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Hardware (Optimum Releasing) 
Written by: on August 7th, 2009

Theatrical Release Date: UK, October, 1990
Director: Richard Stanley
Writer: Richard Stanley
Cast: Stacey Travis, Dylan McDermott, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Iggy Pop (voice only)

DVD released: June 22nd, 2009
Approximate running time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: N/A
DVD Release: Optimum Releasing
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £19.99

Synopsis: A post-apocalyptic future: a scavenger searches the desert wastelands for materials and discovers, amongst the remnants of a battle, the skull of an android that is signified as ‘Mark 13’. Emerging from the wilderness into over-crowded urban decay, the remains find their way into the possession of Jill, an artist holed up in an apartment block closed off from the pollution-ravaged outside world. She creates art pieces with scrap metal and uses the Mark 13 elements for her latest work – but what Jill doesn’t realize is this android was build by the military to be the ultimate killing machine, able to adapt and rebuild itself out of anything under any conditions. Jill’s lover Mo, a military employee who brought the Mark 13 to her, learns of the android’s capabilities as it begins to absorb total control of the apartment. As Mo races through the city to protect Jill, she is unaware of the android’s activities and that she is simultaneously being stalked by a neighbor with degenerate intentions for her.

Co-produced by Palace Pictures and Miramax Films, HARDWARE was a major triumph for both these independent companies as well as the British film industry in general, which was struggling mightily during the early nineties. Richard Stanley had to date only helmed music videos, short films and documentaries shot on Super 8 and 16mm prior to HARDWARE but the financiers could see that the youthful writer-director was clearly an exceptional talent. Shot by an enthusiastic but largely inexperienced crew for approximately £800,000 (a meager amount for an effects-leaden genre film), it opened in America on 700 prints and rated as number six at the US box office on its first week. Eventually going on to gross £6,000,000, HARDWARE hailed 24 year-old Stanley as a director to watch and became an instant ‘cult’ favorite when released on video.

In an interview on Subversive Cinema’s DUST DEVIL disc, Stanley describes the screenplay of HARDWARE as “one of the poorest scripts I’ve ever written” and was completed in one week out of sheer frustration. According to Stanley, it is essentially a compilation of every element suggested by financiers after all of his other potential projects had been rejected, and on face value, the film is heavily derivative of just about every popular genre film of the period such as BLADE RUNNER, THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS. However, what makes HARDWARE so impressive is the way Stanley warps and molds these components into a picture that relates closer to his own cinematic influences – stylistically, the film is closer to such Italian directors as Mario Bava and Dario Argento rather than Ridley Scott or James Cameron – while reflecting his own personal interests and perceptions (for a potentially mainstream picture, HARDWARE is intensely perverse in its depiction of sex, drugs and violence). The results are an aesthetically enthralling experience that ranks as one of the finest genre debut features of the 90s.

As arresting as Stanley’s visual style is, praise must be lauded to Stacey Travis, whose central performance as Jill gives HARDWARE the emotional core it sorely needs to ultimately prove effective. A compelling screen presence as well as a strong genre heroine – Stanley compares her scream to Fay Wray – Travis is able to eclipse her co-star Dylan McDermott who, as Jill’s lover Mo, is incredibly bland and his lack of enthusiasm in the project is painfully obvious. There is, however, strong support from John Lynch as Mo’s spaced-out friend Shades (who spends much of the film on an acid trip while trying to deal with the crisis at hand) and, as the personification of sleaze, William Hootkins as Jill’s voyeuristic neighbor. Hootkins, an ex-pat who appeared in countless British pictures whenever a brash American was needed, is genuinely creepy in the role and is one of the picture’s strongest attributes. There is also an amusing cameo from Lemmy, of the band Motorhead, while Iggy Pop contributes the voice of Angry Bob, the radio personality “with the industrial dick”.

