Movie Discussion: Richard Stanley’s Hardware (1990)

  • Monthly Theme: Splatterhardware_poster_01
  • The Film: Hardware
  • Country of origin: U.K.
  • Date of U.K. release: October 5, 1990
  • Date of U.S. release: September 14, 1990
  • Studio: Palace Pictures, et al.
  • Distributer: Millimeter Films
  • Domestic Gross: $5.7 million
  • Budget: $1.5 million (estimated)
  • Directors: Richard Stanley
  • Producers: Bob & Harvey Weinstein, et al.
  • Screenwriter: Richard Stanley
  • Adaptation? Yes, inspired by the story “SHOK!: Walter’s Robo-Tale” by Steve McManus & Kevin O’Neill from the 1981 comics anthology Judge Dredd Annual #1.
  • Cinematography: Steven Chivers
  • Make-Up/FX: Barney Jeffrey, Steve Norrington, et al.
  • Music: Simon Boswell
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: Yes. TV star Dylan McDermott. Cameos by musicians Iggy Pop and Lemmy.
  • Awards?: Best Special Effects at the 1991 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. Silver Raven at the 1991 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film. Best Director at the 1991 Fantasporto.
  • Tagline: “In the 21st century there will be a new endangered species… man.”
  • The Lowdown: The movie takes place during a Christmas Eve cease-fire in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future. A soldier, Mo, is home on leave and brings his girlfriend Jill – an agoraphobic welder who never leaves her apartment – some scrap metal to use as materials in her work. Little do they know that the scrap metal is actually the remains of self-repairing homicidal robot, the M.A.R.K.-13, developed by the government to depopulate the over-crowded slums. Mo leaves Jill alone just as the M.A.R.K.-13 begins to regenerate, leading to a cat-and-mouse game as the killer droid hunts Jill through her apartment. Throw in an obese, masturbating peeping tom, psychedelic drug experiences, lots of ethnic caricatures, and some melted baby-doll art and you’ve got Hardware.

If you haven’t seen Hardware our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: So, how old were you when you first heard of “industrial” music? Because for me, I was 15 and it was because of this movie.

Kristine: I guess I was 16 or so. Tell me about first seeing this movie. You have hinted that it was significant for you as a young, alienated gay.

Sean: I have spoken about my experience of seeing The Return of the Living Dead and it being life-changing.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Well, this movie had a similar effect on me. I was very emotionally moved by it and very taken by its vision. It spoke to me the way that the Mad Max movies might have spoken to someone else, maybe.

Kristine: I am not judging you at all (since one of my watershed movies was… Lost Angels, starring Adam Horowitz, Amy Locane and Donald Sutherland) but that surprises me, since I thought Hardware was a profoundly silly, though enjoyable, movie.

Sean: I was just so taken with the whole “post-apocalypse” thing.

Kristine: Sure.

The movie’s avatar: “The Nomad” who finds the scraps of the M.A.R.K.-13 in the wastelands who is basically a hodgepodge of Randall Flagg from the Dark Tower books, Garth Brooks’ “Chris Gaines” persona, Alice Cooper, and your average junkie gutterpunk.

Sean: You want to know what re-watching this reminded me of? In terms of a beloved movie from my youth turning out to be kind of dumb? Pump Up the Volume, starring Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis. Have you re-watched that since the ‘90s?

Kristine: See, that’s interesting cause I threw out Lost Angels just as an example of a not-very-good movie that meant a lot to me as a teenager. But now that I think of it, it has a lot in common with Pump Up the Volume and Hardware: alienation, despondency, totalitarianism (to varying degrees), social controls…

Sean: Yes. I’ve never seen Lost Angels by the way.

Kristine:  Well. Adam Horowitz gets put in juvie and put on sedatives and stuff.

Sean: Oh boy…

Kristine: And there is a girl there who smears shit on herself and the walls. And they have to scrub the floors with toothbrushes and stuff. And they all have illegal juvie hall sex. And Amy Locane does heroin and almost dies.

Sean: It’s like a “women in prison” film, teensploitation-style.

