Monday, October 15, 2012

Halloween Holocaust: Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1990)

Somewhat continuing yesterday's adventures involving rampaging, robotic killing machines and steely, last-woman-standing protagonists, today's film certainly bears more than a passing resemblance to The Terminator, but is still, at the same time, very much its own thing. Written and directed by South African born visionary filmmaker, documentarian, anthropologist, and all round interesting gent, Richard Stanley, Hardware is modestly budgeted and therefore relatively intimate in its setting, but so incredibly stylish, visceral, though-provoking, and brimming over with interesting bits of world-building detail that you'd swear it cost much more than it actually did (a little under £1,000,000). 

The movie's vivid opening - filmed in Morocco at the end of the shoot (if memory serves) with a skeleton crew and the remainder of the budget - is undoubtedly instrumental in helping it to transcend it's slightly humble origins and become much more epic and expansive. Set against the backdrop of some seemingly unreal (but apparently authentic) irradiated, crimson skies, we enter the story following a nomadic scavenger, known as a zone tripper (maybe a slight nod to Tarkovsky's Stalker; Stanley is an admitted fan of Mirror) who has unearthed the remains of a droid and, figuring it might earn him a few bucks, takes it with him back to 'civilisation' to try and sell. The mysterious figure soon finds a willing buyer in the form of soldier 'Hard Mo' Baxter (Dylan McDermott) who is coming home for Christmas and needs a present for his somewhat estranged, scrap-metal sculptress girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis. Apparently, her character's name is a homage to Claudia Cardinale's in Once Upon a Time in the West) and obviously this particular curio seems the ideal purchase.

Needless to say, it isn't long before this supposedly defunct piece of rusting machinery reawakens. As it turns out, Jill's boyfriend has only gone and bought her a cutting edge, government sanctioned, over-population controlling (i.e. euthanising) machine of death. Furthermore, it hardly comes as a massive surprise that her other half is temporarily absent when this particular crisis arises. To make matters worse, her current best hope for assistance, a mutual friend of her's and Mo's called Shades (John Lynch), has literally just dropped an acid tab he was saving when he's called into the fray by his friends in need. The poor guy can barely get his pants on without falling over, let alone contemplate battling a crawling, clawing, mechanised deliverer of death. Thankfully though, Jill is more than capable of holding her own. 

The remainder of the movie plays out (as it was apparently intended, it seems) somewhat like an Italian horror variation (i.e. with Argentoesque lighting and Fulciesque gore) on The Terminator, with eschatological overtones and psychedelic stylings. I first encountered the film when I was right at the end of completing my degree, heavily sleep deprived (and therefore fading in and out of consciousness) and completely unaware of what to expect, due to the films obscurity/unavailability on DVD at the time. This was a strangely ideal state in which to initially experience it; sort of akin to a trip in itself. Thankfully, numerous later viewings, in a considerably more lucid mindset, haven't dulled this potent, transporting effect for me. 

The production values are uniformly excellent, further raising the prestige of the picture; it seems like it was a labour of love for all involved. The acting's more than competent across the board, but Stacey Travis excels especially as the ballsy heroine. Richard Stanley's direction gives the film a hyper-real, shell-shocked quality that is hardly surprising seeing as he'd just returned from Afghanistan after nearly dying during the siege of Jalalabad. Finally, fans of heavy music (in the broad sense) have plenty to enjoy here, from the excellent, electronic and instrumental score from Simon Boswell, to the inclusion of tracks from Ministry and Public Image Ltd, and capping it all off, hilarious cameos from Iggy Pop as a radio DJ called Angry Bob ("The man with the industrial dick!") and Lemmy as the driver of an amphibious taxi.  

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