Hardware (1990) Retrospective

SUMMARY
A nomad scavenger treks through an irradiated wasteland and discovers a buried robot. He collects the pieces and takes them to junk dealer Alvy, who is talking with ‘Hard Mo’ Baxter, a former soldier, and Mo’s friend Shades. When Alvy steps away, Mo buys the robot parts from the nomad and sells all but the head to Alvy. Intrigued by the technology, Alvy begins to research its background. Mo and Shades visit Jill, Mo’s reclusive girlfriend, and, after an initially distant welcome where Jill checks them with a Geiger counter, Mo presents the robot head as a Christmas gift. Jill, a metal sculptor, eagerly accepts the head. After Shades leaves, they have sex, while being unknowingly watched by their foul-mouthed, perverted, voyeuristic neighbor Lincoln Weinberg via telescope.

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Later, Mo and Jill argue about a government sterilization plan and the morality of having children. Jill works the robot head into a sculpture, and Mo says that he likes the work, but he does not understand what it represents. Frustrated, Jill says it represents nothing and resents Mo’s suggestion that she make more commercial art to sell. They are interrupted by Alvy, who urges Mo to return to the shop, as he has important news about the robot, which he says is a M.A.R.K. 13. Before he leaves, Mo checks his Bible, where he finds the phrase “No flesh shall be spared” under Mark 13:20, and he becomes suspicious that the robot is part of a government plot for human genocide. Mo finds Alvy dead of a cytotoxin and evidence that the robot is an experimental combat model capable of self-repair; Alvy’s notes also indicate a defect, a weakness to humidity. Worried, Mo contacts Shades and asks him to check on Jill, but Shades is in the middle of a drug trip and barely coherent.

Back at the apartment, the robot has reassembled itself using pieces of Jill’s metal sculptures and recharged by draining her apartment’s power network. It attempts to kill Jill, but she traps it in a room after the apartment’s doors lock. Lincoln sees the robot close the blinds while trying to peep on Jill, and, after he briefly manages to open the apartment door, makes crude sexual advances towards her, and offers to override the emergency lock that traps them in her apartment. Lincoln dismisses her warnings of a killer robot, and, when he attempts to open Jill’s blinds so that he can more easily peep on her, the M.A.R.K. 13 brutally kills him. Jill flees into her kitchen, where she reasons that her refrigerator will hide her from the robot’s infrared vision. She damages the robot before Mo, Shades, and the apartment’s security team arrive and open fire on it, apparently destroying it.

As Jill and Mo embrace, the M.A.R.K. 13 drags her out a window, and she crashes into her neighbor’s apartment. Jill races back upstairs to help Mo, who is alone with the M.A.R.K. 13. Overconfident, Mo engages the robot in battle, and it injects him with the same toxin that killed Alvy. Mo experiences euphoria and a series of hallucinations as he dies. After Jill reenters her apartment, the M.A.R.K. 13 sets her apartment doors to rapidly open and close; the security team die when they attempt to enter, and Shades is trapped outside. Jill hacks into the M.A.R.K. 13’s CPU and unsuccessfully attempts to communicate with it; however, she discovers the robot’s weakness and lures the M.A.R.K. 13 into the bathroom. Shades, who has managed to quickly jump through the doors, gives her time to turn on the shower. The M.A.R.K. 13 short circuits and is finally deactivated. The next morning, a radio broadcast announces that the M.A.R.K. 13 has been approved by the government, and it will be mass manufactured.

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DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION
HARDWARE is a $1 million slice of science fiction sickness produced by Britain’s Palace Pictures, the company that made The Company of Wolves (1984) and High Spirits (1988). The film marks the directorial debut of 24 year-old rock video stylist Richard Stanley, based on his own script. Stanley’s script, written for Wicked Films and TV, Ltd., was considered a hot property by Palace. “It’s heavy stuff,” said Palace co-producer Joanne Sellar, the 26 year-old ex-girlfriend of Palace producer Stephen Wooley. “It’s nihilistic and very bleak, with much of the plot revolving around sado-masochism and drug abuse. It appealed to Palace because it was so on the edge. Nothing like it has come out of Britain for decades.”

Palace released Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD in Britain, and have wanted to match its shock value and box office receipts ever since. “I was told to go for it without apology,” said Sellar, “and worry about the ratings board later.” Stanley’s shock footage was trimmed by U.S. distributor Miramax Films to win an R-rating for its U.S. release last September. Backed by the financial cartel of Palace, British Screen. British Satellite Broadcasting and Miramax, HARDWARE was the first movie to be filmed at the Roundhouse in London’s Chalk Farm area. Once a hippie concert venue- Jimi Hendrix played there-the Roundhouse became a movie museum and a fringe theatre before its studio potential was discovered by the HARDWARE company. Its only drawback was a lack of soundproofing. Its circular auditorium housed the film’s one set – Jill’s apartment, complete with futuristic city backdrop. The restaurant area was used by the crew to break for meals. The dressing rooms were equipped for the needs of the cast. And Image Animation’s five-man special effects team found room left over for their in-house workshop.