Kristine: Oh, and Adam Horowitz is a graffiti dude and also drives around listening to “Fascination Street” (from The Cure’s Disintegration). It’s awesome. Donald Sutherland plays a shrink who saves Adam.

Sean: I wonder what Ad-Rock thinks of all this today.

Kristine: What was the big VHS rental place that went out of business?? Errol’s? I can’t remember, but I bought the VHS tape from them and still own it.

Sean: Sounds sort of amazing, in a terrible way.

Kristine: It’s definitely amazing. And this also ties into what I was going to say the world in Hardware reminded me of… Which is late-‘80s cracked-out Washington DC during the summer, all steaming and filthy and fucking scary, with people trying to escape reality anyway they can and garbage in the streets.

Kristine to our nation’s capital: “A fuchsia junkyard reminds me of you.”


Sean: Well, Pump Up the Volume does not hold up at all. When I re-watched it like last year I was like… this is so dumb. I guess if Return of the Living Dead was my Heathers (an actual piece of great pop art), then Hardware is my Pump Up the Volume.

Kristine: I love that. Watching it again, did you feel any of the same emotions? Or was it embarrassing?

Sean: Yes, some of them. But lots of it was embarrassing. I never realized first off how wickedly misogynist the movie is.

Kristine: Embarrassing because it is not very good, or embarrassing because you still liked it?

Sean: Because parts of it are just stupid. The parts I still like I will defend and stand by. But it is a really fucking sexist movie and it is also intensely juvenile.

Kristine: You know, that didn’t bother me that much. Maybe because the movie is so silly, but I was like, “Oh, she’s being faux-raped by a droid’s drill-penis. Whatever, that’s dumb.” I was much more horrified by the tree rape scene in The Evil Dead, for example.

Sean: Oh but the tree rape is so inventive and bizarre.

Kristine: Exactly. But drill-rape is dumb and, therefore, hard for me to get irate over.

Sean: It’s like the movie would be diagnosed by Freud as being trapped in the “anal stage.” But that might just be true of horror movies in general. I was more disgusted with two elements of misogyny: #1) Linc and #2) Jill turns into a hysterical, ovary-ed weeping freak for the last 30 minutes of the movie.

Jill hides upon learning the robot was sent back in time by the makers of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for stealing Kate Winslet’s look 14 years before they thought of it

Kristine: I don’t think Linc is misogynistic, because the viewer is supposed to find him vile and pathetic, and he gets his in the end. Point 2 I will agree with. What I think is more problematic is that the female character is the one hiding inside, an interior creature (once again, see The Fly 1958), while only the male characters are out in the world.

Sean: Right. Yeah, the whole conception of her character is problematic.

Kristine: But I think it’s more clumsy with gender roles in general then guilty of sexism per se. Because… Moses? Ugh, such an ‘80s Republican. Remember when he starts bitching about her making art instead of having a job? And then about how most of his paycheck goes to unemployment?

Sean: You are so right. Mo’s paternalistic attitude towards Jill is, I think, shared by the film. He’s a total tragic Reaganite. Well, the most embarrassing part of the movie for me was all the ham-fisted religious iconography and stuff. Like Mo, short for Moses?

Kristine: Let’s talk politics first, then religion.

Sean: I never saw it before, but he totally is a Reagan-era Conservative (and he’s a military man) and she is a welfare queen.

Kristine: And then he’s all, “I don’t even get this” about her art. And he is all, “Umm, can’t you sell these sculptures and get off the dole?” And his bitching about paying taxes…

So, apparently THIS piece of Jill’s art is too “subtle” for Mo to “get.” Just so you know.

Sean: And the baby talk? Mo: “I gave up on the idea of kids a long time ago.” And the movie hates her anti-baby stance but then also I think we’re meant to think she’s a bitch for not supporting the population control bill? Or for supporting it? I can’t tell the movie is so incoherent.

Kristine: Yeah. So I think the movie is just painting with incredibly broad strokes when it comes to characterizations. Just bad, not necessarily sexist. And this supports your beef with it- when the movie starts she is for population control. But then trauma forces her to tap into her soft, maternal, womanly, nurturing side and all she wants is to procreate and protect. It’s weak sauce, man.

