You either love Richard Stanley’s Hardware, or you hate it. There is, as far as I can tell, no middle ground. Me, I stand firmly on the love side of things, although, back In 1990, when I first discovered the film, I remember leaving the theater thoroughly confused by what I’d just seen. At the time, I just didn’t know how to feel about it. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I repeatedly revisited the film on VHS, that I really learned to appreciate Hardware for the stunning, thoroughly uncompromising piece of cinema it truly is. Sadly, due to nearly two decades of legal wrangling, Hardware has been stuck in limbo, forcing fans, like myself, to hang on to their worn out videotapes, while a new generation of potential fans passed the film by. Now, thanks to Severin Films, Hardware is finally coming home to the masses (on DVD and Blu-ray), uncut, unrated, and completely restored.
Welcome to the post-apocalypse. It’s a brave new worlld where war is big business, and overpopulation, poverty, and violence are the status quo. Everyone’s out to make an easy buck, and that includes Moses “Mo” Baxter (Dylan McDermott), a former soldier-turned-scavenger, who, along with his conniving friend, Shades (John Lynch), pays a visit to Alvy (Mark Northover), the local scrap dealer, to pawn off some of Mo’s wasteland finds. When a fellow scavenger shows up peddling what looks like a pile of old droid parts, Mo offers to take them off his hands, and then sells some of the less interesting bits to Alvy, while keeping the nicer parts (including the skull-like head) as a Christmas gift for his sculptor/girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis). When Mo and Shades arrive at Jill’s high security apartment, she seems none too pleased to see her estranged beau, but, after Mo gives her his gift, Jill loosens up, and even decides to incorporate the bits into her latest sculpture.
Meanwhile, back at the scrap shop, Alvy has discovered something about the droid Mo sold him. It appears that the pieces aren’t from an old machine at all, but, rather, a top-secret military prototype called the M.A.R.K. 13; a most lethal and intelligent war machine that could bring in big money from the right people. Alvy makes a late night call to Mo, and asks him to come by the shop to discuss this, and Mo reluctantly agrees. As Alvy digs up more information about the robot, however, he accidentally activates its defense systems, bringing both the pieces at his shop, as well as those in Jill’s apartment, online. With Mo gone and Jill asleep, the machine rebuilds itself using household items and power tools, and sets about doing what it was programmed to do; eradicating humans with extreme predjudice.
After typing up that summary, I realize how silly I may have made Hardware sound, and...well...it sort of is, but the plot of this film isn’t what makes it so special; it’s the wonderfully unique way in which Stanley interprets it that makes Hardware shine. Heavily influenced by Italian horror (especially the works of Bava and Argento), Stanley’s sets are a marriage of the industrial and the organic, meticulously detailed, and bathed in ultra vivid primary colors, resulting in a lush, sophisticated aesthetic that belies what is, on the surface, an otherwise simple sci-fi tale. The film, however, is actually as smart as it is beautiful, rife with subtext and iconography that take subtle pokes at everything from religion to apartheid to the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Stanley beefs up the somewhat meager main plot with some compelling side-stories, including a depraved peeping tom (William Hootkins, aka; “Porkins” of Star Wars fame), hints of possible infidelity (watch the look Jill gives Shades as she lets he and an oblivious Mo into her apartment), and Mo dealing with the guilt of his own deception. Throw in some truly over-the-top violence, a serious dose of sexy, and a psychedelic dénouement that would make Kubrick proud, and you’ve got one of the most unique, challenging, and visually impressive sci-fi/horror films you’ll ever see.
Severin Films brings Hardware to Blu-ray in a completely restored 1.85:1 1080p transfer that is absolutely stunning. From the saturated red and orange hues of the opening sequence to the dark and grimy interior of Jill’s apartment, the image is remarkably consistent in its color representation, with no sign of bleed or artifacting. The level of detail on display here is equally outstanding, highlighting everything from fine facial features and textures to all of the subtleties of Stanley’s intricate sets.
The audio is a bit of a head scratcher as Severin have opted for a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track over a lossless codec. While the mix does the job, it’s a bit of a letdown, especially seeing as how much work went into the rest of the package.
Severin loads on the supplements (the bulk of which are presented in HD) for this release, including an informative and very opnionated commentary/interview featuring Stanley and an interviewer disussing the film. It’s a nicely moderated approach, especially seeing as how Stanley is just a tad eccentric, and prone to veer off topic at times.
The meaty documentary, No Flesh Shall Be Spared (HD) offers an in-depth look at the early career of the director, the genesis of Hardware, and the film’s legacy. The nearly hour-long feature sports interviews with Stanley, star Stacey Travis, the film’s producers, and a calvaclade of crewmembers. Dylan McDermott, however, is nowhere to be found.
Richard Stanley on Hardware 2 (HD) is a brief interview in which the director discusses the plot and plans he once had for a sequel to Hardware, and how said sequel was derailed by the same rights issues that kept the original film out of circulation for nearly twenty years.
Extras are topped off by a trio of short films by Stanley, including the Super 8 film Incidents in an Expanding Universe (HD), deleted scenes, trailers, and more.
Hardware fans have reason to rejoice, while those who’ve yet to experience the film have the opportunity to see it the way its visionary director intended audiences to see it all along. While I’m a bit bummed out by the lack of an HD audio track, I am positively overjoyed by the wonderful quality of the restored image presented here, as well as the bounty of truly compelling bonus features. Like I said at the outset, this is a film you’ll either love or hate, but, if you’re a fan like me, consider this BD an essential purchase.