Hardware (1990), or Robot Rumpus

25 02 2009
Hey, guess what! The future is here, and it sucks! Again!

Hey, guess what! The future is here, and it sucks for us! Again!

Hello, all! Sorry, but Comedy Week had to be unceremoniously cut short. I know, I know. Let’s try to remember the good times, like when I chortled vigorously at Wet Hot American Summer, or when I went on a drinking binge after sitting through Gigli. Good times. But forget about that! We have to move on from all that hilarity and get serious.

But before we can move on, before I can move on, I have to do something that has been on my plate for a long time. Long-time friend of Cinematronica Stephen has been requesting this hard-to-find, seemingly unknown movie from 1990 called Hardware for about as long as I have talked about doing this 365 movie project. Well, as much as I try to satisfy everyone, this ended up being quite the challenge. Finding it was nearly impossible to begin with. And, yes, I know that I could watch it for free on Youtube with this link and that it would have saved me an hour of my life searching for a hard copy. But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to do that. I like finding difficult, hard-to-find movies because there’s nothing like that day it comes in the mail. It’s like Christmas, only hard-to-find movies aren’t predicated on lies and superstition (BURN!). Anyway, while scouring the endless bazaar of rare movie sites (or, as I like to call it, Junk Mountain), I tried the ol’ reliable, Amazon, and they had one copy out of three for only 15 bucks! You know how much the other two cost each? Uh, about $148.99!! Ha! I laugh at those exorbitant prices! So after weeks of waiting, Christmas came in February and I had the movie, warm with travel and in my hand!

And, not to go on a rant, but looking at the DVD I began to notice a sickening trend with all these rare films, and that is the ridiculous bare-bones quality they all have. All Hardware has on the DVD is a German trailer and 8 seconds of deleted scenes which is also introduced in German! What the fuck is up with that? Did all the extra footage get dropped into Khazad-Dûm? Were all the cast and crew so well paid that they couldn’t stop for ten minutes to do a featurette before they went to go swimming in freshly minted $100 bills? There aren’t even subtitles! How long does that take, honestly? If I’m going to spend two hours on the computer like a bump on the idiot-log searching for a vendor, then shell out 50 bucks for an obscure film that will never come out in America any other way, THEN wait anywhere from two to three weeks to find a torn, beat-up envelope on my front doorstep that looks like it just came back from the first World War, then would you assholes in the rare movie industry please, PLEASE, PLEASE pull the director aside and have him do a commentary track? It’s all I ask.

Oh, and Hardware? I almost forgot!

Well, it’s the 21’st century (THE FUTURE!!!!), and America is totally devastated by an undisclosed nuclear disaster. People have to make a living any way they can, and many times that includes scavenging the technology of the past. One disturbing fellow, called a Zone Tripper, finds the menacing remains of a robot (it is called a cyborg, but since there there are no organic mechanisms implemented into the device, let’s just assume they wanted it to sound cooler than just a plain ol’ robot) in the distant, post-apocalyptic desert. This intimidating fellow comes to sell his scrap at the typical oddball junk broker in town, but at the counter he meets an interested buyer named Mo and his goofy friend Shades. Mo is a Space Marine (THE FUTURE!!!) on leave who decides that his girlfriend Jill would like the parts due to her hobby in metal sculpturing (excuse me?). He buys the head and a few other assorted parts for 50 future-bucks and takes off after commiserating with the oddball scrap dealer about the weird robot and how everything sucks in the future. He brings the parts to his girlfriend, she is happy, they have sex. A perv watches them from some crappy pixelated future telescope (a perv besides me), but this seemingly important detail dead-ends quickly, so forget it. Anyway, post-coitus, Mo gets a call from the junk dealer in the dead of night telling him that something is up with the robot, something worth a lot of money. He tells him to bring the rest of the creepy metal menace with him and come back to the shop immediately. He gets up quickly and goes to the shop, but not sensing the real urgency of the situation, he doesn’t bring the parts. And that leaves Jill all alone with the robot head. What Mo finds is that the robot is a government experiment and that its primary capability is killing. He also learns that the robot can regenerate itself with various scrap, and that leaving it at the house of a metal sculptress was the worst possible thing he could have done. Oops! Will the robot revive itself and kill our plucky Space Marine’s girlfriend? Will Mo be able to get back to his girl’s apartment in time? And will Jill be asked to present any of her metal sculptures in an art gallery of the future?

