Richard Stanley’s sci-fi/horror/Christmas/western/cyberpunk wet dream breaks through all comparisons to any number of influences (subconscious or otherwise) to become its own unique cinematic soup. Plucked from the sand in the post-apocalyptic desert, the skull of a M.A.R.K.-13 is sold to Mo (Dylan McDermott) who takes it to his metal-sculpting girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis). Quite unexpectedly to everyone but the audience, the M.A.R.K.-13 reassembles itself and terrorizes Jill, sealing her in her apartment in order to terrorize and eliminate her.
Stanley throws almost inconceivable amounts of symbolism into the mix, a move that provides tasty breadcrumbs that lead to almost nowhere. Maybe this is a purposefully nihilistic move at a script level making it, ultimately, brilliantly meta? Only Stanley can say for sure. In Hardware we have a childless couple having sex on Christmas Eve, Jill having unwittingly given new life to the M.A.R.K.-13 by placing the head near a power source (it can recharge itself via almost any source, including the sun which is hidden by a scorched sky) and metal objects it can assimilate. The M.A.R.K.-13 itself is named after a Bible verse that includes a line repeated throughout the movie, “No flesh shall be spared.” It is learned that the cyborg is a government project, a “Class/Type: A-DELIVERER”, most likely designed to weed out excess population with its advanced combat systems spread across its 6 primary limbs and 3 auxiliary limbs. As if on-the-nose isn’t obvious enough, Stanley has Jill paint the Stars & Stripes on the M.A.R.K.-13’s skull. An America reborn, an America bent on destruction (again).
While it would be a challenge to pull a M.A.R.K.-13 and build a working subtext out of the disparate ideas found throughout the film, each new ethereal or politically-charged concept thrown on screen simply provides something to chew on while waiting for what one really comes into a killer cyborg movie to see: a cyborg killing. In this regard Stanley doesn’t disappoint.
In this clip, a slovenly and voyeuristic neighbor obsessed with Jill finally finds an excuse to come to her apartment. One would assume this is our Santa Claus stand-in except Santa typically doesn’t name-check himself (“You won’t be able to see Santa Claus coming”). He drops his pretense of chivalry when he realizes he must rectify the closed blinds situation- how can he spy on her if he can’t see through? When he opens them, Stanley provides the audience with its first collective goregasm in a delightfully hyperbolic death scene. Not only does the M.A.R.K.-13 inject the neighbor with neurotoxins, it also shoves his eyeballs into his skull, pokes its extremely phallic drill through his stomach and out his back, and bashes his skull against the ground. For all the beautifully framed slow-motion shots, special guests like Iggy Pop and Lemmy, steamy sex scenes, and wildly varied symbolism, Stanley never forgets to deliver on a primal and visceral level of pure destruction and bodily mayhem in Hardware.