Hardware (1990)

Comics, eh? They may be considered an art form these days, but it has to be said that their relationship with the movie industry has been rocky, to say the least. And no comics have fared worse in that awful "page to screen" transformation than our venerable British ones - one cursory glance at the appalling Judge Dredd, or the astonishing (for all the wrong reasons) Tank Girl is enough to show you that. And as for that thing they claim is Dennis The Menace on Nickelodeon…

Yet when they get it right (yes, I'm talking about Hardware now, at last), what happens? The comic involved throws a shit-fit (see below) and starts up legal proceedings. Where were the barristers and the judge with the black hat when Tank Girl was released? That thing deserved nothing less than the death penalty. Lori Petty my arse.

Hardware, for those that don't know, seemed remarkably familiar to certain people on its release in 1990. The resemblances to a six page comic strip from the back pages of a late 70s edition of the rather marvellous 2000AD comic were blatant, to say the least. You have to actually admire the balls of the production team for thinking they could get away with it, especially considering how popular 2000AD was at the time amongst the very audience the film was aimed at.

The film starts with a quote from the Bible (Mark 13, to be exact): "No flesh shall be spared". A twitching robotic hand is found by a traveller in the desert and sold on to a "Zone Tripper" called Moses, along with what looks like other pieces of the same robot. Moses (or Mo) decides to give the bits and pieces to his girlfriend Jill for Christmas, as she's some kind of sculptor who works in metal ("I thought you could make a nice ashtray out of it or something," he tells her). But while they engage is some impressively energetic shagging, they're being watched - not only by the fat sweaty pervert from across the street through his telescope, but by the supposedly deactivated robot's head.

It's not long before the robot's true identity is uncovered - it's an extremely nasty bit of kit, a Mark 13 war robot which is self repairing, can recharge from anything, and as Alvi the dwarf explains, has "more legs than a fucking spider". Can Mo save Jill from the monster he let into her apartment, or will the fat sweaty pervert get to her first?

Hardware is a brilliantly claustrophobic, extremely nasty film (what happens to the fat bloke has to be seen to be believed, another character gets chopped in half by a door and everyone ends up covered in blood - there's also what can only be described as an attempted rape by the robot) which, although obviously made on a shoestring budget, succeeds because of this.

It fuses exciting visuals with some cracking music (DJ Angry Bob, "the guy with the industrial dick", is quite keen on stuff like Ministry, and at one point Lemmy out of Motorhead pulls up in a taxi with Ace Of Spades playing on the radio, hoorah!), and there's a healthy dose of jet black humour.

Fat bloke: "You've always been my favourite subject… what's that?"

Jill: "There's a droid running crazy in my lounge!"

Fat bloke: "Oh, that's okay… we can go to my place."

The ending is breathlessly exciting, and extremely touching at the same time - what's more it's an interesting variation on a certain scene from Psycho. The only problem with Hardware, as with so many films which came first, is that you will probably have seen it all a thouand times in a bunch of vastly inferior rip-offs (okay, okay, so Terminator did it first - but Hardware just does it so well). But try to remember a time when you didn't have such a jaded view, and you'll enjoy a criminally underrated slice of true cyberpunk horror, that's as good now as it was then.

What director Richard Stanley achieved was to take the blood n' guts, punk rock, "kiss my arse" approach of 2000AD in its prime, and transfer it very successfully to the big screen. 2000AD in the late 70s and early 80s was a ridiculously violent, totally unapologetic excuse for kids to see on the printed page stuff which no sane adult would ever let them watch on television. Track down something like Judge Dredd in The Cursed Earth to see exactly what I mean. Hardware is 2000AD, splashed across the screen in glorious moving Technicolor. If only (and I really, really mean this) the team behind Hardware had been asked to do the Judge Dredd film…

"They're lying if they think that thing is going to kill the enemy - it doesn't care who it kills! That is their population control - our final solution!"


Back in 1990 when I first heard of this film ("The most original, brain blasting film for two decades" according to the NME), the premise sounded vaguely familiar. Click on the cartoon on the left to find out why, alternatively, click here.

Last updated: February 23, 2010

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