“No flesh shall be spared” – Mark 13
I have made no secret of my love of B movies. There is something more honest about a low budget movie that came into existence as much for the love of the art form as the bottom line. One of my favourites is the cyberpunk horror Hardware. Set mainly within an apartment and involving a killer robot, it is a kind of a cross between the claustrophobia of Alien and themes of The Terminator.
Written and directed by Richard Stanley, it is based on a short (7-page) comic strip called SHOK published in 2000 AD by Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill. My understanding is that the film didn’t originally credit the sauce material. It reminds me of the quote from Quiz Show (1994) where Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) says: “Cheating on a quiz show? That’s sort of like plagiarizing a comic strip”. Comic books are now treated with the respect they deserve like any other form of art or literature and the writers are now rightly credited. That probably makes it both the first and the best 2000AD adaptation, the others being Tank Girl (1995) and Judge Dredd (1995).
Set in what is often described as a post-apocalyptic world (listeners to Wittertainment will know that post-apocalyptic is an oxymoron). The dystopian world they live in is ravaged by war and the population is living of the scraps of the dead and decaying civilisation. The movie starts with Nomad (Carl McCoy from the Gothic Rock band, Fields of the Nephilim) finding a robotic hand, then the rest of the parts that make the robot in desert wasteland. It ends up in the hands of Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott), a soldier retuning home for the Christmas cease-fire, who gives the head to his sculptor girlfriend, Jill Berkowski (Stacey Travis). As the robot an prototype “M.A.R.K. 13” war robot, reassembles itself the body count begins to rise.
The plot is a little thin and predicable but the movie really works thanks to its perfect pacing, a constant sense of dread and claustrophobia and the fantastic production design. The apartment building and the brief glimpses of the city with its crimson sky, are filled with detail giving a realistic looking community in the fading and decaying world. The music is a perfect fit for the movie, they even manage to squeeze in Ace of Spades by Motorhead introduced by Lemmy, you will need to see the film to see how they do that! Also listen out for the radio DJ, Angry Bob (Iggy Pop) that appears throughout the movie, most notably for his closing line. The whole film is as sumptuous in its grime and bleakness as it is in its sense of desperation. The killer robot effects are achieved without the benefit of CGI and are all the better for it. As a low budget cyberpunk horror it is as violent and gory as you would expect, it is therefore not for everyone, people tend to love it or hate it, as you may have guessed, I love it.
Writer/Director Richard Stanley did it all again two years later with the Dust Devil that is equal parts supernatural thriller, slasher movie and western, set mainly in the Namibian desert. More about that another day.