It’s hard to believe that Richard Stanley’s Hardware is celebrating its 25th anniversary. This science fiction horror marked Stanley’s directorial debut and it showed him to be a unique voice in the world of genre filmmaking. Stanley was on the path to great things with his follow-up feature Dusk Devil also garnering acclaim. However things came crashing to a halt in 1995 when he took the helm for an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. Stanley was fired just days into shooting the ill-fated Marlon Brando–Val Kilmer starrer, only to be replaced by John Frankenheimer. The resulting film was a critical and commercial failure and Stanley seemed infuriated and betrayed by what happened and so he retreated back to the world of experimental filmmaking.
Hardware is an impressive calling card on a visual level and Stanley’s low-fi mix of The Terminator and Blade Runner still looks good a quarter of a century on. It’s the story that lacks originality, but that was even the case back in 1990 when comic book 2000 AD sued Stanley and company for plagiarism over the film’s similarities to its seven page story SHOK!. Both feature a female artist threatened by a crazed, self-repairing robot. This comic book sensibility permeates Stanley’s film and it’s probably something which helped it become a cult classic.
Hardware features an odd-ball cast, with the leading man that never was, Dylan McDermottt, playing second fiddle to Stacy Travis’s harassed artist, while John Lynch and William Hootkins offer quirky support. Stanley also called in few favours and managed to score musicians Iggy Pop and Motorhead’s Lemmy for cameos. This may not be the best thing that any of these people have done, but it might just be the most curious.
Computer generated effects have pretty much wiped out films like Hardware and it’s great watching the Richard Stanley’s film in the digital era. It has a gritty tangibility about it and it feels that you could almost reach out and touch the hardware in the well realised world that Stanley has created. It’s a total product of its era and that’s what makes Hardware worth watching today.