Whatever happened to Richard Stanley? Last we heard, he was dressing up as a dog man and trying to smuggle himself back onto the set of his dream project The Island of Dr Moreau in 1996 after having been fired by New Line (and Val Kilmer). The project was inherited by John Frankenheimer and turned out to be major disaster, with an overacting Marlon Brando and a subdued Kilmer, (who apparently apologized profusely to Stanley when he finally removed his dog mask at the wrap party).
Since then he’s been pretty invisible in the fictional film world, which is great shame as Richard Stanley’s first two films are the sign of a hugely talented individual who ultimately never got to use the big budget he so deserved. The red-filtered futuristic Hardware (aka M.A.R.K. 13) burst onto UK cinemas in 1990 to critical division and claims of plagiarism (“Hey – it’s the same as a 4-page comic book story!”), but quickly gathered a huge cult following, thanks to a brilliant soundtrack that included the likes of PiL and Ministry.
Dust Devil, a Sth African set serial killer / Devil movie, was released 2 years later, but not in the cut Stanley preferred, and although well-received, it soon faded away, and, like Hardware, is still unfortunately unavailable on DVD in the US or the UK. Thankfully, the German label Laser Paradise have got their act together by releasing both films, and thus making a crystal-clear (“Great transfers!”) Richard Stanley appreciation night possible. “Everything… is under… control.”
Plot "There's a droid running crazy in my lounge!"
Rawshark My first experience with Hardware was in the cinema on a trip to London during the first year of art college. I don’t really remember why I chose to see Hardware above anything else (maybe something to do with it being linked to a 2000AD comic story called ‘Shock!’), but I do remember my whole idea of film-making having changed the moment I stumbled out of that red-infused screening into London city’s sunshine. Hardware was extreme. It showed b/w footage of torture, glimpses of rock groups GWAR, a futuristic apocalyptic setting and a crazy killer droid. It had hardcore gore and all manner of nastiness and nudity. It was all filmed on an extremely low-budget, and (most amazingly of all) it was British.
The video was purchased the day it hit the shops, and was then watched at least once a month for the rest of the course. Two years of screenings later there were quite a few of us all watching it together, all chanting in with the dialogue – “It used to be ok down here..” “Where’s the little man?” “Oh, we all walk the wibbly wobbly walk..” – on cue. Let’s just say, this film is a favourite of mine.
I’m not sure what my other Zombie Clubbers were expecting, but as soon as the opening laser shots exploded out of the black TV I was entranced in the DVD copy of this film. It’s difficult for me to provide an objective review here, so I’ll just list my favourite bits. The gorgeous opening shots of the Fields of Nephilim singer finding the M.A.R.K. 13, Angry (“The man with the industrial dick!”) Bob’s opening words, Lemmy as the cab driver (“You guys like music?”), the shower scene to PiL (“This is what you want, this is what you get...”), the haunting Silent Night music, “Stupid, sadistic and suicidal,” Lincoln Weinberg Junior’s demise (“You closed your blinds!”), the Chess game (“Sicillian Manoeuvre!”) and one of the best death by poison scenes ever filmed set to the haunting operatic score of Stabat Mater.
Filmed purely as an exercise in cinematic style, Hardware features some of the greatest and most quotable dialogue ever written (apologies to Jim and Zomblee if my incessant dialogue mutterings annoyed them), and is one of the greatest triumphs of low-budget independent (and fantastic) cinema ever made. Of course, I’m slightly biased. Sue me.
“It’s horrible... I love it... What is it?”
Zomblee Glad you mentioned your “incessant dialogue mutterings”, Rawshark! It’s true, at various points myself and Jim both thought we were going mad from hearing voices but then realised it was Rawshark quoting the lines along with the characters in Hardware. "Mike stop it you’re driving me crazy!"
I vow herewith to take my revenge at the next John Carpenter Zombie Club.
Both Hardware and Dust Devil are films I remember from my 6th form years at school (that’s 17/18 years old for you Americans out there). My memories of Hardware were pretty faint, probably because I watched it with my old school buddy, Jason (the first person to ever make me start reading about movies and loyal eatmybrains reader) at his house. This invariably involved silly beer sessions and there’s a good chance that halfway through Hardware I got a craving for some hardcore bullet action and pestered him to eject Hardware in favour of some John Woo carnage. Like Hard Boiled.
Seeing Hardware again, I can understand why this might have been the case. It’s such a great thing that this film exists though. It’s a fantastic example of British filmmaking and its low budget only endears it tenfold. The thing is, I don’t actually find it very… enjoyable. It moves along at a very slow pace and the action doesn’t stray from one apartment for most of the duration. Now, you could argue that this was an intentional device for creating a sense of impending doom, claustrophobia, or whatever. You could also argue that Richard Stanley and his small crew had trouble finding locations on such a small budget, thus confining the production to a very small number of usable places to shoot the film. You could also argue that we aren’t supposed to find Hardware an 'enjoyable' experience - that it’s supposed to be hard work. I certainly found it hard work. After about one hour shit actually starts to happen - that’s when Jim said “Yeah, it’s about time really” just before I was about to say something along the same lines.
