VISUAL VENGEANCE BLU RAY REVIEW: L.A. AIDS Jabber (1994)

Just the name L.A. AIDS Jabber is going to offend you or make you want to see this or perhaps even both. Originally released as Jabber in the 90s in the most limited of releases — in the thousands and all self-distributed by creator Drew Godderis — this is the story of Jeff (Jason Majik) and what happens when he finds out that the illness that he’s been feeling could very well be a death sentence.

1994 is a very different place than 2022, but then again, is it so different? We’re still dealing with a pandemic that has been politicized, except that when AIDS was unleashed, it was originally thought to be some form of cancer that only impacted homosexual men (shades of the media as monkeypox became this year’s illness) and any stories of straight men or women didn’t appear on the news.

So when Jeff finds out from his doctor that he has HIV, the disease that causes AIDS, he’s certain that this is the end of his world. Then why shouldn’t it be the end of the world for everyone he can take down along the way?

Jeff gets the bright idea to start filing his blood into syringes and tracking down everyone who wronged him, then injecting them with his infernal hemoglobin. And thus we have a shot on video movie — by necessity, as you can learn in my exclusive interview with Drew — that is filled with shock upon shock.

The thing that’s most astounding about this movie is that despite being SOV it doesn’t seem like a low end production. Yeah, it’s sleazy — would you expect a movie with this title to be any other way? — but it also explores the life of the cops on the case as well as what drove Jeff to go for broke. And man, the soundtrack! It sounds amazing!

Back in 2000, Snopes explored the urban legend that drug addicts were placing their used, HIV-infused needles into pay phone coin slots in order to infect others, as well as another story about AIDS terrorists leaving HIV needles in movie theater seats. Yeah whatever, crazy people of the world. L.A. AIDS Jabber got there first. And of course, it did it better.

Visual Vegenace has put out the first wide release of the movie since it was self-distributed by director Drew Godderis himself and the blu ray is packed with newly produced bonus features and commentary from the original creators such as:

  • Director’s Introduction to Movie (2021)
  • Commentary Track with Director Drew Godderis
  • Lethal Injection: The Making of L.A. AIDS Jabber with Director Drew Godderis
  • Bleeding The Pack: An Interview with Lead Actor Jason Majick
  • L.A. AIDS Jabber – 2021 Locations Visit
  • Interview with Blood Diner Director Jackie Kong
  • Growing Up On Set: Justin Godderis
  • Actress Joy Yurada Interview
  • Cinematographer Rick Bradach Interview
  • Interview with Actor Gene Webber
  • Liner notes by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop Magazine
  • L.A. AIDS Jabber Photo Gallery
  • Blood Video Fanzine Essay by Billy Burgess
  • L.A. AIDS Jabber Trailer (2021)
  • Limited Edition Slipcase — FIRST PRINTING ONLY
  • Collectible folded mini-poster
  • “Stick Your Own” VHS stickers
  • Reversible BR sleeve featuring original VHS art
  • Visual Vengeance Trailers

For more details on the label and updates on new releases – as well as news on upcoming releases – follow Visual Vengeance on social media – IG, Facebook or twitter

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AVA: A Twist In the Road (2021)

I love when filmmakers send me their movies and ask me to watch them. It’s always a daunting proposition — all I do is throw a few hundred words at something that may have been their life’s work, you know? That said, when Catherane Skillen sent me a copy of her film AVA: A Twist In the Road, it didn’t seem like the kind of movie that I usually have on the site.

But then I watched it and I’m honestly fascinated by it.

Ava (Skillen) and Bobby (Bill Lewis) are an older couple who, if you met them, you may think that they’ve been married forever. But Ava came along as the second wife, taking care of Bobby while his first wife had mental issues and was hospitalized for years. Now, they travel the world, he keeps her in a gorgeous condo and she wants for nothing other than to have more of his time, because all Bobby does is work.

It’s not a bad life. It isn’t perfect. But again, it’s not a bad life.

But then Bobby dies. And that’s when everything changes.

Everything Ava owned belonged to his company. And his son Bob Jr. (Steve Dellatori) has been waiting to get Ava out of his life forever.