Sean: I actually think there’s weird procreation stuff going on in the movie, almost some kind of bizarre pro-life stance. Isn’t Jill just like, Fuck the government? They shouldn’t pass the population control bill? Even though she comments you’d have to be an idiot to have kids… The movie wants to have it both ways with her, and with many other things.

Kristine: She’s not anything, just a hodgepodge of leftist ideas.

Sean: She still is anti-government. She’s a libertarian. So I was dying laughing while we were watching the movie and chatting about Jill’s ‘90s grunge-grrrl baby doll art. Can you address Jill’s art, since you’re the expert?

Kristine: Oh my god, when she pulled out the baby dolls… My boyfriend and I have a thing about that, since he got his Master’s in Fine Art in the mid-‘90s. So, he totally witnessed chicks doing baby doll goth art in his classes.

Sean: Like we said, total L7/Babes in Toyland cover art. Total Courtney Love “Doll Parts” lady shenanigans.

Babes in Toyland, circa 1992: That could be Jill in the lace doily ‘n dreads, having gained 20 pounds from all the Taco Bell they ate on tour

Kristine: Well, again, I think the movie is just super lazy. And it is disappointing because I have to say, while overall it is a dummy movie, there is something appealing about it. It’s entertaining. The cast is not bad. I wanted to like it, but then it kept being so lazy. Like, the way they present Jill as a deviant badass is that she welds.

Sean: Oh god, the welding.

Kristine: It’s just a really contrived way to transmit information about a character.

Sean: And she actually spray paints stars and stripes onto the M.A.R.K.-13’s head, which might as well have a flashing sign that says “political commentary” hovering above it.

Kristine: Like, if Jill was a poet instead of a sculptor, she would be…a slam poet. If she was a photographer, she would be all… Diane Arbus-style photographer of freaks. If she was a painter… she would paint with her own tampons. If she was a musician… she would play bass in a riot grrrl band.

Sean: I am just shocked she didn’t have dreads or a nose piercing or tattoos.

Kristine: Yeah, she practically did – all wild riot of red curls and silky kimono and blue toe nail polish. Lazy filmmaking.

Sean: I actually love her look for the movie just because it is so Neuromancer-style cyberpunk.

Aliens put Ripley in a gigantic mechanical loader for her “take no shit” finale; Hardware just puts Jill in a dirty blanket and a welder’s mask and throws her a bat

Kristine: I did feel a wave of nostalgia for that look.

Sean: That’s a part of why the movie struck me as really sexist – it’s like, Well she looks great, but that’s it.

Kristine: The film thinks that by giving her an “edgy” look and having her be a welder/sculptress they have done their job as far as characterization goes… and they haven’t.

Sean: True.

Kristine: Though she is more nuanced than Moses.

Sean: I do think Stacey Travis brings something to the role, especially in her dialogue with Linc. I thought she had a real steeliness in her that the movie didn’t really ever use. She’s no Ellen Ripley, is what I’m saying, but she could have been.

Kristine: She’s a decent actress. She’s fine. Brassy Broad™.

Sean: Just when she said “I’m not afraid of you,” Travis sells it. Linc is not a real threat to her.

Kristine: Yeah, she’s seen his kind before. That’s why I don’t think Linc is a good example of the movie’s sexism.

Sean: Ok, Mo as Reaganite. What is the deal? Can we call him Papa Mo?

Kristine: Ha, sure. First of all, Dylan McDermott has aged very well.

Sean: Yes. He is a very, very pretty man, though I would want to kiss Shades over him any day of the week.

Kristine: Second of all, there is no character there.

Sean: He is just the tough resilient daddy-boyfriend.

Kristine: Which makes his welfare rants all the more funny. Because it’s blank platitudes said by a blank character.

Sean: He’s sort of like “emo soldier daddy-lover.” Remember after their weird blue sex he says “I love you” and she says “So?” and he sadly turns his back to her and pulls the blankies to his sad little knees?

In the future, no one has moved past the “Love is a lie!” desperate diary-scribblings of alienated 1990s-era teens

Kristine: Yeah I remember that. And huddles in a fetal position? You’re right, that is weird.

