2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 28: Hardware (1990)

Day 28 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 28. Home Invasions. Unwanted visitors can really make a mess out of things. I’ve always been a major favor of Richard Stanley, from his documentary The Otherworld to his attempt to direct The Island of Dr. Moreau and the documentary that ensued, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Today, we’re talking about his 1990 film Hardware.

The world has become a wasteland filled with radiation. Scavengers roam the decimated zones, taking whatever they can to survive. One of them (Carl McCoy, the lead singer of goth rock band Fields of the Nephilim) finds a robot and takes it to Alve the junkman (Mark Northover, Burglekutt from Willow). McCoy’s character, who he calls Preacher Man, is supposed to be the same as his Nephilim character, a drifter with a fake hand, yellow eyes and dressed in dusty cowboy gear.

A former soldier, “Hard Mo” Baxter (Dylan McDermott, nearly unrecognizable with cyborg parts and facial tattoos) and his friend Shades buy the parts, dividing up the body with Alvy while Mo keeps the head as a gift for Jill (Stacey Travis, Phantasm II), his artist girlfriend.

Mo is a wanderer who finds his way in and out of Jill’s life. At first, she doesn’t want to let him in, but after he gives her the robot head, she allows him in. They fight initially about an upcoming government sterilization plan and whether or not they should bring children into the world before having passionate sex that’s watched by her creep of a neighbor, Lincoln (William Hootkins, Porkins from Star Wars!).

They awake to another argument about the way that Jill has used the head for a sculpture when Alvy calls. He wants Mo to come back, as he wants to tell him what he’s learned about the robot, which is a M.A.R.K. 13. Mo wonders if that’s a reference to Mark 13:20, “no flesh shall be spared.” When he arrives, Alvy is dead and the robot is gone. A note here: the actual text is “In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days.”

The rest of the machine has reassembled itself inside Jill’s apartment and attacks her. She escapes and Lincoln appears to help her. He seems initially nice until his pervert side emergers, but he’s soon pulped by M.A.R.K. 13. As Mo, Shades and the building’s security team battle the robot, it drags Jill away.

Mo has talked throughout the film about how deadly he is, but when he fights M.A.R.K. 13, it uses the same toxins on him that killed Alvy, sending him into hallucinations before killing him, too. The robotic intruder now hunts Jill throughout the building, killing everyone in its path. She even tries to reason with the robot’s AI before she learns its secret: an issue with moisture. She and Shades get it into her shower and destroy it.

The movie ends with gorgeous shots of the drifter from the beginning as he disappears back into the wasteland as DJ Angry Bob (Iggy Pop) talks about how the M.A.R.K. 13 is about to be mass produced to sterilize the country.

Hardware is an intriguing film. It’s not great but it has a heart and soul that wants to be. It feels like a Phillip K. Dick story, but finds its influence in a post-apocalyptic short film Stanley made in his teens and his time in a guerrilla Muslim faction while acting as a journalist during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The TV broadcasts in the film are based on the work of Psychic TV and add a lot to the film (indeed, music really influences this one, particularly a quick cameo by Motörhead frontman Lemmy).

However, one influence that has dogged this movie is how close it is to Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill 2000AD comic strip “SHOK!” Later releases give full credit to this story.

Richard Stanley tried to get a sequel made, Hardware II: Ground Zero, which would have been a bigger Western-style movie. Sadly, the project died as the rights to the film are split between Miramax and the producer, Paul Trijbits. In this bigger, badder world, the US government would already be mass producing M.A.R.K. 13s to patrol the US-Mexican border and wipe out illegal aliens. There, Shades and a veteran named Lyle Maddox would find Jill living in a hippie colony of “destructuralists” in Splendora, Texas who are under attack by the M.A.R.K. 13s and Mexican guerrillas. According to the site Everything is Under Control, the script is “a definite page-turner, but it’s also violent, challenging, and ultimately, perhaps even too crazy for its own good.”

I really wish that movie had been made. I love the vision that Stanley has, the cinematography in this film and the sense that it’s all part of a much bigger story. Throw in music by Ministry, Motörhead, Public Image Ltd. and a score by Simon Boswell (Santa Sangre, Stagefright) and you have a film I’ll be coming back to soon.

Hardware was released by Severin in 2009 but was out of print for awhile. You can get a new re-release at Ronin Flix.

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