The reason why I’m fascinated with AVA is that it has such an intriguing narrative because it drops us into her life and by the end, we’re unsure if she’ll be able to succeed. All of her monetary possessions no longer seem important to her, she’s found an actual job that before would be beneath her and she’s trying to connect with others. And then…that’s the end.

The camera in this has a strange focus, darting all over, cutting to images in the middle of conversations and at times feeling hallucinatory yet that adds to the overall experience for me. Because unlike so much of what we consume for entertainment, AVA is incredibly real and honest. It feels lived in. It feels authentic.

There are moments when the tone wildly shifts — I saw one review that took the movie to task for this — and I think that makes it feel true to life. And while not all of the acting is perfect, Skillen is really great at the role. You can’t help but be on her side.

I’d really be interested to know how she was inspired to make this. It seems like she acted in the 70s — an episode of Columbo in 1976, the TV movie Dog and Cat in 1977 with Richard Lynch and an appearance in 1978’s Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold and the TV series Jessie in 1984 are all that are on her IMDB before she started creating AVA as a web series in 2017.

So yeah. If you have a movie, send it my way. I do so love seeing original visions. This is definitely one of those. And it’s cool to see an older woman in the spotlight (and heading up the creative end, too).

You can watch this film on TUBI. To learn more, visit the official Facebook page.

CANNON MONTH: The Mummy Lives (1993)

You may notice that after Cannon breaks up, both Menahem and Yoram go to the works of Edgar Allan Poe — this is based on the story “Some Words with A Mummy” — and if you think for a second, it makes sense, as Poe has a great name for horror but is also dead and his stories are in the public domain.

Aziru (the very Egyptian Tony Curtis) made love to Khonshu’s — called Xoth here — concubine Kia and had to pay the price, getting entombed for centuries until a Rupert Murdoch-esque media owner named Lord Moxton (Jack Cohen) loots the temple that Aziru has been buried inside. Lesie Hardy plays Sandra Barnes who, you guessed it, is the reincarnation of Kia and now, Aziru must act as Dr. Mohassid and make his way through modern life to find her.

Also: this movie starts with nearly five minutes of explosition about how the Egyptians invented astrology and I was there for all of that.

This is a movie where Tony Curtis says stuff like “Get out of my tomb!” and decides that if they say it’s based on Poe, no one will realize that it’s the same exact movie as the Universal version of The Mummy, except you know, really boring. Yes, a movie where Tony Curtis is a mummy who must killed the people who robbed hsi tomb and also kill Sandra so that he can pay back his debt to Xoth ends up being slow and that’s ridiculous.

This was the last movie directed by Gerry O’Hara, who guided me into puberty with his Oliver Reed-starring Fanny Hill and Joan Collins movie The Bitch, and it was written by Nelson Gidding, a far step removed from his scripts for The Haunting and The Andromeda Strain.

At one point, Ken Russell was going to direct this and Christopher Lee or Anthony Perkins would star. Producer Harry Alan Towers said it was a mistake to hire Curtis, as he didn’t fit the movie. I know — I just wrote a few hundred words saying exactly that and didn’t put up thousands of dollars to make this movie.

Prey (2022)

In case I never told you, I love Predator. I love the whole series. Well, the ones with Aliens are just OK and that last one should have never been released, but still, I love the Yautja and whatever they choose to do in movies.

But I was worried about this one.

How many series have we seen rebooted, revised, remixed and screwed up?

I mean, I could care less about ever seeing another Alien at this point.

But man, the idea of the Predator in the past seems, dare I say, an idea as good as the stuff in Dark Horse comics. Could a movie pull it off?

Spoiler warning: yes.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) and written by Patrick Aison, Prey takes place in 1719. Our heroine is Naru (Amber Midthunder, who is incredible in this), a Comanche who has been trained as a healer but dreams of joining the hunt and being alongside her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers).

As she tracks a deer alone — save for her dog Sarii (an American Dingo named Coco who was not a trained movie dog and was pretty wild on the set) — she sees what she can only see as a Thunderbird, the mythological creature that was believed to control the upper world while the underworld is the domain of the underwater panther or Great Horned Serpent; the flapping wings of the Thunderbird creates thunder and the lighting it unleashes is meant to destroy the beasts of the world below. In truth, it’s a Predator ship, out to hunt the tribe which is strong enough to fell lions.

