Hard and Fast
by Ian Calcutt
(Originally appeared in Samhain #21, 1990)
Hardware will be released later this year by Palace Pictures. A nine minute promo reel was shown at the recent Splatterfest '90, and at the strength of that, it looks pretty impressive in creating its vision of a doomed future world, particularly considering its miniscule budget of £800,000. In America it will be released in July, four weeks before RoboCop 2. Hardware's director, the 24-year old Richard Stanley, was at Splatterfest, and, aside from being (in his words) "much, much cheaper", I asked him what benefits his film will have over a film like RoboCop 2. "It plays dirty, it's pretty vicious and psychopathic, and kills all the wrong people, and has no moral scruples at all, I think. With RoboCop 2 you know in advance that the good guys are going to walk, whereas with Hardware you know there's probably no-one that's going to crawl out at the end of it."
Apart from the hero and heroine, Mo (Dylan McDermott) and Jill (Stacey Travis), the film's main feature is Mark 13, a killing machine which can rebuild itself; though apparently this robotic "monster" is a little more ambiguous than that: "It's a nice thing about monsters really, if you've got a monster then you don't know which way they'll turn. Everyone else are the good guys, and the monster kills people for a living - that's what's it's programmed to do, but it's also not essentially a bad thing as such, it just does that -it gets a kick out of it. But when it's not killing people it's quite a confused animal, it tends to have a few problems coming to terms with the meaning of life... it even has one song in it!" At first glance, Hardware seems heavily influenced by the cinema of James Cameron, The Terminator, Aliens etc., but Richard states more typically Samhainian influences. "I was very turned on by the idea that they had in a lot of Italian horror movies, like Stagefright and Demons, though it's such a low budget, just one location - the usual 'you're locked in a theatre', or 'you're locked in the cinema' kind of thing; there's no way out, and they've managed to shoot the whole movie in one building. There were a whole bunch of movies we watched, like Blade Runner, which we tried to keep as far away as possible. A lot of decisions were made trying to do the opposite of other movies, things like the river taxis, and the canals, and a lot of the rickshaws and things in the movie were trying to get away completely from flying cars and that kind of stuff."
Naturally, though, anything with a futuristic style is bound to bear certain resemblances with other high profile movies like Blade Runner, something which Richard accounts for getting the opportunity to film Hardware, "it's in that genre, and it's also why it got made, I think. Out of all my scripts it was the only thing I'd written which anyone could say was like something else. I wrote it, quite cynically, for the Americans, there's a shower scene, and there's a cliffhanger scene, there's a gas-filled room scene with one cigarette lighter, and a power-drill about to go into a groin! So there are a lot of things in it which are deliberate crowd pleasers, and quite a lot of big set pieces, a lot of pyrotechnics, major explosions towards the end. The fun thing is always seeing if you can take something which someone has seen before and turn it on its head in some kind of way; I mean, we've got a shower scene that doesn't really go anywhere like it's meant to go. I think it's OK (to use formulas) because the movie has got a sense of humour."
But does Hardware actually belong to the horror genre? "It's definetly a genre movie. The main charm I think, hopefully, will be the fact that it's a Gothic horror movie, it's got some dwarves, crawling severed hands and all sorts of crazy shit in it; but I've tried to give it a new setting, in a way. It kind of justifies itself by being a post-computer age movie." Setting any kind of movie in the future poses production problems, especially with a limited budget, so I asked Richard where he found his locations. "We shot most of it at the Roundhouse. One of the main plot things, basically, is the idea of being locked in by one's own security system, into this building. So I kind of swiped this idea from a lot of the Italian horror movies and then built on it. So there are lots of moments of screaming people trying to get out of very small, locked spaces. Some of it was shot around Docklands, and scrapyards, and we shot in a flour mill for part of it, and otehr parts of this high-rise building were shot inside this sort of grain silo -it had the longest fire escapes we could find in town, and very, very long stairs. We did one week in Morocco to get some footage of being outside the town, because it's kind of post greenhouse effect, so everything is extremely bleak out there."
That mention of the greenhouse effect hints at the topical, environmental message the film carries. The possible destruction of the planet forms a key part of the movie's concept. "I was trying to think what the worst possible future would be like, what would happen if nothing went right for the next fifty years or so. It's a strong Green movie. There's a very unpleasant message about population growth, which is basically the idea that three human beings are born every second, and at the moment the [United Nations] says that at the current geometric rate of population growth, in order to maintain existing living standards, the population will have to be 'curbed' - which is a lovely word the UN use. And Hardware is built on the idea of curbing the population, and the fact that genocide will sort of be necessary, eventually, because there simply wouldn't be enough room to put everyone. If a whole bunch of people get genetically damaged, their chromosomes starting to degenerate once the ozone layer goes because of the ultra-violet rays getting through, it would make sense to forcibly sterilize or take out people that were too genetically damaged, to ensure good kids in the future, especially if there were too many of them to feed in the first place. So it's a pretty harsh little movie. We were trying to take a few ideas like that - which were the grimmest possible science fiction ideas, and then play it for horror."