Graphic Horror: Hardware
This is another somewhat interesting story when it comes to comic book movies. When this film was released in 1990, the comic book publishers of 2000 AD which was the home of Judge Dredd noticed the striking similarities to a short story they published years earlier called Shok. It was a very short 7 page story but the similarities are striking. Both the movie and the comic feature a guy bringing home a robotic head that reassembles itself to terrorize a woman who is holed up in a highly secured apartment. There’s even a moment in both stories where the woman uses a freezer to disguise herself against the robot’s heat vision. As for the film itself, it’s very much schlock, ultra-violent horror which oddly enough reminds me of another comic book movie Virus that would come out 9 years later. Those two stories both have killer robots that reassemble themselves, have a slow start, are trapped in a relatively small space, and ultimately have a low body count. And while there are some major issues with this film, it’s actually much better than the latter movie.
The film’s best qualities are its aesthetics, it’s gritty, it’s grimy, and it really sells the low class future tech that’s somewhat technologically advanced, but it’s also old for its time so it doesn’t always work exactly the way it’s supposed to. The apartment is obviously in the bad neighborhood in a future where it’s likely that every neighborhood is the bad neighborhood. Mo is a scavenging nomad who collects scrap to try and sell for some extra cash. His girlfriend Jill is a struggling artist who uses what he can’t sell to make modern art that she apparently can’t sell either. The technology is filled with neon lines, vector style computer graphics, hydraulics, plenty of dirt, and a near constant orange/reddish tint. It’s the type of tech that really feels lived in and well used. Nothing is clean, nothing is new, and none of it works quite right.
The other great aspect of this film is the lengths it’s willing to go for shock value. While there aren’t many deaths throughout the entire movie, in fact there are really only two significant deaths, the film goes all out for both of them. And while the latter death isn’t necessarily justified as one of the rescuing apartment security or something along those lines gets smashed in half by the hydraulic doors, it works in its practical gore effects along with a genuine shock moment as he also shoots another member of the rescue party in the head. The first ultra-gore death is much more deserved as we had been introduced to the ultra skeevy and pervy neighbor who has been watching and photographing Jill through the window as well as making harassing calls and was likely the one behind the frequent doorbell rings with no one there. He’s the best worst character that is absolutely disgusting in a way that makes you almost want to cheer for how badly he gets killed.
The film isn’t without its flaws though. It does take a long while to get going and the suspense doesn’t always work as well as the movie thinks it does. The robot head gets painted with a stars and stripes paint job before being put into the center of a wall art project. We follow a lot of Mo and Jill with touches of their relationship as well as some of the other small characters that make up this semi-post apocalyptic world. It is fairly nice that several of them have interesting character traits like how Shades definitely has something messed up going on in his history and the brief sex scene between Mo and Jill is filmed in such an odd way and whatever titillation is gained from the scene is very quickly undercut when its viewed from the perverted neighbor across the way spying on them through a camera.
It’s also interesting that the film seems to make you think that Mo is the main character of the movie, when it’s really Jill who makes it through to the end as a badass horror movie survivor. While she doesn’t really have a whole lot in the way of personality outside of being an artist and Mo’s girlfriend, once things start going down is when she really shines as a character. She is smart, fearless, and resourceful as she figures out how to hide from the heat vision inside the refrigerator. Going back to the comic, one could even argue that the film pays homage to the twist in the final panel where it’s revealed that while the audience thinks that the girl destroyed the robot and her boyfriend is returning home to see her alive and well, it turns out that the robot had actually killed the woman and had disguised itself as the woman. In this film the role is reversed where the robot kills the boyfriend and at one point Jill is able to tap into its main processor and hears the robot speaking with her boyfriend’s voice, in a way impersonating him.
All in all, while it can be difficult to get through the slow pacing of the first half of this movie, it is ultimately a solid schlock horror movie with some ultra-violence and gore despite the overall low body count. The effects for the robot hold up quite well with the exception of the low-res robot vision moments. But the actual design of the robot is striking and terrifying at the same time and once the killings begin, the tension mounts in the best way possible with a satisfying climax. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.