Using a plan that Naru has come up with, Taabe kills the weakened lion and becomes War Chief, while Naru is injured and must deal with the indignity of him carrying her home. Yet Naru believes that something even more dangerous is out there, something that can skin an entire buffalo and easily defeats a bear. By the time her tribe sends a party to rescue her, they run directly into a primitive Predator (Dane DiLiegro, a former basketball player) that easily kills every single one of them, only sparing Naru as her foot is caught in a trap. She’s not a threat, so he thinks, yet even after she’s caught by trappers, she remains ready to find and kill the hunter who has killed so many of her fellow Cherokee.

This sets up a final battle that lives up to anything the franchise has given to its fans before. And yes, the line “If it bleeds, we can kill it” is in there.

There are so many touches that I loved; the glowing Predator blood being used as war paint, the  flintlock pistol with the name Raphael Adolini on it being the same gun Lieutenant Mike Harrigan was given at the end of Predator 2, Naru’s kinetic fighting style, the streamlined and brawny look of this Feral Predator…this movie just works. It flies, never seeming bloated or overly filled with exposition like so many modern action movies. Even the moment where the film’s title appears in the sky and gets out the way made me want to cheer.

So many people have issues with female heroines. Or the poor CGI. Or how this Predator looks different. You know, people can have all the opinions they want. This is the Predator that I’ve been waiting for, a movie that takes the intensity of the first film and builds on it, respects the franchise and yet gives it something fresh.

The real joy has been all of the actors from the first movie sending glad tidings to Midthunder and telling her how well she did. Mushy words from big macho action stars. Ah man, it makes me tear up a little…but that’s just a strategy to mask my body heat because I’m being hunted. If you see those three dots, get running!

CANNON MONTH 2: American Ninja V (1993)

This was not originally intended to be part of the American Ninja franchise — the working title was Little Ninja Man — and Cannon Pictures almost name it American Dragons.

David Bradley plays Joe Kastle instead of the Sean Davidson character from American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt and American Ninja 4: The Annihilation. He takes on Hiro (Lee Reyes, brother of Ernie Jr.), the nephew of the last true ninja Master Tetsu (Pat Morita), as his apprentice. But Hiro just wants to play video games.

Meanwhile, Joe’s love interest Lisa (Anne Dupont) has been kidnapped by Viper (James Lew) and his technicolored band of ninjas. It turns out that Lisa’s father is being forced to make nerve gas for a Latin American dictator by Glock (Clement von Franckenstein). That means that Jack and Hiro must save her, but first, Hiro must endure a 5-minute training montage.

Director Bob Bralver also made Midnight Ride for Cannon. The script was from Greg Latter (Delta Force 3: The Killing Game), George Saunders (Scanner Cop) and John Bryant (Martial Outlaw). This is a boring close to the American Ninja films, but we always have the others to watch whenever we need to.

They/Them (2022)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Fear is a librarian in Western PA. You can hear her weekly on the women’s wrestling podcast Grit & Glitter, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all major platforms.

There is an incredible scene late in the film adaptation of Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post where Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) confronts Reverend Rick about the practices at God’s Promise, a conversion camp set in remote rural Montana. She demands to know what happened to one of her fellow residents, a young man named Mark who nearly died in an act of extreme self-harm. Rick confesses what happened but cannot account for why, cannot accept responsibility for what pushed Mark to harm himself so grievously. 

Cameron realizes out loud that neither Rick nor his therapist sister have any idea of what they’re actually doing at God’s Promise. They have no concept of the damage they are responsible for, the continued emotional and spiritual violence they are inflicting upon the young people in their care. They believe they are doing the right things for the right purpose. But pushed to explain Mark’s actions, Rick does not have an answer and instead breaks down. Cameron does not comfort her abuser.

In a lesser film, this scene would be played at top volume, the sensitive Rick turning cruel heel to Cameron’s quiet derision of his actions. Instead, the characters act like people, not archetypes. There is horror underneath this scene, both of the self-violence that Cameron and RIck just witnessed, and the larger sense that something is terribly wrong with the mission of God’s Purpose. 

There is more palpable, unsettling tension in this one scene than there is in the entirety of They/Them, a new direct to Peacock film about a slasher terrorizing Camp Whistler, a conversion camp run by Own (Kevin Bacon) and a small team of insidious closet-bigots, save the new nurse, Molly (Anna Chlumsky), who seems far too empathetic to be in on the darker methods employed by her boss and his staff. 

