A Nomad (Carl McCoy) dressed in all black that looks like something in between the Grim Reaper and a post-apocalyptic cowboy digs up some robot parts, including a metallic skull, out the sand of a desert wasteland and brings it to a junk shop owned by an assholish midget named Alvy (played by Mark Northover, who is best known for his role in the 1988 fantasy flick Willow directed by Ron Howard). While Alvy is in the back of his store, a smart-ass soldier with a bionic arm named Moses "Hard Mo" Baxter (dildo Dylan McDermott) buys the robots parts from the Nomad, though he sells all the parts to Alvy except the menacing robo-skull, which he plans to give to his rather reclusive girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis of Phantasm II (1988) and Ghost World (2001)) as a special Christmas gift. Since it has been sometime since Mo has came by to see Jill, she is somewhat reluctant to allow him in her flat, but she eventually gives in as she loves her mensch, even if he is a rather negligent boyfriend who leaves for long periods of time without contacting her. A somewhat eccentric and high-strung artist, Jill uses the robot head as the finishing piece of an ‘abstract’ sculpture she is creating. While Mo tries to convince his girlfriend to make more commercial-oriented works, Jill—a pathological pothead and unabashed welfare recipient who lives off the government—has no interest in ‘selling-out,’ as she creates her art for herself and herself alone. While Mo has given up all hope of having a child, Jill clearly wants one, but her patent pessimism and cultural cynicism makes her think it is a bad idea. Of course, as the two lovers will soon learn, the government is plotting to exterminate humans via killer robots, so it indeed might be a bad idea to bring children into this decidedly dystopian world.
While having ‘make-up sex,’ Mo and Jill are spied on by a grotesque fat Judaic-like neighbor named Lincoln Wineberg, Jr. (William Hootkins), who on top of being a peeping tom and all-around pathetic pervert, is also responsible for putting security in the local apartment buildings. Meanwhile, junk dealer Alvy learns that the robot parts that were brought in by the mysterious Nomad from the desert are from a robot called the ‘M.A.R.K. 13,’ so he tells Mo to come by his shop, but when the soldier gets there, he finds the wisecrack midget dead as a result of mysterious cytotoxin poisoning. As Mo learns after looking in the Bible, the robot is named after the quote, “No flesh shall be spared” under Mark 13:20, thus making the ex-soldier realize that the government has created a genocidal man-murdering machine. While at Alvy’s place, Mo also realizes that the killer robot is capable of self-repair, though it has a strange weakness to water and humidity. Although Mo attempts to get his friend Shades (John Lynch) to go by Jill’s place to protect her from the M.A.R.K. 13 robot skull, his comrade is far too inebriated on some sort of psychedelic drug. While playing peeping tom, pathetic pervert Wineberg notices a robot—the fully self-repaired M.A.R.K. 13—peeping out of Jill’s place, so he goes by her place to warn her. Indeed, the robot has already attempted to exterminate Jill, who is locked in the apartment, and when wanton Wineberg shows up at her apartment, he doesn't think twice about sexually harassing her in a superlatively sleazy fashion. Of course, Wineberg does not believe Jill’s seemingly far-fetched story about a murderous robot, so he is killed after not taking heed of the young lady’s warning not to go near her blinds (indeed, Wineberg hoped to open the blinds so it would be easier to peep on her). After managing to flee to her kitchen, Jill manages to avoid the robot’s infrared vision by hiding behind a refrigerator and ultimately does a little bit of damage to the death-bot. While Mo, Shades, and an apartment security team manage to kill the robot shortly upon arriving at the apartment, the M.A.R.K. 13 manages to come back to life and drag Jill out the window while she is embracing her boy toy. While would-be-macho Mo attempts to be a bad ass and fights in a foolish haphazard manner with the Robot, he is soon fatally wounded and dies slowly, with the security team also being exterminated as well. After hacking into the kill-bot’s CPU in an attempt to malfunction it, Jill learns the M.A.R.K. 13’s weakness for water, so she lures it into her bathroom and kills it with her shower. In the end, it is revealed by a radio DJ named“Angry Bob - The Guy with the Industrial Dick” that the government’s Defense Department plans to mass-produce M.A.R.K. 13 Cyborgs, thus setting up Hardware for a sequel that was planned but never actually made.
Apparently, director Richard Stanley originally intended to make Hardware more of an allegorical ‘anti-fascist’ work that was inspired by his upbringing in Apartheid era South Africa, but luckily you would never catch that watching the film. Indeed, in its depiction of a government weapon that is capable of exterminating countless people in distant lands, Stanley's film certainly seems more relevant today in our age of unmanned drones and whatnot. Interestingly, before shooting Hardware, Stanley joined a guerrilla Muslim faction in the Soviet War in Afghanistan, which produced the documentary short Voice of the Moon (1990) and inspired the overall aesthetic of the director's dystopian flick. Featuring apocalyptic spiritual references ranging from Mark 13 to the Hindu Goddess Kali to Tarkovsky’s masterpiece Stalker (1979), Hardware is, if nothing else, the greatest metaphysical punk rock sci-fi flick ever made and arguably the greatest The Terminator rip-off ever made as a sort of Future-Kill (1985) on steroids meets Blade Runner (1982) on LSD. Although Stanley never got to realize his dream of making a sequel for bureaucratic business reasons (apparently, the rights to the original film were split between various parties), he did write a complete script under the title Hardware II: Ground Zero, which would have been more ‘acid western’ oriented. By no means a masterpiece of any sort, Hardware is certainly one of the most decadent, degenerate, debasing, pessimistic, and even misanthropic sci-fi flickers ever made, as a work that dares to depict the overall disgusting essence of the particular zeitgeist when it was made. Indeed, with the nerdy philo-Semitism of Star Trek, it is quite refreshing to see a sick sci-fi flick were a grotesque kosher peeping tom states things like, “Taking that big dick […] suck it dry […] squeeze it,” while masturbating while spying on his neighbor being brutally slaughtered by a Biblically-named cyborg. Of course, the soundtrack featuring music by Public Image Ltd., Motörhead, Ministry, and Iggy Pop did not hurt either. And, of course, the film would have been better without dildo McDermott, who might have fared better playing the M.A.R.K., or so one would assume after seeing his rather robotic acting performance. Indeed, I put off watching Hardware for about a decade because I knew he was in the film, but after watching the work, I have to say that I need to stop allowing myself from being deterred towards watching films because of appalling actors.