Sean: That is the movie’s level of complexity and depth in a nutshell. That moment. Love is like, a joke, ok?

Kristine: Fetal motif going on.

Sean: Fetal, well he wants his babies and he wants Jill “to just be happy.” He is the “normal” boyfriend telling his “complicated” artist girlfriend: “What can’t you just be happy?”

Kristine: You’re so right. And she realizes he is right at the end… when it’s too late. Gross, barf. What happened to his arm, and why doesn’t the movie do more with the fact that he is part machine?

Sean: That is just a bit of cyberpunk costume design, I think, there to set a tone more than be relevant.

Kristine: Well, the other theme in the movie is escapism by any means. Jill smokes weed constantly.

Sean: “Major Good Vibes” is the brand of her pot cigarettes, which I actually love.

Cybernetic enhancement, ornate hand loofah, or stylish “fisting” glove? You decide.

Kristine: Linc is a voyeur. Shades does weird transcendental meditation.

Sean: When we first meet Jill she is in mediation pose. The movie has this random Eastern flair of iconography…

Kristine: Everyone is dealing in their own way, but all of it is self destructive, right?

Sean: I guess… I think the movie wants us to be titillated by Linc’s voyeurism. I think the movie is not aware of Laura Mulvey’s work on male spectatorship, and Linc is this omniscient, penetrating male gaze that objectifies Jill…

Kristine: God, that dirty talk was shocking to me. I was not expecting it. I was all, “my stars!” and clutching my pearls and grabbing for the smelling salts.

Sean: Linc is just a problem for me because the movie asks us to share his perspective on his voyeurism. Not hers, and asks us to be titillated by her as an object.

Kristine: Are you happy that I was traumatized by Linc’s filthy talk? I have to say, Linc’s grossness was one of the funnest parts of the movie.

Sean: I am, of course, always happy when you are traumatized.  I guess they had to edit his dirty talk. Somewhere is a director’s cut where the dirty talk is even more upsetting and nasty.

Kristine: Extended popcorn string talk?

Sean: “Pop by pop.”

Kristine: Here is my wish for you: think about that every time you eat popcorn, from now until the end of time.

Sean: Granted.

Kristine: Yay. I am fulfilled now.

Linc’s Christmas wish – to thread popcorn up Jill’s butt like a Christmas tree, but with poo.

Sean: So do you actually think that the film, politically, is Republican/conservative?

Kristine: Yes?

Sean: Well, remember the cab driver at the beginning, who is played by Lemmy from Motörhead? And Shades and Mo’s walkthrough of the slums?

Kristine: That water cab was cool, by the way.

Sean: I think the movie is very contemptuous of the rabble and is very Right to bear arms and Right to despise poverty.

Kristine: Huh, I totally disagree.

Sean: But Lemmy-cabbie is all: THESE PIGS NOW I HAVE TO CARRY THIS GUN BECAUSE THESE FILTHY ANIMALS ARE SO GODDAMN FILTHY and he’s talking about the people living in poverty.

Kristine: I think the movie is anti-American and is saying, This is what happens to the most vulnerable when we don’t take care of them. And anti-government and anti-war.

Sean: Interesting. I think you’re right, but I also think I am. I think it is anti-“The Establishment” but also thinks the rabble are gross and abject.

Kristine: I think it is a weird blend of being liberal in that way, but also occupying a “family values” position. Yes, the rabble are gross and abject, but it’s The Man’s fault they are in that condition.

Sean: Maybe.

Kristine: The movie wants everyone to be married with a white picket fence.

Sean: Well, the M.A.R.K.-13 has been made to “clear out” the slums, and I guess we’re supposed to think that’s bad. Though the movie plays around with making us enjoy the idea too.

Kristine: Well, another thing the movie starts but never finishes is wrestling with technology – is it good, is it bad?

Sean: The whole “big government uses tech for evil” thing is very standard sci fi and very standard cyberpunk.

