Killing machines and coincidences are often shaky ground for a horror film to spring from. It relies on the audience suspending their disbelief that this series of events could truly happen. Here in Hardware, a death machine with the power to charge itself from any convenient outlet is given away as a Christmas present. The havoc is surely explosive and inevitable. With a rough ninety-minute slot to compile all the tropes of a post-apocalyptic world, Hardware and director Richard Stanley have their work cut out for them. It is a Herculean effort that wishes to rely more on the cameos of Iggy Pop and Lemmy than it does on a story that, with the right efforts and guidance, could have been more than moderately interesting.
Still, moderately interesting is better than fumbling and dithering nonsense. Hardware holds onto its simple premise for much of the running time, with a brief history of where and why this death machine appeared thrown onto us rather suddenly. It is here in this first act that the world-building is, thankfully, given room to grow. Deserted landscapes, undiscovered territories from a time before their own. Nomads scavenge the land, and this is how we meet the horrors of a buried death machine. He is not immediately dangerous, but through the right use of soundtrack and effective dialogue of muttered warnings in this Mad Max-style world, the threat is present.
A shame that this threat is not presented more often. The same goes for this Mad Max dystopia, which depletes into a haze of red set design and dirty surroundings. No wonder these people lead such drab and boring lives, I would too had I been surrounded by rust-crusted walls and the threat of dysentery in every meal. But it is here that Stanley attempts to provide a bigger picture for the world around him. He rips off the short story SHOK! completely, but adapts with great efficiency. He knows that he has no hope in the world of his characters becoming detailed or meaningful members of the human race, so they have regressed to the barebones horrors of humanity in its dying days. The sickeningly perverse neighbour who gets his just desserts, the loving couple who make up the protagonist and unsung hero, it is simple but effective and creates a reasonably engaging foundation for larger plans to spring off of.
For all its big ideas, Hardware is relatively small when it comes to destruction and horrified moments. They are present, Stanley does not forget to include the odd moment of terror, but there is never a final note or big event that would consider Hardware a horror great. It is interesting and entertaining, but it lacks the punch of fear that most artificial intelligence-based horrors would rely on. As it turns out, such a crutch cannot be removed when the artists are still stumbling around looking for meaning beyond “robots are evil and will conquer us all”. It’s rather difficult to improve upon the ground that The Terminator first conquered, but Hardware adds some effective technical merits to try and make it a unique horror show. It succeeds, to some extent.