Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
Lady Death makes not-so-triumphant comeback

October 14, 2004
By Franklin Harris

"All hope abandon, ye who enter here."

According to the poet Dante Alighieri, that is the inscription above the entrance to hell. It is also a line repeated several times in "Lady Death: The Motion Picture," where its appropriateness is twofold.

Comic-book ''bad girl'' Lady Death rides into battle in ''Lady Death: The Motion Picture.''
Copyright © ADV Films
Comic-book "bad girl" Lady Death rides into battle in "Lady Death: The Motion Picture."
The main character, Hope, is forced to abandon her identity after demons carry her to hell. She is no longer Hope. Instead, she is Lady Death, a pale-skinned, sword-wielding warrior who rides into battle wearing little more than black lingerie and the blood of her enemies.

After enduring the movie's 80 long minutes, viewers are likely to lose hope, too.

"Lady Death" is based on the comic book of the same name. In the years since the movie was first announced, the comic has gone through three publishers. Its first publisher, Chaos! Comics, went bankrupt. Earlier this year, the book's second publisher, CrossGen Entertainment, also filed for bankruptcy. Now "Lady Death" creator Brian Pulido has taken his diva of darkness to Avatar Press, which might want to keep a close eye on its bank statements, just in case there is a jinx at work.

Lady Death's comic-book incarnation underwent some radical changes following her move from Chaos! to CrossGen. She became more heroic and started wearing more clothing. But she appears in "Lady Death: The Motion Picture" pretty much as her old, ill-tempered and scantily clad self.

Hope is a young woman living in Europe during the Middle Ages. Unbeknownst to her, her father, a tyrannical warlord named Matthias, is actually the Prince of Lies himself, Lucifer. And when the local villagers decide to burn Hope as a witch, she calls desperately upon her father to save her.

Of course, anyone who deals with the devil is sure to get burned. Once in hell, Hope learns that Lucifer holds captive the souls of her mother and the young man she loves. Naturally, Hope rebels against Lucifer, but to no avail, and she finds herself cast onto a bleak landscape.

But she finds allies — others who have tried to end Lucifer's reign and failed. Among them is a muscular blacksmith called Cremator, who teaches Hope to fight during a training sequence reminiscent of a hundred others (see "The Mask of Zorro," for example). He also tells her of a powerful sword that he forged. Now in the hands of the slug-like demon Asmodeus, the sword, named Darkness, can harness the power growing within Hope and give her the weapon she needs to defeat Lucifer.

Soon, the newly reborn Lady Death is marching with an army (which appears out of nowhere) to steal Darkness and then storm the gates of Lucifer's palace. All the while, Lucifer inexplicably downplays the threat Lady Death poses.

Despite its reputation for embodying the worst excesses of 1990s "bad girl" comics, Pulido's "Lady Death" delivered a dense and often compelling mythology. But screenwriter Carl Macek, better known as the producer of the 1980s cartoon series "Robotech," strips the story to the bare minimum. Notable supporting characters, like Evil Ernie and Purgatory, are sorely missing.

But the movie's biggest failing is its cheapness. The animation looks 20 years old, and the voice acting is uninspired. "Lady Death" wants to be an epic sword-and-sorcery adventure, but instead it comes across like a mere knock-off. Only the rousing score by Bill Brown, which borrows alternately from "Conan the Barbarian" and "The Omen," gives you a hint of what the movie could have been with a bigger budget and a better script.

The movie also doesn't seem to know its audience. The comics were generally PG-13 material, but the movie is far bloodier, with heads literally flying all over the place. Yet it isn't as bloody or as sexy as most horror cartoons coming out of Japan nowadays, which will probably hurt its prospects with older viewers.

Arriving 10 years after Lady Death's comic-book heyday, "Lady Death: The Motion Picture" comes across as the last gasp of a dead franchise.

North American anime distributor ADV Films produced "Lady Death: The Motion Picture." The DVD, which includes a director's commentary and two behind-the-scenes documentaries, retails for $29.98.

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