ADV Films // 2004 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // October 28th, 2004
Only in death will she find the will to live.
Inspired by the comic book created by Brian Pulido and the late Stephen Hughes, the animated feature Lady Death chronicles a female warrior's battle with her father for control of Hell. How does it fare in transition from page to screen? Let's find out.
Our tale begins in Sweden in the year 1478. Hope, an innocent young maiden, doesn't know Matthias, her father, is actually Lucifer, the Lord of Lies. In his guise as Matthias, Lucifer has secretly been recruiting souls for Hell, all the while pretending to draft soldiers for a Crusade. When her father's true identity is revealed, Hope is branded a witch and burned at the stake. At the moment of death, though, Hope calls upon her father for help; a portal to the underworld opens and two winged demons transport her to Hell. Unable to force Hope to bend to his will (she can take a beating better than Jim Caviezel), and repulsed by the purity of her soul, Lucifer casts his daughter out of his castle, leaving her to fend for herself. She soon meets Cremator, who was weapons master to the Archdukes of Hell before Lucifer betrayed him. Cremator tells Hope, now transformed into Lady Death, of the existence of Darkness, a powerful magic sword. This sword, which is being held by the Archduke Asmodeus, is the only weapon capable of slaying Lucifer. Lady Death quickly kills Asmodeus, takes up the sword, and marches toward her father's stronghold, an army of demons at her command. The final battle for control of Hell begins.
Okay, let's just cut to the chase -- this thing sucks. Big time. Out loud. The story is pretentious and dour, and the execution is amateurish. I can't imagine fans of the comic (which is still being published after ten years and the bankruptcy of at least two of its publishers) will even enjoy this. You'd have to reach back to Howard the Duck or that unreleased (but still widely available) Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie to find another comic adaptation so badly botched. The animation, produced in Japan, looks extremely cheap, like it was created for syndicated television in the mid '80s; the action is jerky, as if twelve (not the standard twenty-four) drawings were created for each second of film. (That's a common practice in television animation.) The character designs are subpar, several notches below what you'll find in the comics. Characters also don't retain the same look from scene to scene. For example, Pagan, who is Lucifer's court jester, has crooked, gap-riddled teeth early on, but they've straightened up by the end of the film. (Lucifer's employees obviously have a good dental plan.) The voiceover work is atrocious; the actor portraying Cremator sounds uncannily like the guy who dubbed Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hercules in New York. The dialogue is also unintentionally hilarious. Carl Macek, the man who brought Robotech to America, wrote the script, and he's responsible for what in undoubtedly one of the worst lines in the history of film: "There's no stopping what cannot be stopped." Man, that's profound.
Macek's plotting (from Brian Pulido's original story) is also rather silly. It takes nothing more than a sword fight with Cremator to transform Hope into Lady Death. Yep, they start fighting, her blonde hair turns white, her breasts get bigger, then next thing you know she's wearing her trademark leather thong and cape. She and Cremator don't have to bother with amassing an army, as one just somehow appears outside Cremator's keep. This army quickly makes its first attack on Lucifer's forces, and then Lady Death goes to bed, stating she'll resume battle the following day. This would be the perfect time for Lucifer to attack, but he doesn't do anything; he's the frigging Lord of Lies, so why's he fighting fair? Lady Death pretty much just strolls up to Lucifer's fortress right before their final confrontation; there are no guards posted anywhere nearby. In fact, no one comes to stop her until she's already in her father's throne room. I know it's a cartoon, but c'mon guys, at least put a little thought into it.
The creators borrow from many sources. Lucifer's throne is straight out of the works of H.R. Giger, except for the half-naked women who line the dais on which it rests, groping one another (which I guess would make being the Lord of Lies a pretty good gig). Lucifer himself looks an awful like the Lord of Darkness from Legend, Asmodeus resembles Jabba the Hutt, and Cremator could be the twin brother of Zartan from G.I. Joe. Lady Death's steed is able to fly upon hooves of flame, and hopefully that's the last Krull reference we'll ever see; her gentling of this steed is reminiscent of the taming of Pegasus from Clash of the Titans. The climax unfolds much like the destruction of Mordor from The Return of the King, and a few of the plot points seem to draw inspiration from William Hjortsberg's first draft of the Legend script. This isn't homage, it's outright theft. The only other time you'll see this many steals is in the Winona Ryder security camera footage.
ADV Films has done an exceptional job on the audio and video, much better than junk like this deserves. For the most part the film employs a drab color scheme, but there a few bright hues sprinkled about, and the transfer achieves near perfection in conveying the two extremes. There is no color bleed, nor is there any edge enhancement to be found. The soundtrack is pretty sweet, too, with rather generous use of the surrounds (including the best examples of steered dialogue I've ever heard), a nice wide soundstage, and some rumbling bass. Extras include a commentary by the director (who proves not all directors should bother recording commentaries), laughably dubbed interviews with the Japanese production team, a gallery of production designs, and previews for other ADV releases. Oddly enough, many of the rough character sketches presented in the gallery look more polished than the finished product. Creator Brian Pulido is noticeably absent from the extras; you can draw your own conclusions.
In a way Lady Death reminds me of those cheesy fantasy flicks released in the mid '80s, such as Deathstalker, or The Warrior and the Sorceress. Those films contain enough gratuitous female nudity to make them tolerable, but there is no helping Lady Death, however, and it must be avoided. If you want to see a hot animated chick with a sword, stick with Heavy Metal.
The evidence before the court is incontrovertible. Guilty on all charges!
Review content copyright © 2004 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director Commentary
* "Visions of Hell" Featurette
* "Animating Death" Featurette
* ADV Previews
* Official Site