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Savant Blu-ray Review

1990 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 93 min. / Street Date October 13, 2009 / 34.95
Starring Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Iggy Pop, Carl McCoy, Mark Northover, Paul McKenzie.
Steven Chivers
Film Editor Derek Trigg
Original Music Simon Boswell
Written by Richard Stanley, Michael Fallon
Produced by JoAnne Sellar, Paul Trijbits
Directed by Richard Stanley

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

No flesh shall be spared!

Ridley Scott and Jim Cameron's Alien pictures and Cameron's own The Terminator took mainstream Sci-Fi sideways into horror thriller territory. Every low-budget filmmaker from Charles Band to Roger Corman came forward with high-tech monsters bathed in colored lights and smoke, prowling industrial wastelands to claim their victims. One of the best of these is Richard Stanley's 1990 Hardware, an independent British film that ballooned in cost and collected a number of outside producing entities, including Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

Stanley's film is a simplification of an amateur Super-8 production he based on a story by Steve McManus and Kevin O'Neill. In a post-apocalyptic society, unemployed drifter Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott, In the Line of Fire) roams the desert looking for discarded electronics to sell for scrap. He buys an interesting-looking metallic skull and hand from another scavenger and gives them to his girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis), to use in her metal sculptures. The skull is part of a still-functioning prototype called a M.A.R.K. 13. The killing robot is programmed to relieve the overpopulation problem in this dystopic future; it assembles a new body from junk in Jill's workshop, locks the doors and moves in for the kill.

Hardware has earned a strong reputation as a horror shocker. It's quite elaborately produced for a film largely taking place in one location. Stanley's art directors sketch a convincing Philip K. Dick - style ruined future. Scenes outside Jill's apartment are filtered orange to indicate the unhealthy atmosphere. Jill's run-down apartment building is all security and no amenities, with the only entrance a heavy duty blast door. Stanley uses news video and computer screens to detail daily life and show the mess society's in -- public TV is promoting a new program which turns out to be a scheme to loose killer robots to thin out the excess population. When the robot menace gets into gear, the film becomes an efficiently edited barrage of violent action, often accompanied by backlit strobe lighting through smoke and steam. Hardware is a relatively inexpensive show yet never seems limited by its budget.

The movie isn't particularly original, as fans will have no difficulty picking out elements lifted from a long list of precursors: The Road Warrior, Demon Seed, Alien, The Terminator, RoboCop, Blade Runner and even Die Hard. Making a big difference, actress Stacey Davis proves to be an arresting heroine and a take-charge monster fighter in the Sigourney Weaver mold. Jill does her share of screaming and dodging various robotic weapons that include a crushing claw, a buzzsaw and a somewhat preposterous pulsating appendage that threatens to rape her. Ms. Davis really gets her rage on: if the viewer's idea of fun is facing off against a murderous robot with nothing but guts and a ball bat, Hardware will be the thrill ride of choice.

In his interview material Stanley and Co. cop to loading Hardware with every exploitation element known to cult filmdom -- there's a sex scene (originally intercut with questionable Holocaust footage), a shower scene and a slobbering voyeur pervert next door (William Hootkins Jr., "Red Six" in the original Star Wars). As this is an uncut presentation, some moments are over-the-top gory. The sex dialogue is as rough as the metal claws ripping apart human faces: I can already predict genre critics reaching for "meaning" by describing Hardware's fetishistic excess as a robotic variation on J.G. Ballard's man-machine-penetration-trauma theme.

Dylan McDermott's okay hero proves not to be of much use in what turns out to be a series of multiple climaxes. Perhaps limited by the budget, not enough is made of Mo's dishonesty with Jill -- he tells her that he's still a working space pilot, when he's been fired long before. Mo is fitted with a robot replacement hand that doesn't figure too much in the finished story either -- the film has been streamlined to favor Jill. Stacey Travis has won a number of roles in good movies but she really shines in Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World.

Severin's Blu-ray of Hardware is a quality product with a careful transfer that wipes away memories of inferior older video releases: it's a good-looking and artfully filmed shock show. Severin gives this grunge sci-fi horror movie loving treatment in the extras department. Laid back director Richard Stanley offers a full commentary and contributes to a nearly feature-length docu by David Gregory. It delves into the back story of rock video director Stanley coming together with some young film exhibitor-distributors, all of whom were post-punk entrepreneurs. They still come off as nonconformists 25 years later, explaining the crooked road Hardware took to the screen. Talented cinematographer Steven Chivers has the look of a past-expiration-date rock 'n' roller, still intense about his craft.

Director Stanley returns in an overlong monologue about his plans for a proposed sequel, Hardware 2. He explains a bit too defensively that the original film would be much better-known now, if not for legal difficulties that took it out of circulation soon after its initial release. Twenty years later, Hardware can easily hold its own against today's slick sci-fi horror efforts.

Three of the director's short films are included. One of the two long-ish homemade Super-8 epics is actually a dry run for Hardware with many of the story elements intact. The third video piece from 2006, The Sea of Perdition, is slickly produced (and transferred HD) but not very compelling.

The deleted and extended scenes presented in a ragged VHS transfer show some "fun" romping between Jill & Moses that actress Stacey Travis regrets was not retained for the final cut.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Hardware Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Richard Stanley commentary, documentary No Flesh Shall Be Spared, Stanley short films Incidents in an Expanding Universe, The Sea of Perdition, Rites of Passage, Stanley interview on Hardware 2, deleted, extended scenes, original promo.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 7, 2009

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the
2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.

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