As I move towards 500 reviews here at the ISCFC, I’m taking a break from the normal run of our reviews to do some requests from friends and readers, culminating in number 500, which will be something special from my youth. Okay, this one in particular is no different to the normal rubbish we do, but thanks anyway to my friend Val for suggesting it.
There’s a well-known “scam” in low-budget movie circles, most often (allegedly) practiced by names you’ll have heard on here before like Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski. To sell distribution or home video rights to a movie, they’ll make a teaser, usually the first five minutes or so, and then when they’ve attracted money they’ll go ahead and make the rest of the film. So what’s the scam, I hear you ask? That teaser is often completely different to the finished movie, so that first five minutes will look big-budget and exciting and the rest of the film will be…not quite so big budget or exciting, allowing the filmmakers to pocket the difference. The perfect example is Ray’s “The Tomb”, which starts off as an Indiana Jones-style adventure before having 80 minutes or so of people standing round talking on the phone.
I’m not 100% sure that “Hardware” is one of those movies, with its Weinstein Brothers involvement (the reason the two leads are American, despite it being British-made), but there’s a definite substantial difference between the opening sequence and what comes after. A scavenger is out in the post-apocalyptic desert, and finds the remains of a robot which finds its way into the hands of Dylan McDermott, a slightly cleverer scavenger. He sells most of it to a junk dealer before giving the head to his girlfriend, an artist of sorts, and she – in perhaps the least subtle of this film’s many unsubtle messages – spray-paints it with the flag of the USA before putting it in her latest sculpture.
A substantial part of the movie is building that post-apocalyptic world, and they do a fine job of it. Everything is broken and filthy, the radiation from “the big one” is affecting more and more people, and voluntary sterilisation programs are in full effect. A red filter has been put on everything, which grates after a while (perhaps the effect they were going for, as I would not like to live like that), too.
So the robot head is a military prototype (M.A.R.K. 13 – also a bible verse talking about “No flesh shall be spared”) which can regenerate and repair itself, and as it wakes up it takes an interest in the woman it’s sharing a house with, handily killing her creepy neighbour, and so on, before going after McDermott and anyone else who wanders in. A good 90% of the movie takes place in her apartment, all junk-filled walls and flashing red lights, plus nightmare images on the TV and computer screens (inspired, apparently, by art-noise band Psychic TV).
It feels a bit like some wildly OTT melding of “Terminator” and “Alien”, only with a rather reduced scale. If it had been made maybe 5 years earlier, the punk aesthetic it had would have fit with movies like “Repo Man” and it might have worked better, the weirdly disjointed story an artistic choice rather than the necessity of budget. I think it’s more an interesting film than it is a great one, and my main problem with it is the way it seems to keep ending – there’s a big crescendo, and it feels like it’s wrapping up, but there’s half an hour to go…then it happens again, and again. It needed more stuff happening, which I think is at least partly a result of its inspiration being a short comic strip in the greatest comic of all time, “2000AD”.
Give it a go, I say. You might get a headache from the flashing lights but the awesome soundtrack choices will soothe you (Ministry, Motorhead and Public Image Ltd are all used), and you don’t get too many post-apocalyptic British sci-fi killer robot movies.
Rating: thumbs in the middle