BEHIND THE SCENES/LOCATIONS
It steals from Italian horror movies, I’m hugely fond of everything by Dario Argento says the director. So that influence is definitely there, and I’ll admit to spending too many nights watching Lucio Fulci films. Hardware’s a mix of my favorite Italian styles and elements, spiked with basic cyberpunk aspects. Terminator and RoboCop made it possible to get this made. If I’d been pitching a straight Gothic horror story it would have been harder-if not impossible to raise the finance,” he notes. “The setting obviously helped a lot in working up a deal, and I’m sure a lot of people will expect this to be a James Cameron type of picture, but they’ll be surprised. I’ll have failed miserably in my task if Hardware is a reflection of those movies,

The script was conceived with a low budget in mind. Stanley seriously considered shooting the project entirely under his own steam if professional financing proved difficult to come by. with a deserted warehouse facility standing in for a soundstage. “And I had it all worked out how to do M.A.R.K. 13 via stop-motion animation, although that probably would have taken me a year to do.” Stanley admits. I was going to make this film one way or another. since the script is loaded with personal obsessions.” Pushed to be specific, he replies. “Basically the Argento connection. The lighting the violence, the intensity of human life in conflict with technology. Social decay. That kind of stuff.”

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 The set is situated on an irregularly shaped dais constructed around a skeleton of scaffolding with the floor five feet above the ground. To the rear is the apartment’s one window. its shattered, gore-stained glass looking out onto the carefully camouflaged model cityscape, the lights of the illusionary metropolis twinkling like dirty diamonds in the perpetual smog that blankets this future world. Three steps up from the bedroom area is an open space running parallel to the corridor that connects Jill’s junk-strewn workshop and the equally garbage-covered kitchen, trashed after a tense confrontation with the murderous M.A.R.K. 13. Next to this is the apartment entrance, where the malfunctioning electronic doors will chop in half the hapless police chief played by British soap opera star Oscar James. Two carpenters complete a rig that will support the performer during his death scene.

Much of the auditorium’s stockpiled trash from long gone theatrical productions found its way into HARDWARE. Costume designer Michael Baldwin managed to clothe the entire cast plus

extras for an amazing $6,000 thanks to the debris he found lying around. “Everybody did this picture. for next to nothing,” said Sellar, who co-produced with Wicked’s Paul Trybits. “The crew were mainly rock video people who saw HARDWARE as a showcase-a way to break out of promotional work into features. Initially the schedule for seven weeks, but Miramax thought an extra week would make a difference in quality.” The unit ended up toiling for nine weeks, working tiring twelve-hour days, six days a week. “The boundless enthusiasm we had for the project kept us going,” said Sellar.

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SPECIAL EFFECTS
The film’s FX are handled by Bob Keen’s Image Animation team. specifically Little John. Will Petty. David Keen, and Paul Catlin supervising the animatronics. Little John, who threw around gallons of blood on both Hellraiser epics, checks the gore pump. As usual, his clothing is splashed with red. “This is a crazy movie,” he smiles. “We’ve been saying, ‘Surely you mean less blood?’ They’ve been pushing it to the maximum. This one might turn a few heads.

 Caitlin worked on RAWHEADREX and LIVING DOLL, both for Peter Litten’s Coast to Coast effects company where Caitlin spent two years working on the still-stalled DOCTOR WHO THE MOVIE. The freelance designer said he jumped at the chance to work on HARDWARE because of his love of robotics. “Richard’s first designs were too much like ROBOCOP’s Ed 209.” noted Caitlin. “Mark 13 had to fit in a rucksack and the challenge was to create something entirely different. It also had to be filmed undercranked to give it an insect-like quality.”

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Six models of Mark 13 were used for the filming, according to Caitlin. “A modified battery remote-control one costing $80,000, a full costume, a foam one for stunt work, a fire resistant one, a pair of walking legs and a bag of bits. One head fit all with a gooseneck. We had three months to get everything ready, but it was still a rush, and we sculpted straight into fiberglass with no time for sanding down. As HARDWARE is a dark movie, we could get away with some rough edges due to lighting. I wanted to use a slave system for the remote robot, but we didn’t have the time. We didn’t need more money, the challenge was getting it finished on time.”

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Vendetta supplied the visual effects for HARDWARE, though it’s hard to take Stanley’s word for the way they achieved one particular illusion. “There’s a shot from the high rise apartment’s balcony looking down on the vertically distant road,” said Stanley. “They’re spraying maggots with fluorescent paint and letting them crawl across the floor to simulate traffic. Honestly!”

