There is a character in Hardware you know is doomed from the start. He is a pervert, spying on his female neighbor, wishing for her to do things too inappropriate to even mention here. Everyone knows this guy is not going to make it, including director Richard Stanley, and co-writers Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neil.
The only way to properly handle the situation is to drag it out, and they do. During a power outage, Lincoln makes a visit to the woman he has secretly been spying on. The security system in this post-apocalyptic world is malfunctioning, shutting the door to the apartment until everything can be restarted. Unluckily for Lincoln, he knows how to handle it. He wanders into every area he shouldn’t, everywhere a killer robot has previously been, and somehow lives.
It is only when he tries to take advantage of the situation and open the blinds for his own perverted purposes does the robot strike, and by “strike,” consider that the most graphic interpretation of the word imaginable. The idea of a killer robot, one that is malfunctioning none the less, sort of waiting until a creepy guy turns into a full-on perv in front of his would be girlfriend reeks of karma and makes no sense, yet feels so right.
Unfortunately for Hardware, few scenes in the film actually come together as well as Lincoln’s death. Characters are terribly uninteresting, and the constraints of the budget do not allow the full impact of the world to take hold. A few exterior shots and the film moves to a single apartment, where it stays for much of the running time.
Stanley’s prior work as a director for music videos is obvious, and distracting. Countless scenes feel like stock footage from a video, the use of strobe lights, focusing on TV screens, and rapid edits do nothing to help curb these thoughts. A bizarre hallucination scene involving Dylan McDermott is an off-putting sequence if there ever was one, including shots of the robot being twisted around with a backlight set-up that is anything but artistic.
When it picks up, Hardware manages to skirt the budgetary issues and deliver a fairly exciting climax. Shooting in full light for the first time, the mechanical beastie is impressive despite the low-tech effects, and tension feels genuine. The world of Hardware is left open for a sequel that would never happen, almost refreshing these days, and the lack of total explanation leaves a small aura of mystery. Getting to the ending, or at least remaining entertained to that point, is where the difficulty lies.
Hardware begins in a hot, red desert. Flaws in this section, including flickering lines on the left side, are part of the title cards. The rest of the footage is perfectly adequate. Once past this point, things begin going downhill.
The transfer suffers from significant artificial sharpening. Glaring edge enhancement around high contrast edges is distracting, first noted around the Nomad’s hat at 8:42. That could be acceptable if it did not severely affect the grain structure. Not only is it heightened, it overwhelms the frame with a digital harshness. The AVC encode regularly breaks down into a fit of artifacting, unable to keep up with the unnatural, harsh grain that is anything but film-like. Smearing during motion, even something as simple as someone turning their heads, is headache-inducing. This problem is especially apparent as Moses and Shades discuss the robot head they have purchased. Thick smoke or bright white objects collapse under the weight of the unnatural grain as well.
What exists behind the wholly digital grain structure generally looks great. Close-ups fully resolve detail despite a slightly unnatural appearance. Colors can be bright, saturated, and still natural. Scenes of TV screens, despite the obviously lo-def video playing on them, reveals the individual pixels making up the images. The source seems to be in great shape, with limited damage. Black levels tend to falter, revealing compression artifacts (not related to the grain), but when truly black, they produce no crush and establish a decent level of depth.
Audio comes in two flavors, both unfortunately compressed. The Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are vastly different. Both mixes provide the same dialogue, expected for the period, carrying a hollow, flat quality. However, the 2.0 mix at least makes it audible.
The 5.1 mix has been cranked up, blaring the soundtrack, which comes through somewhat hot, nearly muting all sound effects and dialogue. Oddly, the 2.0 effort has the opposite problem, losing the music to the sounds of shotguns during one of the main assaults.
Surround effects in the 5.1 mix are unnatural, overpowering the soundfield and offering little directionality. Something may be happening behind you, but a specific, discrete channel is difficult to pinpoint. Stereo separation in a subtle moment, as Jill works on the machine around 32-minutes in, is great. While fidelity may be weak, the source is distinct.
Action scenes turn into an imaginary audio blob, as if all the effects, music, and dialogue were tossed into a blender. In many ways, the 2.0 mix, despite losing the music almost entirely (disappointing considering the popular metal bands involved like Motorhead), is preferred.
A commentary from director Richard Stanley lets his passion for the film truly show through, while an excellent hour-long documentary No Flesh Shall be Spared covers just about everything. Three of Stanley’s other works are included in full, two of them done on 8MM and are at times difficult to even make out what is going on. A more recent one, involving an astronaut on Mars, is truly bizarre but has a great visual style that is preserved here pretty well.
Richard Stanley on Hardware 2 lets the director talk about the script (available online), and why it was never made. Deleted scenes are unfortunately only available from Stanley’s VHS collection, along with a brief promo. A German trailer remains.