It is the future and a world war has been raging for years now, with the survivors braving the radiation to live in the cities, as artist Jill (Stacey Travis) does, living in her apartment with boyfriend Moses (Dylan McDermott). However, he is away for a lot of the time scavenging the surrounding area for useful machine parts, some of which are more useful than others, therefore when a "Zone Trooper", one who wanders the wastelands looking for treasures, arrives at the establishment of local dealer Alvy (Mark Northover), Moses is interested to see what he has found. Alas, it mostly looks like junk, but perhaps Jill can make use of it...
For some cult movie fans, the loss of writer and director Richard Stanley after two promising films is a sad one, as with Hardware and the later Dust Devil, the South African video director appeared as if he would be one of a new wave of science fiction and horror talent. Unfortunately, a terrible experience on his dream project of a remake of The Island of Dr Moreau which saw him replaced put paid to his dreams, and he spent the following years making the odd documentary. So when fans look back on Hardware today, it is from a position of regret that funnily enough fits the tone of the movie perfectly, as this is an unmistakably melancholy work.
That's not to say it's all a bunch of people sitting around in a post-apocalyptic environment and feeling sorry for themselves, because Stanley wore his influences in cyberpunk on his sleeve, maybe too obviously as he was sued for the similarities between this and a 2000 A.D. comic strip, after which a credit for those writers was added to the end of all prints. But most would not be thinking of that when they saw Hardware, they would be thinking of The Terminator for the bag of metal that the Zone Trooper (Fields of the Nephilim singer Carl McCoy) finds contains a robot killing machine that bears resemblance to the James Cameron creation (though let's not forget Cameron was also sued for his work there).
So if there's nothing new under this red, bloated and dust-obscured sun, then you can enjoy the film for its atmosphere, because Stanley worked wonders on a low budget to render the despair of this time to come as authentically as possible. All the characters are muddling through as best they can, some with more flair than others, and the love story between Jill and Moses has a doomed air even as we hear that there will be ban on having children and there are droids being manufactured for the express aim of "population control", whose nature might not be spelled out on the news broadacasts, but we can hazard an educated guess at what they'll do when the so-called Mark 13 robot rebuilds itself in Jill's apartment.
So there's a bit of Wait Until Dark in there as well as our heroine is terrorised by the rogue robot in the confines of her home, although it has a habit of hiding and jumping out when the characters least expect it, such as when the local Peeping Tom (William Hootkins in a masterclass of sleaze) turns up at Jill's door to assist her and ends up getting thoroughly destroyed for his dubious trouble. If the plot is fairly ho-hum, then the handling lifts it to a higher plane of enjoyment, with a curious sense of loss and lack of hope pervading every frame, almost as if this were a European art movie version of the end of society. It would have been easy to lapse into pretension here, but somehow Hardware never does, and with its industrial music-informed style it stirs up a thrill that films many times its budget would have been envious of. This does mean that the action takes far too long to get off the ground, but when it does you see that all that preparation has been worth it, and this was a gem of its kind. Music by Simon Boswell, with well-chosen tunes on the soundtrack.
[A 25th Anniversary Blu-ray is available from Brightspark. No extras, but you do get some little card things.]