In the ’90s we were really worried about killer robots wielding sex toys: “Hardware”

September 8, 2013


In 1990’s Hardware inexplicably got a theatrical release. I’m not sure why. It was clearly made on shoestring budget with no bankable actors, but, whatever. George H. W. Bush was in the White House, the Berlin Wall had fallen…everything was up for grabs. Today, Hardware has long (well, 20 years) been considered a lost classic. Personally, I think this praise is a bit inflated. Yes, Hardware was made for a relatively low budget, and has a ‘90s industrial soundtrack, but that hardly makes it the next coming of Blade Runner. I mean, when you get right down to it, the movie’s awfully silly and the people in it are much, much sillier. You can hose down the sets with as much blood as you want and crank up the Motorhead on the soundtrack, and you’re still just talking about a traditional “Robot-meet-girl; Robot-tries-to-kill-girl; Robot-is-hopelessly-inept-at-killing-girl” story.

So, Hardware takes place in a post-apocalyptic future; one in which only cities survived. Wait, what the hell kind of nuclear apocalypse is that? They couldn’t even hit the cities? Well, anyway, the movie begins with a scavenger in the nuclear wasteland coming across the pieces of a robot. He promptly takes them back to a trading post in the nearby city to sell. The movie is already off to a weak start since, A) the scavenger is dressed like a Goth Hasidic Jew (apparently, wide-brimmed, black hats protect you in the wasteland), and B) I gotta wonder at the logic of bringing back junk from the radioactive wasteland. Wouldn’t it be, you know, radioactive?

Oh well, no sense getting bogged down in details. We got a killer robot to unleash. That happens when the robot pieces are bought by a wandering soldier named Mo (Dylan McDermott), and his buddy Shades (he wears sunglasses all the time, so his name is Shades—because he wears sunglasses…so his name is Shades…yeah, the movie is clever that way).  Mo buys the pieces as a peace offering for his girlfriend Jill (Stacy Travis), who sculpts in scrap metal. Mo keeps leaving on contracts, and Jill’s tired of it, but Mo figures bringing her a robot skull will turn up the heat in their relationship a little bit.

And it does. Next thing you know, the two of them are going at it like cyber-bunnies, while her obese, sweaty neighbor watches her through futuristic binoculars and masturbates. You know, here is where the creative process of the film really loses me. I mean, at what point does it seem reasonable to put a disgusting sex-criminal in your movie? Really, did they think that would make it more watchable? Was there one really convincing dude hanging out during the writing phase who was all like, “Know what we need more of? Need more fat, sweaty, perverted voyeur jacking off. Not enough of that in movies these days.”

Okay, so Mo gets called away by his buddy the junk dealer, who has discovered that the robot parts are pieces of an experimental killer-robot called the M.A.R.K 13. The 13 has an impressive array of weapons, from cutting tools to a psychotropic neurotoxin, but were pulled from service when it was discovered that they were susceptible to water-damage. Apparently, this contract was awarded to the aliens in Signs. Now, the junk dealer could have told Mo this over the phone along with a friendly word of advice about getting the hell out of there, but no. He gives Mo the whole “I can’t talk about this on the phone” BS, which nicely gets Mo out of the apartment when the 13 comes back to life and begins reassembling itself.

The 13 reassembles itself pretty quickly (especially since it doesn’t have any tools—not even one of those little IKEA wrenches), and promptly attacks Jill’s bed (she’s not in it). It really goes to town, too, just kills the hell out of it (so it can’t get wet and attacks beds…who bought this weapons system? Why? Did they get a free hat with it or something?) Jill misses the whole bed-attacking incident, but does notice that the power is pretty much scotched to the whole apartment  (the 13 is powering up), but before she can investigate further, the pervert voyeur from next door shows up. I think he meant to rape her, but instead he helps get her power back online (say this for him, he’s a helpful pervert/rapist). After he does, the 13 smashes through a window and rams his metal, robot-fingers through the dudes eyes (get it? Irony!) then 13 disembowels him with what can only be described as a spinning dildo. (Okay, it breaks when it gets wet, attacks a bed, and is armed with a spinning dildo…seriously, who bought this thing? Where did they find it? Was it on sale at Toys in Babeland?) The handy pervert is promptly ripped apart in a tsunami of stage blood. Yeah, it’s a money shot if there ever was.

From here, Hardware turns into the cat-and-mouse game it promised all along as Jill must fend off the 13 in time for Mo, Shades, and some other dudes to try and break in and save her. The movie picks up steam at this point, but doesn’t get a whole lot smarter. They kill the robot, like, seven times before it’s fully dead (and I’ll let you guess what finally does it in), and it slaughters a bunch more people. We do get to see the neurotoxin at work, and it apparently causes the victim to see in a fisheye lens and hear choral music on the soundtrack.  Jill and Mo even work out their couples issues as Mo tearfully admits that he’s been kicked out of the military (and given the way he responds to a threat by firing a shotgun indiscriminately in all directions, you can kinda see why). The scene would be a bit more touching if it didn’t take place about five feet away from three or four grotesquely mutilated corpses.

Hardware was written and directed by music-video director Richard Stanley, and he approaches this movie from a visual-heavy perspective. The story is slight enough, but whenever Stanley feels the inertia slipping, he throws in some random video clips from the TV (including one of GWAR—guess they survived the apocalypse). As a result, Hardware is heavy on style over substance—even if the budget doesn’t really allow that style to be fully realized. The movie gives us an ecologically-devastated landscape, which results in a 120+ degree heat wave. It makes for great red-filtered shots to convey the heat, but then why does everyone wear overcoats or leather jackets? According to the news, the government is pushing an ominous population-control bill, but wouldn’t under-population be a bigger concern? Maybe, but that’s just not sexy-dystopian enough.

And if the Earth is wrecked, where does everyone get so much hair product? So, GWAR and hair product are the big winners in the post-nuclear holocaust future? That’s kind of depressing.

[Sidebar: Okay, really…how did the sales pitch for this weapons system go?

SALES GUY: So here is the M.A.R.K 13 killer robot. It’s got a bunch of arms and head shaped like a skull!

MILITARY GUY: I love the skull idea!

SALES GUY: Yeah, and it’s armed with an array of blades and saws on the arms…

MILITARY GUY: Right! And guns and rockets and stuff? Maybe a flame-thrower?

SALES GUY: Ah, well, no…it might carry a gun…oh, no it’s fingers are too big. But hey, it’s got a neurotoxin it injects in your target. Makes them trip balls while they die! Cool, huh?

MILITARY GUY: Toxin…injects…why would we need that on the battlefield? We need something that can kill a lot of people at once!

SALES GUY: Well, hey, it’s got a drilling tool that disembowels people, too.

MILITARY GUY: Lemme say again: rockets, missiles, bullets, long-range devastating weapons you can use against an army…

SALES GUY: The drill is shaped like a dildo.

MILITARY GUY: Okay, I think we’re done here.

SALES GUY: You can’t get it wet. It breaks if it gets wet.

MILITARY GUY: Please leave now.]

Next we look at the prescience of I Come in Peace.

One comment

  1. I saw this movie back in the early 90’s when I was a teenager thinking it looked interesting. I have seen a lot of movies in my life. Nothing has topped Hardware as the worst movie ever made.

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