Horror review: Hardware

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 25, 1990

By Steve Newton

The advance press on British writer/director Richard Stanley’s futuristic thriller, Hardware, was enough to get any horror/sci-fi fan foaming at the mouth. “Ferocious, stylish, and hallucinatory,” wrote horror auteur Clive Barker. “As terrifying as Alien,” blubbered US magazine. “The best science-fiction horror film of the year,” claimed Fangoria magazine.

In the wake of all those compliments—some from sources that normally know their genre—Hardware is a tremendous letdown. Barker’s description is actually quite apt—though not in the positive sense—because Stanley’s attempts at visual stylishness (abstract lighting, angular interiors, and Altered States-like psychedelia) are so relentless they preclude the simple act of telling a good tale. You come out of the theatre reeling with nightmarish, world-in-ruin images that have no strong thread of storyline to tie them together.

And as for the bit about Hardware being as scary as Alien—tell me another one.

The film opens with a barren, post-apocalyptic landscape where radiation runs rampant and the sky is  day-glo red. Soft-spoken hero Mo (Dylan McDermott), a Mad Max-type who ekes out a living scavenging metal scraps in the desert-like “Zone”, buys a dismembered killer android from a mysterious nomad and gives it to his sculptor girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) as a Christmas present.

That’s the first part of Hardware’s flimsy story.

The second and final part has the droid—named Mark 13 after the biblical quote “No flesh shall be spared”—reassembling itself in Jill’s junk-art apartment and going after her and anyone else who gets in its way. Looking like a jumbled cross between the Terminator’s steel skeleton and Short Circuit’s Number Five, Mark 13 does inflict enough carnage to titillate gore-hounds, but Stanley’s emphasis on the look of Hardware doesn’t leave room for the type of well-drawn characterizations needed for viewers to care much about the victims’ plight.

And when it comes to realistic heroine-in-peril acting, Travis can’t hold a candle to  Sigourney Weaver.

Cameos by Motorhead’s Lemmy as a taxi-driving metalhead and Iggy Pop as the voice of doomsaying deejay Angry Bob brighten things up a bit, and William Hootkins’s inspired portrayal of Jill’s slimy, voyeuristic neighbour Lincoln steals the show. But for all its high-tech/low-tech style and cautionary environmental theme, Hardware just seems pointless.

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