Movie Review: Hardware (1990)

Review of the movie Hardware, AKA Mark 13

December 21 2009 Categorized Under: Movie Reviews No Commented
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Hardware (1990)
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Starring: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Carl McCoy, Mark Northover, Paul McKenzie, Lemmy, Oscar James

Star RatingStar RatingStar Rating (out of 4)

<em>Hey, throw me a brewski over here, would ya?</em>

Hey, throw me a brewski over here, would ya?

Hardware unfolds like an industrial music video; not surprising that one sequence, featuring heroine Jill (Stacey Travis) assembling an art project out of pieces of a robot found in the desert, plays out with Ministry’s Stigmata playing on the television in the background. The film is at times ugly, at times beautiful, as it showcases a bleak, dystopian future filled with hopelessness – if I were to envision the last days of humanity, it would probably look very much like the universe of Hardware. It’s an uncomfortable movie to sit through sometimes, but it’s raw, and it has a unique look and feel (courtesy of South African director Richard Stanley) that makes it more fascinating than most science fiction horror.

In the future, after what appears to have been a nuclear war, the government has started a population control program where citizens are encouraged to show up for sterilization. From the outskirts of the “zone” steps a mysterious nomad (Carl McCoy, from Fields Of The Nephilim) who sells parts of what appears to be some kind of droid/robot to Moses, a mercenary/marine (Dylan McDermott) who just wants to get his withdrawn, industrial artist girlfriend Jill a Christmas present. Jill creates an art project with the metal pieces – the finishing touch is the painting of the stars and stripes on the droid’s head. It turns out that the abandoned robot is a battle droid called Mark 13, and it possesses an impressive ability to utilize any existing power source to reassemble itself. After being reactivated, it traps Jill in her apartment, and proceeds to kill anything in its way using rather gory methods.

<em>Where the hell is the Starbucks?</em>

Where the hell is the Starbucks?

Hardware is filled with lots of symbolism that gets very close to heavy handedness. (“Mark 13” referring to the Biblical passage regarding the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, or the end of the world, depending on your interpretation). One of Mark 13’s weapons include a toxin with no antidote, but it has hallucinatory effects that, according to a promo recording from its creators, “even make the victim enjoy the experience.” Junk dealer/hacker Alvy (Mark Northover), whose mom caught a “dose” in the big war, makes an offhand comment of the toxin “smelling like apple pie”. Mo’s job,which apparently requires him to visit the zone often, is kept vague, although there are hints that he is some sort of military contractor. The film begins and ends with the voice of overbearing radio DJ Angry Bob (Iggy Pop), who after revealing that Mark 13’s creators have started an entire assembly of the killing machines, encourages everyone to get out there and get themselves a job. After all the nihilistic atmosphere, explicit sex, and gory kills, the movie is really a rant against the military-industrial-complex.

<em>This will be a hit at Burning Man!</em>

This will be a hit at Burning Man!

Some scenes involving the droid attacking people are shot rather clumsily; if you got a good look at the Mark 13, it appears more silly than threatening. I think Stanley recognized this and wisely edited so that the camera never lingers on the droid for too long. But there’s enough interesting stuff here to recommend – William Hootkins plays an utterly contemptible neighbor/voyeur who gets his comeuppance with drills to his eyes, and there is a gory sequence where a poor security guard (Oscar James) is sliced in half by mechanical doors. Lemmy turns up as a cab driver, and John Lynch as Shades is probably the most likable character; he approaches all the carnage with a certain zen-like calm. There’s also some good cinematography, punctuated by red hues, and the movie has a hyper-kinetic style not unlike the previously mentioned industrial music vids. To top it off there’s a rather nifty hallucination/death scene with religious overtones; as the victim watches the battle-bot recharging itself, it looks like some kind of angel or Virgin Mary figure. Then there’s the multiple references to rain, which is of course, cleansing in the literal and figurative sense.

Hardware has a low budget, rough edged demeanor that works in its favor, despite rather silly plot turns (like Jill managing to tap into Mark 13’s memory circuits to try to communicate, as if plugging a few connectors into a circuit board would accomplish that kind of job). I distinctly remember going to see this flick with my mother, of all people, resulting in a truly awkward experience. I believe we were mislead by the trailers, which tried to pass the movie off as a new “Terminator” type film – here we are thinking we are going into some kind of sci-fi actioner only to witness a splatterpunk/cyberpunk commentary on US militarism. Still, I think it holds up pretty well after all these years. Worth a look.

– Bill Gordon

Trivia: Hardware is based off a 2000 AD story called Shok, which had come out about 10 years prior. For this reason, some consider the film to be the first 2000 AD movie spin-off, followed later by Judge Dredd.

<em>This is why free health care is so important.</em>

This is why free health care is so important.

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