The DVD:

For many years only available on DVD in an open-matte fullscreen transfer from Germany’s Laser Paradise, HARDWARE has been tangled up in legal limbo preventing it receiving a legitimate release…until now. Presented at its correct theatrical letterboxed ratio of 1:85:1, the image looks amazing. Baked in extreme levels of blacks, reds, and blues, HARDWARE has often proved problematic for home video since the visuals have often been rendered unstable (the original British video release from Palace Video was correctly letterboxed but the image appeared blotchy with the colors bleeding profusely). Optimum Releasing’s disc is possibly the best that HARDWARE has looked since its cinema presentation. With essentially no damage and a healthy amount of grain, this DVD looks great and is whole-heartedly recommended.

The audio is presented in its original Dolby stereo mix and is flawless, without any hiss or damage. The soundtrack, featuring an excellent score from Simon Boswell – a talented composer who worked on several Italian horror films for Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava as well as British pictures such as SHALLOW GRAVE and THE WAR ZONE – and music by Iggy Pop, Motorhead, Ministry, Luciano Pavarotti and Public Image Ltd, are nicely rendered in this DVD edition.

Since Optimum Releasing usually release their older titles onto DVD barebones – rarely even featuring a trailer – it’s great to see that the company has pushed the boat out for HARDWARE and have furnished it with some very interesting extras.

The audio commentary by director Richard Stanley and producer Paul Trijbits is a delight. Stanley is as engaging and intriguing to listen to as he is on the DUST DEVIL track (featured on Subversive Cinema’s American disc), but seems far more despondent during the recording of the HARDWARE commentary. The result is that he is dismissive towards producers, interference at various stages of production and changes imposed on the film, but also delves into explaining some of his creative ideas and has countless amusing anecdotes about members of the cast and crew. Trijbits, in contrast, is a diplomatic presence, illustrating the background of the film’s financing and trying to keep the commentary more positive, although his attempt to pass on praise from James Cameron to Stanley seems to annoy rather than please the director. Overall, it’s an entertaining listen, although it’s a pity that more issues could not have been addressed, such as the controversy over the 2000 A.D. story it is supposedly based upon (Anybody interested in learning more anecdotes from the making of HARDWARE should check out Angus Finney’s book THE EGOS HAVE LANDED: THE RISE AND FALL OF PALACE PICTURES). The forthcoming US Severin release will apparently feature a different commentary track so the one contained on Optimum’s DVD is exclusive to this edition.

There is a handful of deleted, extended and behind the scenes clips, sourced from crude VHS which are poor in quality but a welcome bonus. Most significantly is the additional material excused from the sex scene between Jill and Mo, which features real atrocity footage seen on a television screen (unsurprisingly, the producers requested this to be removed during the early stages of post-production). Also featured are several short films by Richard Stanley: RITES OF PASSAGE (10 minutes) and INCIDENTS IN AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE (44 minutes), which were shot on Super 8, are rough in quality but watchable, the latter film is the most intriguing since it features many elements that later appear in HARDWARE. VOICES OF THE MOON (30 minutes) is a fascinating documentary filmed during Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and has also appeared on Subversive Cinema’s disc of DUST DEVIL. THE SEA OF PERDITION (9 minutes) is a short sci-fi/horror film shot in 2006 which – in a positive way – proves to be a frustrating viewing since it makes one want to see what Stanley would do if he finds funding for another feature.

My review disc did not include the packaging, which apparently contains a booklet featuring the 2000 A.D. story SHOK!, notes by Kim Newman, and original storyboard artwork cards (some reports suggest that the booklet and cards will not be included in later issues of the DVD and their inclusion can only be identified by a sticker on the front cover).

One of the most inventive and imaginative debuts of the 1990s, HARDWARE makes is long-awaited official appearance on DVD. Excellently presented and loaded with worthwhile additional content, Optimum Releasing has released on disc one of the highlights of 2009.

Note: HARDWARE has also been released in Blu-Ray (PAL Region 2).

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