A mysterious man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and breathing apparatus walks the red hot desert wastes of a post-apocalyptic Earth. He is a Nomad and he finds a metal skull buried in the sand, a few feet away from a cautiously twitching metal hand. The Nomad takes the salvage into the city where he sells it to Mo (Dylan McDermott), an opportunistic young scavenger. The skull and its assorted parts are probably from a maintenance droid. They’re junk. But Mo has plans for them.

Skyscrapers are shrouded in radioactive mist. The ever-present DJ talks of a population control bill and sterilisation centres. A water cab sluices its way through stagnant water, taking Mo to his girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) who lives in a locked-down apartment building that resembles a war zone.

Jill is a sculptress and Mo gives her the skull as a present – maybe she can make an ashtray out of it or something. But as Mo and Jill make love it’s obvious that the skull is very much alive. Its eyes glow red as it watches them.

The skull is not their only observer. Beyond the bedroom wall a pervert neighbour takes photographs.

The skull is part of a deadly military cyborg – the M.A.R.K. 13, aptly named after a passage in the Bible that includes the warning ‘No flesh shall be spared’ – and when Jill paints it in stars and stripes and places it at the heart of her latest sculpture, she doesn’t realise that Mo’s departing comment “Things are going to get worse before they get better” is an omen of the nightmare to come. As Jill sleeps, M.A.R.K. 13’s skull begins to assemble itself a body from the pile of wreckage the Nomad found in the desert, powering up its multi-faceted combat system: an assortment of knives, saws, deadly poisons and chemical weapons. Jill wakes, just in time to see the M.A.R.K. 13 looming above her. Its deadly saw-bladed hand strikes and shreds the mattress where she was lying.

By the time Mo realises the danger Jill’s in, it’s too late. The M.A.R.K. 13 has shut off the power supply so that Jill can’t escape her apartment and now she’s defenceless with the M.A.R.K. 13 mercilessly stalking her. The remainder of the story is a brutal and brilliant cat-and-mouse game and Jill must use all her wits to survive.

‘Hardware’ was Richard Stanley’s first feature film, a stunning debut that oozes auteur style and fierce cyberpunk imagination. His screenplay, based on a story from the British comic book ‘2000AD’, is an excellent piece of writing – economical but muscular, with a clever knack of taking us to places we’ve been before but surprising us nevertheless. And his direction is superb. ‘Hardware’ was shot on a very low budget but Stanley does more with his camera than you’ll see in most Hollywood blockbusters. His control of the lens, his excellent use of light and dark, colour and sound, and his ability to ramp up the tension and never let it go is awesome. In my opinion ‘Hardware’ captures the post-apocalyptic atmosphere better than George Miller did in ‘Mad Max’ and its environments and cityscapes – although much smaller in scope – are on an imaginative par with anything from ‘Blade Runner’. Of all films, ‘Hardware’ probably owes its most obvious debt to James Cameron’s original ‘Terminator’ but, again, I’d say this is a far better movie. Whenever I watch one of Stanley’s films I always wonder what might have happened had he been granted the opportunities of someone like Cameron or Ridley Scott but unfortunately, after his career was derailed by the highly-publicised carnage of ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’, Stanley disappeared into the wilderness.

I still haven’t given up hope he’ll make a comeback.

Unfortunately, Brightspark’s ‘Hardware 25th Anniversary’ DVD (also available on Blu-Ray) is a disappointment. The film looks and sounds terrific but there are no extras, no commentary, not even subtitles. Apparently some art cards are included in the package but they weren’t in my set. It’s a completely wasted opportunity and a film as important as this deserves better.

DVD Review: Hardware
5/5 for the film, but a mere 2/5 for the disc
5.0Overall Score
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About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white