Hardware does have enough stunningly composed photography to make it worth seeing though; the desert scenes look incredible, especially the final shot of the movie (Stanley gets a chance to use the desert setting more fully in tonight's second film). The visuals throughout are rich and detailed, though I could understand objection to the constantly red hue everything has. Didn’t someone say something about a guy taking this back to the video shop complaining that there was something wrong with the copy because everything looked so red?! Help me out here, Jim.
One of my favourite things about Hardware is the soundtrack, especially that Public Image Ltd. song - it suits the mood and it’s just a great track anyway. The humour works too - Shades is a hilarious character. Overall though, I wanted to like Hardware more than I could allow myself. Can I watch some John Woo now please?
“Yeah, Harvey, you’re about as high as you’ll ever go…”
Jim Yeah, some guy on imdb said he took his copy back because it was too red, so therefore there must have been something wrong with the tape. Brilliant, eh? I've got visions of the guy fiddling with his tracking, colour and brightness, mumbling "What's wrong with this damn thing!?" as he fails to appreciate that popular trick employed by low budget post-apocalyptic film makers the world over - colour filters.
Like Rawshark, I always remember Hardware being awesome. In fact, when he mentioned doing Red Eye Richard Night, my reaction was something along the lines of "Fuck yeah - what a fucking wicked idea!" After watching two of this guy's films back to back, I'm not sure it was such a great idea after all. Don't get me wrong, Hardware is a wicked little British sci-fi horror, but it is quite an arty piece (Stanley made a few music videos before and it shows) and that can be a problem at Zombie Club. This is the kind of film that blows you away in the cinema (where you can let yourself get caught up in it more), but on the sofa with a few mates and a few beers it can drag, if only just a little.
That said, the imagery, cinematography, dialogue and score are all very good throughout, albeit almost bordering on the pretentious. But the film also has many standout scenes where Stanley uses every trick imaginable to disguise the fact that this is an incredibly cheap movie filmed in less than a handful of locations. In particular, I'll never forget the scene where the robot rebuilds itself out of crap lying around Jill's flat, accompanied by some mad song by GWAR (or is it Ministry?). I can't seem to get it out of my head actually, and I'm sure I must look like moron humming it on the tube every morning.
Anyway, about halfway through the film the robot gets it's act together (finally) and kicks ass. Loads of the cast get wasted in some quite inventive ways and everything's alright again, especially since in the later half of the movie Shades gets a lot more screen time. He's by far my favourite character in the movie, and actually plays a big part in saving the day, although it is in that lucky way that pointless druggie fuck-ups always seem to operate.
Oh, and the Wibbly-Wobbly guy? I wracked my brains for ages to work out where I'd seen him before until it came to me - he was the fat FBI guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know - at the end when the FBI hide the ark, he's the guy that tries to reassure Indy that 'top men' are looking at it...
"God I love you..."
Director Richard Stanley
Cast Dylan McDermott
Runtime 93 mins
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Dust Devil (1992)
Plot Devil in the wind, dude. Which way to Amarillo?
Jim Seconds out, round two. This time we're off to South Africa and the protagonist is a Dust Devil instead of a giant killer robot. No, I'm not entirely sure what a Dust Devil is either, but judging from this film it's a weird monster disguised as a man who stays alive feeding off the life force of lost souls, if that makes any sense. In human form he looks like a stereotypical drifter, with his tatty cowboy hat and weather-beaten leather trench coat. In monster form however, he looks like a cheap monster from one of those crappy straight-to-video Stephen King adaptations, which is probably why he spends most of his time in his more attractive normal guy form.
The plot is something like this - the Dust Devil travels the outback, preying on people with nowhere to go and no one will miss. A woman (who looks a lot like Tracy Emin) falls out with her husband (who looks like that crocodile hunter bloke) and hits the road in a cool Volkswagen beetle. She inevitably picks up the hitching Dust Devil. Meanwhile a copper (the bad guy out of The Serpent and the Rainbow actually) is trailing the Dust Devil across the outback, aided in his quest by a stoner witchdoctor fella that runs a drive-in movie theatre. Queue tonnes of dazzling imagery followed by a final showdown involving every surviving cast member.
There is an intro though, mainly concerning the Dust Devil picking up some other broad, shagging her and then killing her abruptly - starting the police investigation and the consequential obsessive manhunt. It also reminds you how Richard Stanley makes movies as the first ten minutes play out like this - South Africa, dust, same music, brooding, hitcher, house, swirly imagery, photographs, night time, more imagery, more music, more dust, neon, even more imagery, sex and death.
At the Flesh and Blood film festival in London in 2003, I saw this cut of the film presented by Stanley himself, and I let myself get carried away by the sheer quality of the cinematography. Two years later, drunk, on a mate's sofa, it all got a bit too confusing for my liking.
Even Rawshark got confused... "And now we know where both of them are, but we don't know whether either of them knows where each other is..." Can't say fairer than that.
"I wish he'd given him the monkey instead."