Kristine: And that the M.A.R.K.-13 gets the power to reassemble from available power sources. When it is in nature (the desert) it is not powerful. So, it gets strength from the human reliance on modern things. Remember when Jill fights off the M.A.R.K.-13 with, um, an electric knife?

Sean: I know. And a shower. And a fridge. She uses all her “domestic” lady things. She is fucking cyberpunk Betty Draper.

Kristine: She is. I can totally hear Betty Draper delivering all of Jill’s lines towards Linc and smoking a cigarette distainfully, just like Jill. And not telling Don/Moses that she loves him.

Sean: Yes.

Come in to my wet lady-space – which I spent HOURS Soft-Scrubbing! – and I will show you the power of moisture and housewifery!!!!!!

Kristine: Betty = Jill, Don= Moses. You are a genius.

Sean: So Shades is…. Peggy.

Kristine: (Or else all writers are really fucking lazy and there are only like, 1/2 dozen archetypes). Shades is Peggy.

Sean: What did you think of the robot? The M.A.R.K.-13 (oh that name – we have to address the movie’s religious goth stuff).

Kristine: Okay. Well, one part of the movie I really liked was when the robot was first regenerating itself and standing up. That was neat, I thought. But overall, I was not that impressed or scared by the M.A.R.K.-13. I found the unrelenting nature of it tedious, not menacing.

Sean: Um…. Kristine?

Kristine: Yes?

Sean: Um…. No flesh shall be spared, okay?

Kristine: Meh.

Sean: I just want to make fun of how the movie uses religion as a shortcut for mood and “depth” and “subtext” – which is not subtext at all, but incredibly lazy and obvious.

Kristine: Again, a tiresome parlor trick. This movie is just a buncha clichés.

Sean: But so ‘90s industrial/goth shenanigans.

Kristine: I really want to know why, when it has so little going for it, this movie is fun to watch. Explain.

Sean: Okay, well for me the thing about the movie that I think works is that, despite all its stupidity and flaws, it really does strive to create a fully-realized world and it has a real vision for that world: the water taxi, the radio programs, the tv shows… Remember the reindeer steaks commercial? With the dancing reindeers wielding meat cleavers? I loved all those little touches.

Kristine: Right, I can get behind that.

Sean: I am still impressed with the movie’s total commitment to world-building and establishing a vivid atmosphere. Not a lot of low budget sci-fi or horror movies spend that much time on such things.  And a lot of those weird tv clips Jill watches I think are really effective and scary, like that random black-and-white image of a Nazi being all “I have a pain here” pointing to his arm and being a freak.

Kristine: I agree that even though 90% of the action is in Jill’s apartment… it’s clear the whole world is a fucking nightmare. I agree with all that.

Sean: You can feel the movie and smell it and it is vivid. It’s dystopian atmosphere works. And I actually love how theatrical it is, how flamboyant. I love Mo’s death scene with the operatic score and how it ends with this ambient image of twinkling stars and this fairy dust sound affect and then a big purple veil is drawn over the screen like a curtain. The director may be dumb, but he is very theatrical and I love that.

Kristine: Well, you know what character I felt embodies that the most? Shades. Because he is obviously a sweet, tender-hearted soul. And the only way he can cope with being in this ugly, violent world is to take himself to another state of consciousness. I actually found his weird meditation shtick to be affecting and also, it made sense.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Also, he is cute.

Sean: Shade works as a character and the actor is great.

Kristine: And… he is cute.

Sean: Him being on psychedelic drugs the whole movie could be so dumb, but instead it works and it gives the movie a lot of its tone.

Kundalini neti pot naked birthday candle mindfuck

Kristine: So, did you have a crush on Shades as a teen-gay?

Sean: Yes. And I also read him as being in love with Mo, not Jill or at least both. I read him as queer.

Kristine: We decided he was a hybrid of Robert Downey Jr in Less Than Zero

Sean: Crispin Glover and…

Kristine: Adrien Brody.

Sean: Yep. I mean, “My heart, it feels like an alligator”? I dunno, but he sells it.

Kristine: I think he loved them both. Total Sal Mineo.

Sean: Oh Sal. If Hardware were remade today: Channing Tatum would play Mo. Emily Blount would play Jill, and Shades would be played by… Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Kristine: I agree with your casting couch.

