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Ten Word or Less Review: Terminator, in a room.

James Cameron’s classic Terminator spawned scores of imitating, cheesy, low-budget rip-offs no one recalls.  I’d look up some exact names but I’m sure they involve words like Cyborg it the title and feature ‘actors’ who probably manage Los Angeles gyms or car rental outlets today.  Regardless, one such knock off of a sort was 1990’s Hardware, an off color, low-budget effort directed by young South African Richard Stanley.  On paper Hardware is ridiculously slight and silly.  Man brings girlfriend broken robot, broken robot fixes self and tries to kill girlfriend.  But in execution Hardware is a funky little piece of junk cinema that may make fans out of those who give half a chance.

In Hardware we once again find ourselves in the future, and once again the future sucks.  I’m not sure an outright Apocalypse has transpired but the world is perpetually coated in a red toxic fog, millions are jobless and the government wants people to sterilize themselves to control population.  You know things must be pretty foul for the world when Lemmy Kilmister works as a taxi driver and people spray paint goats for fun.  Outside the city lies a barren wasteland of desert strewn with garbage which nomads scour for scrap metal.  One such nomad finds a strange, busted robot and sells it to Mo (Dylan McDermott), a fellow nomad/soldier passing through town to check on his psuedo girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis).  Jill’s a secluded artist of sorts and Mo knows she’ll dig this freaky collection of robot parts.  The story lingers on them for a while and the two have a hot, lusty sex scene.  Will someone please bring sex back to movies.  Anyone?  It also establishes a creepy, peeping Tom neighbor who constantly photographs Jill and makes obscene video calls to her.  Then the robot reassembles itself Iron Giant style and immediately goes into kill mode.  Jill is trapped in her apartment with the killbot and subsequently does her damnedest to survive.

There’s no great performance or spiky dialogue to admire in Hardware.  This is B-movie material in the truest sense of the term.  The star of the piece is Stacey Travis and like the sci-fi tradition demands, she’s the tough, gutsy survivor type, but Travis is a somewhat aloof performer.  She doesn’t have much command of the screen and her chemistry with McDermott doesn’t go much past the physical.  The screenplay occasionally grasp at deeper straws but nothing really comes out of them.  What distinguishes Hardware is the scrappy, crappy style in which it was made and constructed.

Director Stanley mostly confines his story to Jill’s apartment, dims the lights and builds the atmosphere.  The movie, like it’s killer robot, looks to have been stitched together out of discarded sets and force of will of those participating.  In some way it’s as if Stanley cataloged every iconic moment from Terminator and convincingly figured out a way to make an equivalent scene take place in one spot.  He even models his homicidal droid a bit after Stan Winston’s classic T-100 skeletal robot killer.  Armed with saws, drills and poison, the hardware of the title resembles something out of a low budget science fiction movie made by ambitious minds with no money.  So I guess it looks spot on.  It’s American flag decorated skull is really the only part of it we ever see with much clarity.  The machine lumbers around like as if its ankles are broken, part costume, part puppet.  Stanley and his crew clearly don’t feel confident in showing off their killer machine in full frontal fashion so it remains an edited collection of sharp edges, saws, needles and glowing red eyes.

Hardware  is never going to have legions of fans who express such undying love for it they tattoo its killer robot on their ass.  It’s simply a gritty, weird little sci-fi flick that has managed to hold the attention of just enough movie watchers to stick around while its lesser brethren have faded away.  It’s on Blu Ray so it’s super grainy, low budget look has been miraculously captured and detailed to make its dated and crappy appearance look as good as it possibly can.


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