Well, I have to say that, despite my utterly hilarious asides during the quick plot recap, this movie wasn’t bad. It was breezy, very streamlined. This is a cyberpunk horror movie about a robot run amok, simple as that. Usually, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi likes to wax poetic and lament on our ever-dwindling lack of human compassion and kindness toward our Mother Earth. And I don’t have a problem with that, but when your movie is actually about a killer robot and not about the fate of man’s heart as we hurtle deeper into the future, perhaps being an armchair philosopher is not par for the course. The plot is based on a story in the British comic staple 2000 A.D. called SHOK! Walter’s Robo-Tale, and it certainly takes the cyberpunk vibe from that series and really goes with it despite a $1.5 million budget. Incidentally, that is a comic series I am interested in starting up on, so any readers feeling up to schooling me, leave me a reply for this film!

The cast and crew are decent for a shoestring budget. Director Richard Stanley is quite good at working something out of nothing, and out of thin air he pulls a cybernetic rabbit with all the working parts in order. I am impressed, and I hope to see more from him soon. Our Space Marine hero Mo is played by a young Dylan McDermott, with this as only his fifth movie, only his second as a leading man. He is hunky and handsome and all that jazz, but I find him insufferably slick, even in the future. I cannot believe this guy has ever been in something other than a soap opera, and his performances can’t either because he plays cool so close to the chest in this movie I thought for a moment he turned into the Fonz. I have never liked him, and while I tolerated him in this movie, he is no leading man for me. Stacey Travis is Jill, the uh… metal sculptress. She has done a lot of bit parts, and this looks to be one of her only leading lady roles. She does a good job. I am in no hurry to watch her in anything else, but I think she deserves a little more recognition. They don’t even spell her name right on the DVD box!

The robot really sells this movie. Called the M.A.R.K. 13, it is a creepy creation that the designers should be proud of. It freaked me out on a number of occasions. It is scary not only because of it’s skull-like head, but its malformed hodge-podge body. And when it kills people, it rips into them. There is blood everywhere during a kill sequence, and I was a little shocked at how long they linger on the brutality. They were excited about the effects, and I can see why. It skulks around Jill’s cramped apartment at inconsistent speeds, much like the conveniently fast creature from Alien, but I won’t hold that against it too much. It still creates a palpable claustrophobia with its relentless pursuit of life, and that is the whole point, isn’t it?

And now the entire reason Stephen wanted me to talk about this movie (yes, buddy, I’m outing you). Hardware features a number of cameos from rock and roll royalty. Carl McCoy, lead singer of Fields of the Nephilim, makes an appearance as the Zone Tripper. He is the only character on the DVD box, and he is very intimidating. Unfortunately, his screen time can’t even be calculated. He only has one line, a throw-away one at that. Sorry, Stephen, but it’s even shorter than we thought. Lemmy is also in the movie as a boat-cab driver. He plays his own band’s song, Ace of Spades, on the car-boat radio and reminisces on the good old days when you only needed to carry a knife with you when you walked downtown (?). And Iggy Pop is Angry Bob, an unseen radio DJ who is angry about being in a dystopia. he is typically obnoxious, but not nearly as bad as an actual DJ. GWAR can also be seen on a television set doing weird things on stage. All of these are unbelievably short, but whatever gets you on IMDB, right guys?

So if you like cyberpunk dystopian movies like Demolition Man or Judge Dredd or extremely short rock and roll cameos, well click that link I posted earlier and sit back! You’ll love this one. Otherwise, it’s not bad, but on such a small budget and with a very lean script there is not much movie beyond the robot, so Youtuber beware! I give Hardware 6 metal sculptures out of 10!

See you tomorrow, for the PSA, where we get lost in Buffalo ’66!

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