Wednesday, November 21, 2012

#828. Gator Bait (1974)

Directed By: Beverly Sebastian, Ferd Sebastian

Starring: Claudia Jennings, Sam Gilman, Douglas Dirkson

Tag line: "Untamed and deadly, she ruled the swamp with a BLAZING GUN and a LUSCIOUS SMILE"

Trivia:  Lead actress Claudia Jennings was Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1970

Before her untimely death in 1979, former Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings appeared in a handful of ‘70s exploitation films, including Group Marriage, Truck Stop Women and Deathsport. In 1974, she joined filmmakers Ferd and Beverly Sebastian, a husband/wife team, in the swamps of Louisiana for what would prove to be one of her most unusual pictures, a nasty little number called Gator Bait.

Desiree (Jennings) grew up in the swamps, and makes her living poaching alligators, which helps put food on the table for her brother (Tracy Sebastian) and sister (Janit Baldwin). One day, while out checking her traps, Desiree is spotted by local deputy Billy Boy (Clyde Ventura) and his friend, Ben Bracken (Ben Sebastian). Looking to have some “fun’, the two men chase her boat through the swamps. But their pursuit ends in tragedy when Billy accidentally shoots and kills Ben. Fearing the consequences, Billy tells the sheriff (Bill Thurman) that it was Desiree who murdered Ben. This incites the wrath of Ben’s father, T.J. (Sam Gilman), who, along with his surviving sons, heads out into the swamp to exact his revenge. But when they cross the line by attacking Desiree’s young siblings, the hunters soon become the hunted, with a pissed-off Desiree hot on their trail.

Despite its picturesque bayou setting and down-home country soundtrack, Gator Bait is a gritty, sometimes cruel exploitation flick. The tragedy at the start of the film, when Ben is shot dead, resulted from Billy Boy’s plan to catch Desiree in the act of poaching, so they could threaten to throw her behind bars if she didn’t let them have their way with her. Of course, a beauty like Desiree is used to fending off men. When Ben’s brother, Leroy (Douglas Dirkson), tried to rape her years earlier, she responded by cutting his testicles clean off. But Desiree isn’t the only female in Gator Bait, and on our first visit to the Bracken homestead, we watch as a third son, Pete (Don Baldwin), tries to get a little lovin’ from his sister, Lorelai. When their Pa discovers the two of them rolling around in the mud, he chases Pete and flogs him with a bullwhip. This is all a precursor to the film’s most brutal sequence involving Desiree’s sister, a scene that doesn’t offer much in the way of graphic violence, yet is pretty shocking all the same.

And Gator Bait also has Claudia Jennings, who does a fine job as Desiree, the scantily clad Cajun beauty with the sexy French accent. Unlike some of her other movies (The Great Texas Dynamite Chase), Jennings keeps her clothes on in Gator Bait (save a brief flash of skin as she’s trying to get away from Billy and Ben, the whipping winds blowing her top open a couple times). So, with the eye candy kept to a minimum, the actress instead gets to kick ass, and even hit a few dramatic high notes (the scene where Desiree finds out what happened to her sister is very poignant).

In the final scheme of things, Claudia Jennings won’t be remembered as the most gifted performer, but her work in Gator Bait showed what she was capable of, and it’s a shame she didn’t get a chance to develop her talent further.

No comments: