Jeff has just received terrible news about his health. He has contracted the deadly disease AIDS. Already mentally imbalanced with uncontrollable rage and a preconceived kill list, his damning diagnosis enrages him to act on his list of quarries. Isolating himself as a loner by kicking his endearing girlfriend to the curb, a furious-fueled Jeff uses a syringe to extract his blood and turns the needle in a weapon of mass infection by condemning others to the same diseased fate, starting with a high-turnover prostitute he suspects infected him six months ago. L.A. cops are hot on his trail as the unhinged hypodermic needle jabber continues his stabbing-spree, puncturing contaminated blood into anyone who has crossed him. A news reporter becomes Jeff’s next target after chiding his attacks on televised news and as the police keep close tabs on the potential next victim, Jeff aims to outsmart them with a single pinprick tactic.
AIDS. The very mention of the acronym rocked the U.S. nation to its knees in the late 80s-early 90’s as the country went through an epidemic inflation and the numerous scared communities and unprepared medical professionals were still learning from and evolving to the disease that took lives in rapid succession. Initially, no one knew how it spreads and so the scientific body had to dredge through tons of research and trails to determine cause and effect and get a sense of the true death sentence percentage from those infected. This was the turbulent scare baseline of Drew Godderis’s “L.A. AIDS Jabber, also formerly known as simply “Jabber,” the 1994 shot-on-video feature that became Godderis’s first and only written-and-directed work to deliver, in turn, a lasting impression revolving around the AIDS epidemic with a spin on fear mongering. Self-produced on a microbudget and shooting on the weekends paled in comparison to the extended year of principal photography that became the tedious portion in the making of the “L.A. AIDS Jabber” come to fruition.
Godderis printed a casting call in the Los Angeles periodical Drama-Logue to find his principal players in this would-be crime thriller and lessened slasher of sorts. The film scored its leading man in the fresh-faced Jason Majik. Majik’s introductory leading role as Jeff the jabber hardened the then teenage actor to discover depth and motivation of a character but ended up playing on screen an angsty young man bent out of shape and taking his revenge against the world he saw unfair, downtrodden, and hopeless. There’s a love interest that would seemingly be a good de-escalation of drama or tap into the vein of choice between revenge and love; instead, Godderis completely benches Jeff’s love interest by literally having Jeff run away from his adoring girlfriend like a 5-year-old who didn’t get a lollipop. At the opposite side of the law spectrum is a heroine, a detective Rogers played by Marcy Lynn. Lynn’s by-the-book L.A. detective performance is practically wrought iron with her character not only determined to catch the AIDS jabber but also to be an antagonist against her fellow cops’ corruptive wrongdoings. Lynn does a solid job being the tough cop while also being a sensitive soul going through a workaholic-stemmed separation from her husband and child, another excursion, like Jeff’s tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend, that goes unexplored. Since the principal photography extended way beyond the usual indie feature timeline of 7 to 14 days with slight differences as well as major changes to the actors. Lynn’s weight fluctuates throughout the story and Lynn’s costar, Tony Donangelo as Detective Smithers, was quickly written off having died in an accident since the actor was no longer available. Justin Mack replaces Donangelo as Rogers’ new partner, Detective Smithers, and continues the pursuit the protection of the in danger female report (Joy Yurada) from being punctured by an AIDS infected crazed maniac.
Despite a fluid cast of changes and a shooting schedule’s full of weekend work and on a tight budget, Drew Godderis was able to pull off a provocative themed project without having to go into the details of how AIDS, back during the initial flareups and scares, transmitted mostly between homosexual men. Godderis purposefully skirted around the issue with the intention of not declaring a rooted spreader event. Godderis only ever so delicately alludes to Jeff’s pansexual flings. We know for a fact that Jeff has two sides to him: a gentlemen side who refrains from sleeping with his good-natured girlfriend and a libidinous side to get his jollies off by paying a hooker by the hour, the latter he suspects his point-of-contact with the disease. There’s a moment of monologuing early on, shortly after his diagnosis, suggesting to the audience other sexual endeavors that made purposefully ambiguous and this is where Godderis sidesteps the homosexuality angle without having to completely forgo it. As for a SOV feature, an earnest approach would be that even though “L.A. AIDS Jabber” is a killer title that rolls right off the tongue, the film itself doesn’t appeal itself in a Super Video cassette. The feature would have likely done better and would have certainly looked better if kept on the original recording format of 35mm, but due to constant technical difficulties with the camera, the decision to change video formats was decided since video was seeing better outputs. The story isn’t strong enough for the then already rickety format at the time and there’s not spectacle gore to subsidize the playing field. “L.A. AIDS Jabber” is more of a stab to the face approach toward a 1980’s hot topic whereas more cryptic stories, such as John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” use allegories with the ferocity facade of carnage hungry monsters to mask any kind of conspicuously conceived thought regarding AIDS.
Now, I’m not saying “L.A. AIDS Jabber” shouldn’t be on the Wild Eye Releasing SOV sub-label, Visual Vengeance, but as spined number three on the newly curated SOV-horror and cult line, Drew Godderis’ film probably should have been a later constituted release and not in the top five. That’s just my two cents. Yet, the newly illustrated and design crafted slipcover and Blu-ray cover art is top notch from a marketing standpoint and an overall aesthetic. Much like “The Necro Files,” this Visual Vengeance release also comes with a technical disclaimer regarding the acquiring the best-known source materials, standard definition master tapes, and that the quality of the image presentation is by far the best known to exist. Presented in a fullscreen 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the feature lives up to the disclaimer with highly visible aliasing, macroblocking, and soft details that render any delineation fuzzy at best. Blacks see the worst of the compression issues and daytime scenes are often one-sided washed in contrast. The lossy English Dolby 2.0 is unable to withstand some of Jeff’s temper tantrum moments yet still holds up well enough to provide clear enough dialogue throughout. There’s a slight hum from start-to-finish that can takes away from the experience but isn’t a fatal blow to the audio presentation. Special feature is where it’s at with these Visual Vengeance releases with bonus content including a new director’s introduction to the film, a making-of featurette Lethal Injections: The Making of L.A. AIDS Jabber, a lengthy and in-depth interview with star Jason Majik Bleeding the Pack, an interview with “Blood Diner” director Jackie King, interviews with Drew Godderis’ son Justin, who had a small role in the film, costar Joy Yurada, cinematographer Rick Bradach, actor Gene Webber, a 2021 location tour around L.A., photo gallery, and the L.A. AIDS Jabber 2021 trailer as well as Visual Vengeance trailers. The physical release holds just as much bonus material with a cardboard slipcover, collectible mini-poster, Retro Wild Eye Releasing stickers, and reversible cover art of the original Drew Godderis mocked up VHS cover. Interesting concept that misses the vein and tries to cash in on shockvertising by not necessarily making a statement in “L.A. AIDS Jabber” purely exploitation bio-hazard waste.