Zomblee Steve Irwin is the guy Jim is talking about – crocodile wrestler par excellence. But we’re not here to talk about that muppet. This is another flick from my late teens and I always preferred this to Hardware. It’s so beautifully shot that it has a tendency to suck you in, but that’s all dependent on what you’re drinking, what company you’re in, and how comfortable that sofa is. Because it is that type of film. Yes, that’s another way of saying it’s a bit boring and slightly confusing. But I will say this: it features the best head explosion I’ve ever seen. Believe me when I say I’ve seen a few. Ready? “I’ve seen a few.”
Dust Devil features a beautiful, epic, and for some reason slightly heart-tugging musical score by genre favourite Simon Boswell which adds a touch of class to the overall result. It certainly adds poignancy to key scenes like when he drives away from the house he torches at the beginning of the film – Stanley combines the filmic elements flawlessly here, employing an incredible helicopter shot of the burning house, Burke driving away in the car, leaving a trail of dust after he has ‘finished’ with the unfortunate young lady, and last but not least the epic music which makes everything just seem so... important.
Stanley’s visual flourishes are pure eye candy. We are regularly treated to some of the most gracefully composed dissolves, usually counter pointed by satisfying 'swoosh' sounds to make even the most normal things seem so... important. Even the red VW Beetle looks great, its garish appearance contrasting with the wide open desert spaces as the Dust Devil drives towards wherever it is he's going.
Haunting locations, strong soundtrack, solid performances, stunning photography and most of all an original story make this worthy of a rental. While you’re watching it you may want to open a debate relating to:
a) How to physically pull someone’s heart out of his or her chest. According to Rawshark, “You have to pull from under the ribcage”. Makes complete sense to me.
b) Whether or not there are any monkeys in South Africa.
Jim mentioned that he thought of Richard Stanley as always being someone who’s “in danger of disappearing up his own arse.” If he did indeed disappear up his own arse he should take a camera up there and do some filming – he’d probably make even that look amazing.
“Shape shifting? Raising the dead? I didn’t think such things were possible.”
Rawshark Straight after Hardware, Stanley endeared himself to me further by directing a music video for British rock groups Terrorvision in the style of Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, before embarking on his second film, Dust Devil. I can remember being slightly under whelmed when I first saw this - yes it looked great, but it didn’t seem to have the same substance (for me at least) as his previous movie, so I promptly put that film back in the video machine and watched Hardware all over again.
Actually Dust Devil isn’t that bad at all, in fact in most areas it’s simply stunning. As both Zomblee and Jim have pointed out, the visuals are a real treat with all the Stanley trademarks (documentary footage, red hues, long lingering and perfectly composed desert scenes) present and correct. Again, it’s a simple story – a human-looking Dust Devil (an effective Robert Burke) is picked up hitchhiking by a woman (Chelsea Field from The Last Boy Scout) who is running from her husband. They drive around the desert talking about death and such, have sex and then try and kill each other when it is revealed that Burke is in fact from “the other side of the mirror.”
With references to Dario Argento and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (Jim enjoyed that one!), and a shoot-out set in a sand-swept movie theatre, Dust Devil is extremely cinematic, and will satisfy anyone who likes their films to contain beautiful footage. And, as Zomblee has pointed out, the ending contains one of the best (and most underrated) headshots in film history. We had to rewind that bit twice! It also gave us another cult hero here at Zombie Club. Stand up then William Hootkins, who plays both the classically creepy Wibbly Wobbly man in Hardware and returns (almost unrecognisably) as the Captain in Dust Devil.
Jim clocked him as Major Eaton from Raiders of the Lost Ark (respect already), but after a little research we realised he is also in (amongst others) Flash Gordon, Batman and Star Wars (oh yes – Red Six aka Porkins aka Porky!!) as well as provide the voice for video games such as Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick. That’s a pretty great CV for anyone – no wonder Richard Stanley cast him in all three of his films (yes, he’s also in The Island of Dr Moreau).
“There’s a whole lot of power in fingers and knuckles and such. If you want to win a war, you’ve got to have a whole handful of knuckles.”
Director Richard Stanley
Cast John Matshikiza
Robert John Burke
Runtime 103 mins
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With two ‘serious’ grown-up movies, this Red Eye Richard Stanley night was a slight departure from our usual drunken ‘b’ movie romps and John Saxon knitwear appreciation nights, but none the worse for that.
Hardware is one of the definitive low-budget cult films of all time, and whilst not everyone will appreciate its low-budget leanings and quite intense subject matter (this is a film about population control more than crazy droids running around in lounges), all of us agreed that at least the soundtrack was something special. If there are any small record companies out there looking for a great title to re-issue, here’s where you start.
Dust Devil is another effective early 90s ‘dreamlike’ horror, and another title well worth your time hunting out if you like being swept away by a film’s look and feel. Filmed in an almost dreamlike ambience, it’s a hallucinatory film that rewards the more the viewer puts into it. Zomblee for one preferred this to Hardware, but then again that may be down to the fact that I couldn’t remember any of the dialogue for Dust Devil at all.
Both Hardware and Dust Devil are available on German DVD (with English audio) from www.fabpress.com.