The campers, a varied mix of queer and trans young adults, exit the bus and are greeted by Owen who assures them that they are not here to force them to change, that there will be no Bible talk, and that he accepts them all for who they are. He insists that this is a welcoming place, no judgment, all respect and honesty. This is, of course, bullshit, as nonbinary camper, Jordan (Theo Germaine), is quick to suss out. 

Things escalate at the camp within 24 hours, from sociable if mildly interrogative group therapy on the first day to outing a transgender camper and placing her in the boys cabin to leaving handcuffed pairs of campers in the woods by themselves overnight… etc. Meanwhile, a masked stalker looms, having already dispensed of a motorist in the opening scene. By thirty minutes in, that kill remains the only one, unless you count the death-by-cringe scene of the impromptu musical performance of Pink’s “Fucking Perfect.”

The pattern of the kills is easy enough to recognize, so the real horror is the abuse of the campers by the Camp Whistler staff. The movie makes a wise swerve in the decision to fuel the zeal of Owen’s enterprise with biological essentialism instead of outright religious bigotry. However, the manipulation and torture (mostly emotional, later actually both sexual and physical) remains basically the same.

The young actors portraying the traumatized campers do their best to add dimension to their characters, some succeeding more than others. Germaine is especially good at steely eyed resilience with just the right notes of vulnerability mixed in. Quei Tann’s performance feels almost effortless, she is transcendent even when the script requires her character to fall back on cliches. The rest of the young cast is uniformly solid and the audience will root for them even as they’re rooting more for the movie to be over.

There are threads of a better movie here, but nothing – not the script, not the characters, not the suspense, not the gore – rises above the level of a Lifetime original movie. It might have been better if director John Logan and the team behind They/Them had leaned into the camp and went full on Peaches Christ in their queer slasher. 

Sadly, the film aims for some odd mix of suspense and earnestness, failing on both counts. The pay off is especially troubling and will likely disappoint and even anger the majority of this film’s queer audience. Failing as a competent slasher, failing as a queer empowerment horror, failing as a cheesy, campy mess, They/Them just… fails.

CANNON MONTH 2: No Place to Hide (1992)

Director and writer Richard Danus only directed this one movie — he wrote a lot for TV, like on Serpico and Star Trek: The Next Generation — and somehow, Cannon got it.

Drew Barrymore plays Tinsel Harvey — this name feels like a porn star’s or a hardboiled detective’s love interest — and when her ballerina sister Pamela (Lydie Denier, who was in plenty of Zalman King movies) dies while dancing, she ends up being protected by Detective Joe Garvey (Kris Kristofferson) from a killer who dresses like a giallo villain. Also, one of the ways he protects her is by leaving her with a wheelchair-pound, hammer-carrying O.J. Simpson.

Yes, really.

Somehow, Martin Landau is also in this and when asked about the movie, he said, “Why would you want to know about that one?” That’s better than Kristofferson, who often acts like he doesn’t even remember making it.

Kane Hodder is in the cast as well.

Also, there’s a Satanic Brotherhood of Thorn underground conducting all of this from behind the scenes and this inches the movie toward the absolutely dumbness that I need and want so badly.

I mean, it kind of makes sense. If the Italian exploitation industry had been around in its full power or if this was 1972, Drew Barrymore had been in enough public scandal — and done Poison Ivy — that Umberto Lenzi would have totally given her Carroll Baker roles. Alas, what could have been.

CANNON MONTH 2: Street Knight (1993)

Albert Magnoli directed Purple RainAmerican Anthem and took over for Andrei Konchalovsky — but was not named for his work — on Tango & Cash. It’s the second lead for American Kenpo fighter Jeff Speakman, who was a direct to video regular.

Speakman plays Jeff Barrett, a former cop who once failed to save a hostage from a disturbed criminal and left the force in disgrace. Now, he repairs cars. He ends up in the middle of a gang war between the Latin Lords and Blades, which is really being instigate by a group of criminals who want to take over the gangs’ business. Even worse, the criminals are corrupt cops led by James Franklin (Christopher Neame), so there’s no one for Barrett to trust but himself.

