Today marks the region 2 release of Optimum‘s ‘special edition’ of Richard Stanley’s cult classic Hardware. Set in a desolate, post-apocalyptic dystopian future, the tale of robotic killing machine that secretly rebuilds itself before turning on its owner was a bizarre blend of science fiction, cyberpunk, art film and slasher that proved to be a minor success upon its initial release. Almost twenty years later, Hardware remains a curious piece of late eighties genre filmmaking and marks a rare occasion for the British film industry to produce a sci-fi movie. Marking his feature debut, Stanley would turn twenty-three during filming, making his achievements all the more extraordinary. With a screenplay based on his earlier short films and a background in music videos (including a fifty minute visual piece to accompany the Marillion record Brave), the South Africa-born director delivered one of the more intriguing – if somewhat disjointed – genre pictures of the era.
In a future torn apart by war and radiation, a lone figure (Carl McCoy) travels through the baron wastelands that surround the cities, scavenging what he can from the wreckage that has been abandoned in the deserts. There he finds the remains of a robotic lifeform, seemingly destroyed and left buried in the sand. The Zone Tripper makes his way into town and heads to a pawn shop in an attempt to unload the items for a quick profit, attracting the attention of Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott), a soldier returning home to his estranged lover, Jill (Stacey Travis). But things have changed between them, she seems to preoccupied with her sculpturing and their best friend, Shades (John Lynch), who she seems to have grown closer to. To make matters worse, a sleazy neighbour (William Hootkins) has been spying on her sexual activities through his infrared telescope. But events take a more dangerous turn when the robotic remains, which Jill has used as part of her exhibition, comes back to life and begin to rebuild itself.
Hardware has remained more of a cult item than mainstream movie and its treatment on home video has proved that. Its previous DVD releases came courtesy of Laser Paradise – whose so-called ‘Red Edition’ came with an abysmal pan-and-scan full frame transfer – and Life International, whose efforts were as equally disappointing. Filmmakers as visionary as Stanley deserve nothing less than 1.85:1 widescreen and that is exactly what Optimum Releasing have done with their ‘Special Edition.’ Whilst the audio lacks 5.1, the picture is sharp and pristine, revealing elements of Stanley directing which had previously been obscured by VHS flaws or a cropped image. It is moments like this that you remember why DVDs became so popular in the first place, as there is something truly spectacular about replacing your old video tapes with a digital version.
What is even more impressive is the selection of special features which fans have been blessed with. First of all, there is an enjoyable and detailed commentary from Stanley and producer Paul Trybits, recorded back in March exclusively for this release. What is perhaps of greatest interest, though, are two early Super 8 shorts which Stanley made back in the early eighties that could both be considered forerunners to Hardware. The first, Rites of Passage, shows an unnamed man travelling across the land, whose journey somewhat echoes that of the Zone Tripper, whilst the second short, Incidents in an Expanding Universe, tell of a post apocalyptic future in which a soldier and his girlfriend dream of escaping the oppressive and radioactive city which they inhabit. Whilst both are of poor quality and are clearly a filmmaker attempting to find his feet, they are intriguing in how they connect to the main feature.
A more recent and professionally produced short included in the set is The Sea of Perdition, which tells of a stranded astronaut (co-writer Maggie Moor) exploring the surface of Mars. The film mixes desert location with digital effects and proves to be a minor curiosity, as does his documentary Voice of the Moon, which was shot shortly before Hardware. Further additions to accompany the film are a selection of deleted scenes of varying quality which, whilst it is understandable that they would not have added anything to the overall flow of the movie, are still interesting viewing. It is a shame though that there is no retrospective included, as modern interviews with both cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage and anecdotes on the making of the film, would have also been enjoyable.
Whilst many DVDs seem to lack inside material these days, Hardware comes with a selection of goodies within. First off, there is an attractive booklet with liner notes from noted critic Kim Newman, whose knowledge on the movie is extremely impressive. Amongst his trivia, we discover that Hardware was in fact shot on location at a Camden-based rock venue called Roadhouse, with external sequences filmed in Morocco. During the making of the film, Stanley was forced to credit an obscure 2000A.D. comic called SHOK! as an influence as the similarities between the two were uncanny. Make up your own minds by viewing the comic that takes up the second half of the booklet. And to finish the set off, there is a collection of art cards which are also impressive. Whilst Hardware‘s greatest flaw is its refusal to decide exactly what kind of film it really is (sometimes its avant-garde elements dilute the horror aspect), it is still a thoroughly entertaining sci-fi slasher which improves on each viewing and, thanks to the overabundance of extras that are included, fans can now explore the movie even further.