‘Gator Bait (1973)

Sam’s Note: I’m glad that Redneck Week will not just be me exploring these movies. R. D Francis has joined me with a review featuring perhaps the most popular actress of the genre, Claudia Jennings.

About the Author: R.D Francis is the writer of The Ghosts of Jim Morrison, the Phantom of Detroit, and the Fates of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis. Both non-fiction works explore the myth and mystery behind the 1974 album, Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1—an album many believed to be a solo album by Jim Morrison of the Doors. You can read his music and film criticisms on Medium and learn more about the Phantom on Facebook.

Prior to their mid-‘90s conversion to Christianity and retirement from the industry, Sebastian International Pictures was a family affair run by the husband and wife writing, directing, and cinematography team of Ferd and Beverly Sebastian; their sons Benjamin and Tracy (aka Trey Loren), and daughter, Jan, worked behind the scenes and sometimes stepped in front of the camera on the family’s films.

The Sebastians’ company edict mirrored Roger Corman’s: Make ‘em fast, make ‘em cheap and, when opportunity knocks, always produce a knockoff of a then-popular film. So when John Boorman struck box office gold with his redneck-revenge horror, Deliverance (1972), the Sebastians’ response was ‘Gator Bait. Made for a few hundred thousand—less than John Carpenter’s reported $300,000 budget for Halloween, ‘Gator Bait grossed double-digit millions on the drive-in circuit.

The “bait” for this swamp romp is Desiree Thibodaux (Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings), a barefoot and daisy duke-wearing Cajun huntress carrying on the family’s gator poachin’ business (after the off-camera deaths of her ma and pa) and taking care of her mute, little brother, Big T, and her teen sister.

In steps the dopey-deputy son (Clyde Ventura of Poor Devil) of Sheriff Joe Bob Thomas (B-Movie stalwart Bill Thurman, Creature from Black Lake). Seems sonny boy is decidin’ he wants to git-em-sum of that “wildcat” and tries to arrest Desiree for poachin’. (Take note: In the Louisiana bayous: justice equals rape.) In her escape, Desiree tosses a burlap bag of poached snakes into dopey-deputy’s boat, which he subsequently shoots holes in—to kill the snakes—and shoots his redneck-rapist boat pilot in the process.

Guess what lies sonny boy done be tellin’ his pappy?

“S**t, boy, I just paid $300 for that there boat!” says Sheriff Joe Bob.

Yee-haw! Sheriff Joe Bob is roundin’ up ‘emself a posse with his “buddy,” T.J Bracken (Sam Gillman, an ex-Marvel comic artist who starred alongside Charlton Heston and James Coburn in The Last Hard Men), a daddy who be bull whippin’ his horny son after catchin’ ‘em tryin’ to rape his sister. Oh, and the plot twist: the reckneck-rapist boat pilot was T.J’s third son.

And with that: Joe Bob and his sonny boy, along with T.J and his two horndog sons . . . well they’s be a-goin’ to git Desiree and bring her to “justice.” And when you’re dishin’ out “bayou justice,” you murder-rape Desiree’s teen sister (Janit Baldwin of Humongous and Linda Blair’s Born Innocent), in order to apprehend (read: rape) Desiree.

Hell yeah! Desiree goes “John Rambo” on their asses, drawin’ em deeper n’ deeper into the swamp. As the inbred-bunch turn on each other, T.J lets more of the plot out of the snake sack: Sheriff Joe Bob had a “thing” with Desiree’s Ma, and Desiree’s Pa used Ma as “gator bait” for cheatin’ on ‘em, and the sheriff shot Pa in “self-defense.” Oh, and it turns out T.J is really Desiree’s pappy, so T.J’s three sons have been lustin’ ‘efter their own sister!

Well, it looks like this is the end to the Sheriff and T.J’s own gator poachin’ business and Desiree will have the market cornered.

Claudia’s other flicks in the redneck/hicksploitation cycle are the Bonnie and Clyde-cum-Big Bad Mama rip-off, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase and, for Corman, well ‘ol Rog wasn’t letting Smokey and the Bandit zoom by without producing a cheap knockoff, so Claudia starred alongside Ben Gazarra’s “Bandit” in Moonshine County Express. As part of Claudia’s two-picture deal with the Sebastians (she got a free Caribbean vacation via the film shoot), she starred in The Single Girls (with Greg Mullavey of I Dismember Mama fame).

Prior to their retirement, the Sebastians produced a 1988 sequel: Gator Bait II: Cajun Justice, where Big T—just a kid in the 1973 original—carries on the family business and teaches his wife (Jan MacKenzie; aka Sebastian, their daughter) the ways of the swamp—which she uses to extract Cajun revenge.

The Sebastians have since come to reacquire the rights to most of their Vestron Video and Paramount-distributed catalog, releasing their films on DVD via their Panama Films imprint through various online retailers.

R.D Francis is the writer of The Ghosts of Jim Morrison, the Phantom of Detroit, and the Fates of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis. Both non-fiction works explore the myth and mystery behind the 1974 album, Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1—an album many believed to be a solo album by Jim Morrison of the Doors. You can read his music and film criticisms on Medium and learn more about the Phantom on Facebook.

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