be fair, again, his character is more of a supporting turn than the star, despite his top billing). Rounding things out is a commentary by Stanley and Paul Trijbits, which is quite interesting and almost never silent, though their quiet voices may lull you to sleep before the film concludes.

Like I’ve said before, I wish every movie had a special edition as expansive as this. If you are a huge fan of the film, or a Stanley devotee, there is much to appreciate here. For a newcomer like me it’s a bit overwhelming, but again that’s sort of the beauty of the format and its large capacity for supplemental material (the standard def DVD is a two disc set). Without even having to get up to flip the disc, I could entertain myself for the better part of a day with the material here. Anything that exists that a fan could want is on the disc, so kudos to Severin for assembling it all (while retaining the expected high quality audio/video transfers one expects from a Blu). Any studio currently prepping an “anniversary” or re-release of a library title should take a note from them - this is exactly how it should be done.

What say you?

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  1. This is probebly the most underrated horror/sci movie of all time. What I love about the film is Travis' bad-ass attitude.
    She just shruggs off the robot as though it's just a rat behinds the door. Everything about this movie is unexpexted. The robot is the star here, and he is awesome! 10/10

  2. I'm not sure if this came out after Terminator or before. Maybe it was overshadowed, but I have it on VHS. Maybe the limit of the robot just located in the single room was a sign of low budget. I would have loved to see him run amuck in the streets!! I'm not a huge sci-fi guy- but give it 10-10


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