If you’re wondering, “Will our hero get put in the same exact situation that took his life down this dark path?” you have seen enough direct to video ex-cop movies.

This movie was also sold as The Perfect Weapon 2 after the first movie that Speakman played the lead in. It’s been said that this film ruined his career but I didn’t think it was all that bad.

This movie is dedicated to the united kenpo family and for gang truce everywhere.

 

CANNON MOVIE 2: American Samurai (1992)

Seriously, of all the Cannon movies I’ve watched in the second Cannon month, this has to be my favorite. It takes the Enter the Dragon template and then goes absolutely insane with it. All hail Sam Firstenberg, the director of not just this, but Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, American Ninja, Avenging Force and American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, all of which are worth your time.

Actually, this movie takes a lot of inspiration from American Ninja. Andrew Collins (David Bradley, who took over in the American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt) is the only survivor of a plane crash in the Japanese mountains, which is how he gets raised by samurai master Tatsuya Sanga (John Fujiyoka, who fulfills the same role as Shinyuki in American Ninja). Along with Tatsuya’s son Kenjiro (Mark Dacascos, who beyond being the American Chairman on Iron Chef is amazing in everything he has done), he studies the fighting skills of the samurai and surpasses his new stepbrother. He’s given the family sword and that leads Kenjiro to renounce the samurai and joins the Yakuza and swears that one day, he will destroy Andrew.

Ten years later, Andrew is a journalist on the trail of opium smuggling in Turkey. I mean, it becomes personal when someone breaks in and steals his sword, then goons shoot him in the stomach necessitating him reaching into his own belly to pull out the bullet! — but when he gets there, they kidnap Janet Ward (Valarie Trapp) his photographer — and girlfriend, I guess, but he always negs on her so their romance is one of my least favorite things in this — which means Andrew must enter a weapons-based martial-arts tournament that is totally Kumite, but has weapons in it, which makes it so much better. Of course, the champion ends up being Kenjiro and that means that the once brothers must battle one another.

What takes this movie to the levels of insanity that I demand is that the other fighters in this seem like they came from other eras of time, like Eternal Champions or even WMAC Masters, but this is filled with tons of gore. I mean, there’s a guy named Conan who pretty much fights like Conan (Rocky McDonald, who has done stunts in tons of movies like Dead-End Drive-In all the way up to Mad Max: Fury Road), the singlet-wearing spear-using McKinney (Ron Vreeken), a big dumb American dude with a knife who is totally not Donald Gibb, a pirate, a Viking and so much more. Even better, people are killed and one scene and totally come back in the next, making me think that yes, this is very much a video game world.

This is the only movie that John Corcoran ever wrote — the Pittsburgh native was an editor of several magazines (Black Belt, Professional Karate, Inside Kung Fu, KICK Illustrated, Martial Arts ProfessionalThe Fighter International and Martial Arts Success), was the first-ever PKA events coordinator and co-founded the STAR System World Kickboxing Ratings with Paul Maslak — but man, he did it. Please check this one out. More people need to be talking about this.

CANNON MONTH 2: Fifty/Fifty (1992)

Jake Wyer (Peter Weller) and Sam French (Robert Hays) are mercenaries who have been recruited by CIA agent Martin (director Charles Martin Smith) to overthrow a power-mad Tenggaran dictator named Bosavi (Dom Magwili).

Weller and Hays were not the first actors picked for the film, as originally this was a Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff team-up, then a film that would either team Sylvester Stallone with Kurt Russell or Eddie Murphy.

This was director Charles Martin Smith’s follow-up to Trick or Treat (he also made Air Bud and Dolphin Tale) and he was working from a script by Dennis Shryack (Hero and the TerrorThe Car) and Michael Butler (The GauntletThe Don Is Dead).

Somehow, even in the 90s, this movie is way down on the way the CIA gets involved around the world. And sure, it’s a Cannon action movie — Weller blows up some sharks with a rocket launcher — but death and politics are treated with the darkness that they deserve. It’s an interesting film and I can’t imagine what it would have been like as a straight action movie.

Weller and Hayes had both kind of been stars by this point, so this is a weird movie for them to get involved in. It also has no relation to the Boaz Davidson movie Fifty Fifty. I just imagine Yoram liked that term a lot.