A grimy revenge picture set in the swamps of the American south, ’Gator Bait is one of several ’70s B-movies that upended exploitation-cinema tropes by featuring sexualized leading ladies as formidable avengers. Interestingly, the picture was also written, coproduced, and codirected by a woman, Beverly Sebastian, who shared producing and directing chores with her husband, Ferd Sebastian. Claudia Jennings, the sexy redhead B-movie queen who began her career as a Playmate of the Year in Playboy magazine, stars as Desiree Thibodeau, a Cajun wild woman who lives deep in the wilderness. She supports herself and her two younger siblings by poaching animals and selling hides. One day, idiot deputy Billy Boy Thomas (Clyde Ventura) and his redneck pal, Ben (Ben Sebastian), track down Desiree and threaten to arrest her unless she provides sexual favors. Desiree outfoxes her pursuers, eventually tossing a bag of snakes into their boat—at which point Billy Boy accidentally shoots and kills Ben while trying to fend off the snakes. Ashamed of his stupidity, Billy Boy lies to his father, Sheriff Joe Bob Thomas (Bill Thurman), by saying that Desiree killed Ben. When Joe Bob shares this false report with Ben’s father, T.J. (Sam Gilman), T.J. swears vengeance. Accompanied by T.J. and his psychotic older son, Leroy (Douglas Dirkson)—whom Desiree castrated years ago during an attempted rape—the cops head into the swamp to find and kill Desiree. Bloodshed and tragedy ensue.
’Gator Bait is as grisly as any other rape-and-revenge picture of the ’70s, featuring at least one stomach-turning scene (the horrific fate of Desiree’s sister), and the way women’s bodies are showcased makes it impossible to forget that ’Gator Bait is a lowbrow endeavor. (Jennings wears a series of barely-there costumes, her legs and midriff on constant display.) Nonetheless, there’s a smattering of local color amid the sleaziness. Nearly every scene was filmed outdoors, so the verdant locations are like characters in the story, and the score features a saucy mix of harmonicas and other rootsy instruments. Jennings also gets to do a bit of acting, which was more than was usually asked of her, and she has a couple of decent moments brandishing a shotgun and spewing tough dialogue in a Cajun accent. ’Gator Bait isn’t quality filmmaking, to be sure, but it’s periodically exciting in a grotesque sort of way. More than 20 years later, the Sebastians returned to the swamp for the straight-to-video sequel ’Gator Bait II: Cajun Justice (1988), but none of the original actors returned.
’Gator Bait: FUNKY