by Jason Coffman
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Hardware has long been one of those films that fans have been clamoring for on DVD. Tied up in the same sort of red tape that has held up the release of other cult films, Hardware seemed like a lost cause. Thankfully, Severin Films has finally released not just a bare-bones disc with a passable transfer— more than we ever expected to get in the first place— but a full-on Special Edition worthy of its capital letters. Hopefully now that the film is widely available it will get the audience it’s been denied for all those years between its original release on VHS in the 1990s and today.
The film opens with a scavenger making his way across a vast, red desert. It quickly becomes clear that this is taking place in some sort of bleak post-apocalypse: the man is scavenging battlefields strewn with human corpses and parts of machines. He finds a twitching mechanical hand and what appears to be a robot skull, which he takes into a city to sell. Here, he encounters Moe (Dylan McDermott) and Shades (John Lynch). Moe buys the scrap as a Christmas present for his girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis), an artist who works with metal and refuse. Unfortunately, they discover too late that the skull is the brain of a new military robot called the Mark 13, able to reconstitute its body with whatever is on hand. While Moe is out of the apartment, Jill is left to face the Mark 13 alone.
While there are many familiar elements in Hardware, writer/director Richard Stanley gives them enough of a twist to keep things interesting. The world of Hardware is almost gleefully nihilistic. Even the popular radio announcer Angry Bob (Iggy Pop) happily proclaims “As for the good news, there is no fucking good news!” The sky is red, the government is enforcing mass sterilization, and an unnamed conflict rages on endlessly. The city in which Hardware takes place doesn’t seem to have any cars— everyone walks or takes a taxi cab that’s been transmogrified into a boat (driven by Lemmy from Motorhead). Television is packed with images of torture, war, bizarre commercials and ranting madmen. This is not a place to vacation.
Similarly, once the action changes gears into an Alien-style scenario of a group of people trying to destroy the rampaging monster, interesting concepts keep things fresh. Moe is basically useless against the Mark 13, and Jill is clearly less interested in dealing with the thing than just getting the hell away from it. Stanley keeps the tension ratcheted up tight, letting the Mark 13 release infrequent but very nasty bouts of violence in between unsettling lulls in the action. It’s a great, claustrophobic film that absolutely deserves its rabid cult following.
Severin has done a fantastic job with the 2-disc DVD set of Hardware. In addition to a beautiful new transfer, the first disc also includes a feature-length commentary by Stanley. The second disc is packed full of intriguing supplementary material: a nearly hour-long documentary about the making of the film, an early Super-8 version of the film Stanley made in 1985 called Incidents in an Expanding Universe, an interview with Stanley regarding the fate of Hardware 2, 25 minutes of deleted scenes (transferred from a VHS tape in Stanley’s personal collection), Stanley’s first 8mm film Rites of Passage, a 2006 sci-fi short by Stanley called The Sea of Perdition, and a collection of promotional videos. It’s hard to imagine there ever being a more definitive release for Hardware than this one.
Hardware was released by Severin Films on 13 October 2009. It is available as a 2-disc DVD set and on Blu-ray disc.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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