Sean: Also, we could pair this with The Crow for overwrought ‘90s ridiculousness.

Kristine: Do you think the movie is at all scary?

Sean: No, I think it has some creepiness in it but no, no scares.

Kristine: Address the Chinese family.

Sean: The Chinese family is just… ethnic rabble. A lot of sci-fi uses China and Chinese culture as a signifier for dystopian futures, which is obviously problematic.

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: Though I do like Chief and his sidekick.

Kristine: Oh man I forgot about them.

The movie’s goriest spectacle: the wise older black man is torn in half by a short-circuiting security door. Social critique?

Sean: I love Chief’s football shoulderpads, and their chess-playing, and Chief’s Caribbean accent.

Kristine: Yes, but you know what? I always think of the ‘90s as being more culturally sensitive than today and this movie proves me wrong. Because while they are charming… that is some racist shit.

Sean: Spell that out for me. Why were they racist?

Kristine: All bug-eyed, sputtering out, “Miz Jill! Miz Jill! Why you hit me?”

Sean: Oh him. The younger guy is depicted as knd of a “darky” in an antebellum racist way I guess.

Kristine: Um… no duh.

Sean: Chief isn’t though is he?

Kristine: No, but one “darky” spoils the soup.

Sean: Words to live by. Does Jill have her clitoris pierced?

Kristine: Yes

Sean: What did you think of the lady-on-top sex scene?

Kristine: Fine. I’m glad she had an orgasm.

Sean: Is it the ‘90s when the lady is on top?

Kristine: Ha ha, yes. 2000s is all: doggy style.

Sean: If she screamed out Hole lyrics there would a rift in the space/time continuum and we would all wake up in dreadlocks and babydoll dresses.

Kristine: True.

Sean: I have a real question: Prior to watching this, you were firmly anti-sci fi elements.

Kristine: Right.

Sean: Are you more open to sci fi/horror now? Or not?

Kristine: I think about the same. I just don’t think killer robots and aliens are as scary as killer people. Prove me wrong.

Sean: Wow. I literally cannot wait to watch Alien together. It will be fantastic. I mean, have you ever seen Blade Runner?

Kristine: I have seen scenes. That is one of my father’s favorite movies of all time, by the way. Shout out to Dave.

Sean: Yeah, Hardware is a blend of Mad Max and Alien and Blade Runner and Trent Reznor’s diary circa 1990.

Kristine: And a Babes in Toyland merch booth from Lollapalooza.

Sean: Oh my god, isn’t Jill someone Perry Farrell would have dated?

 Ratings Round-Up

The Girl’s rating: This movie is dumb but I had fun watching it (and I don’t know why).

The Freak’s rating: I remembered this as being good but….

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22 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Richard Stanley’s Hardware (1990)

  1. I will go on record as saying that PUMP UP THE VOLUME rules, and I don’t care what you think of me for my stance! I think the long and awkward walking through the schoolyard kiss between Slater and Ross is one of my favorite onscreen kisses ever. Maybe I’m just a dork who loves a guy who plays Leonard Cohen, Was Not Was, Descendents and Bad Brains.

    THE HOWLING is such a great film. I was proudly wearing my shirt of that film the other day. It’s one of my favs.

    1. Kristine what say you here? I’m definitely not anti-someone-loving-PUtV. But all those bands you mentioned are actually like, one of the things I didn’t like about it on rewatch – that it’s really just a bunch of references to things. I mean, I am pro-anything that validates the idea of teen rebellion and self-empowerment, and so I love the basic ideas at the heart of the movie (I remember, though, an “its okay to be gay” moment that was sweetly well-meaning but kind of dumb and condescending at the same time)….

  2. FYI everyone…Lost Angels is streaming on Netflix! Everyone should check it out for the soundtrack alone: The Happy Mondays (in an awesome club scene where Adrock spills a drink on Amy Locane), The Cure, the Pogues, Soul Asylum, Toni Childs, Raheem (!), and…the pièce de résistance….Apollo Smile’s “Let’s Rock”! AWESOME.