The longer it remains unavailable through conventional means, the bigger its cache seems to get. Much like the state of the art trash languishing underneath the red, desolate landscape in this film, Hardware (a.k.a. M.A.R.K. 13) seems to gain power with each passing year. An industrial curiosity during my William Gibson-fueled days as a semi-productive member of society, I recall that my desire to see this film in theatres was quite pronounced back when it came out in 1990. However, since seeing movies in a public setting between the years 1987-1992 was inexplicably frowned upon, I had to give it a pass. I did cut out the film's newspaper ad as a keepsake. Fast-forward to 1998, when the opportunity arises yet again to see its metallic glow on the big screen when it plays a week long cult horror film festival. Unfortunately, my disinterest in the horror/sci-fi genre at the time prevented me from producing the required amount of motivational moxie. So the scrappy film remained unseen. Well, my never-ending quest to become less lame has gotten a little easier, as the arid red dust of this deadly robot gone amok tale, that is an allegory for the breakdown of civil order, has finally been stepped on by my eyeballs. Yep, I can finally stand up and say that I have seen Richard Stanley's strange ode to the not-so distant future. Taking place in a dystopian time frame where peeping toms use infrared, scrap metal is currency, and getting swept by Geiger counter has replaced hugs and handshakes, the film depicts a world where hope is nonexistent and the government is untrustworthy.
Living in this world are Moses (Dylan McDermott), a metal-handed junk merchant, and his girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis), a chick whose hands love to work with fire and steel (everything in this universe is metal-based). One day, a scavenging nomad (Carl McCoy from Fields of Nephilim) delivers to them a giant bag of mysterious robot parts that he found buried in the desert. It turns out though that these robot parts have a bit of a sinister past, and that they're quite dangerous. Of course, Jill is left all alone in her bunker-like apartment when the M.AR.K. 13 (its official nomenclature) starts to rebuild itself through sheer ingenuity (it taps into the buildings power supply). Armed with a ghoulish array of stabbing and cutting instruments, and boasting a steadfast dedication to self-preservation, the glorified tin can causes the attractive blowtorch enthusiast to think on her feet in order not to end up being killed by the aforementioned accoutrements (which include a drill and a buzz saw).
Staying on the topic of Jill and her cybernetic encounter; Hardware may have started off as a visionary yarn about a post-apocalyptic netherworld, but when you cast aside all the high-minded pretense, what you're essentially left with is a gritty and claustrophobic flick about a feisty girl vs. a harebrained robot. Now, I'm not complaining or anything like that, because what this means is that the phenomenal Stacey Travis is given the rare opportunity to get in touch with her plucky side and kick some serious metallic butt.
Best known to me as Tammy from Earth Girls Are Easy and Seymour's short-lived girlfriend from Ghost World, Stacey is tremendous as the combative Jill. Whether she was using a blowtorch on doll parts to the strains of Ministry's "Stigmata" or swinging a baseball bat in the general direction of a deranged clump of circuits, the underused actress made a deep impression on me. Take, for example, the scene where she casually puts the fire that is burning on her right arm, her nonchalance was absolutely exquisite.
On top of Stacey's superb performance, the film's cyberpunk aesthetic (lot's of wires and metal mixed with unwashed flesh), brief clips of Psychic Televison (plus Sogo Ishii's Halber Mensch and other weirdness), an infrared sex scene, gory deaths (the abundant arterial spray was a nice touch), and the double usage of the supercool "Order of Death" by Public Image Ltd ("This is what you want, this is what you get") also solidified my love of this crunchy film.