Though Stanley cost Palace more than they bargained for with HARDWARE, the company is still more than willing to produce his next film. To be filmed on location in Namibia in April, the already controversial DUST DEVIL is described by South African-born Stanley as “A DRY WHITE SEASON meets THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.” Noted Sellar, returning as producer, “It’s a politico, psycho, western road movie thriller about a white guy who kills other whites in the desert. The three main leads are the psycho, a white woman and a black cop. It’s based on a twenty-minute short Richard made when he was fourteen and confronts all the issues you would expect.”

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RELEASE/DISTRIBUTION

Based on “SHOK!” by Steve MacManus Kevin O’Neill
With HARDWARE in the can and accruing high volume world sales, British producer Palace Pictures had a real shock, thanks to “SHOK!” That’s the title of a seven-page comic strip first published in England in the 1981 Judge Dredd Annual, distributed in August 1980 by Fleetway Publications, owners of the comic 2000 A.D., which reprinted the strip in its February 4, 1989 issue (#612). Fleetway filed a lawsuit against Palace and Richard Stanley accusing the writer/director of plagiarism. The similarities between the strip, written by lan Rogan and drawn by Kevin O’Neill, and HARDWARE are indeed startling. “SHOK!” concerns a space pilot who brings home pieces of a robotic Trooper to his sculptress wife living on the top floor of a high-rise block. The robot, programmed to kill, rebuilds its head and torso, seals the automatic doors, and proceeds to stalk her around the apartment with infra-red heat sensors– at one stage confused by an open refrigerator door.

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But Stanley said he didn’t plagiarize “SHOK!” Stanley maintained the plot of the film came to him in a dream, when he was just seventeen years old. Stanley’s defense is that he never, ever reads comics. Stanley said his major source of inspiration to write HARDWARE was derived from the robot menace of director Stanley Donen’s 1980 science fiction epic SATURN 3. And Stanley is convinced Rogan and O’Neill used the same movie as an artistic springboard. Nevertheless, Palace decided to make an out of court settlement with Fleetway for an undisclosed five figure sum. A percentage was given to Rogan (a pseudonym for writer Steve MacManus), and O’Neill. A hastily added screen credit acknowledging the comic book connection was tacked on to the end of the film so the worldwide release of HARDWARE would not be held up.

Hardware 1 by Simon Boswell

PROMOTIONAL/ADVERTISING
From its opening voice over by Iggy Pop, playing a nihilistic “War Radio”deejay (“Angry Bob, the man with the industrial dick”), to its insistently staccato closing theme by Public Image (“This is what you want, this is what you get,” repeated endlessly), HARDWARE throbs with the hostility of Industrial music, and while its makers may cite cyberpunk influences and invoke the cyberpunk semblance, they do so not so much in terms of the cyberpunk science fiction writing of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and John Shirley as they do in the sense that Gibson featured a Pauline machine in his third novel Mona Lisa Overdrive, and in the sense that Industrial music groups such as Ministry, Motorhead, Public Image, Meat Beat Manifesto. KMFDM. Ajax. and Revolting Cocks-successors to Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and SPK are now often found in music stores in sections labeled “Cyberpunk.”

CAST/CREW
Directed
Richard Stanley

Produced
JoAnne Sellar
Paul Truybits

Written
Richard Stanley

Based on “SHOK!”
by Steve MacManus
Kevin O’Neill

Dylan McDermott as Moses “Hard Mo” Baxter
Stacey Travis as Jill
John Lynch as Shades
Iggy Pop as Angry Bob
Carl McCoy as Nomad
William Hootkins as Lincoln Wineberg, Jr.
Mark Northover as Alvy
Paul McKenzie as Vernon
Lemmy as Water Taxi Driver

Special Effects by
Paul Catling … second unit special effects director / special robotics designer
Neal Champion … floor special effects (as Neil Champion)
Chris Cunningham … special robots technician
Jim Francis … floor special effects
Mathew Horton … floor special effects (as Matt Horton)
Barney Jeffrey … special effects coordinator
Paul Jones … special robotics technician
Dave Keen … special robotics chief engineer (as David Keen)
Grant Mason … special robotics technician
Stephen Norrington … special robotics technician (as Steve Norrington)
Steve Patton … floor special effects (as Steve Paton)
Bill Pearson … floor special effects
Paul Spateri … special robotics technician
Andrew Stone … droid suit operator
Peter Stone … droid suit operator
Jon Tucker-Bull … special robotics assistant (as John Tucker-Bull)

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Cinefantastique v21n05
Fangoria#92
SHOK!

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