‘Gator Bait (1976) -**½
So, just how fucking low are my standards, anyway? Seriously, how bad does a movie have to be these days to lose me? Well, how about this for a yardstick-- I actually kind of liked ‘Gator Bait. Nobody likes ‘Gator Bait, and with good reason: it’s a complete piece of shit. But let’s face it, that’s practically my goddamned job-- to at least sort of enjoy movies that nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole.
The story is just your standard-issue revenge fantasy, set in the swamps of Louisiana or maybe Mississippi, rather than the more usual big city or Old West environment. This minor retooling of the genre’s conventions allows the filmmakers to (in theory, at least) add an extra layer of interest to the movie by giving us a cast composed entirely of inbred genetic defectives. Entirely, that is, except for Desiree, who is played by 70’s-vintage Playboy centerfold model Claudia Jennings-- nothing defective about her genes, no sir.
Desiree is (again, in theory anyway-- note how her bad fake accent comes and goes without warning) an orphaned Cajun swamp-dweller, who lives with her younger sister and brother (they’re probably supposed to be about sixteen and fourteen, respectively) in a run-down shack hidden deep in the bayou, supporting herself by poaching snakes and alligators for their skins. As the film opens, she is caught doing just that by Ben Bracken (Ben Sebastian) and Billy Boy (Clyde Ventura, of Terminal Island and Bury Me an Angel), the latter of whom happens to be the son of the local sheriff (Bill Thurman, from The Eye Creatures and Zontar, the Thing from Venus). Billy Boy figures he can use the power dynamic of this situation to his advantage-- he’s a cop himself, and is thus in a credible position to offer Desiree a choice between screwing him and Ben and going to jail on charges of poaching the now-under-federal-protection crocodilians. Billy Boy really ought to have listened to Ben when he suggested that Desiree was beyond their reach-- this is the girl who castrated Ben’s big brother, Leroy, when he tried to force himself on her years ago. But Billy Boy is determined to “get a piece of that coon-ass bitch,” and Ben himself doesn’t really need much convincing in this department, either, so the two take off after her in what will be only the first of a seemingly endless series of high-speed boat chases. The two men do eventually corner her in a dead-end pond, but Desiree’s just been playing them. As they close in on her, she tosses a big-ass burlap sack into their boat-- the same sack that she had been using to hold the water moccasins she’d been catching. Desiree then speeds away, leaving her would-be rapists to contend with a boat-full of venomous snakes, which Billy Boy (apparently not the sharpest tool in the shed) tries to do by shooting them with his sidearm. You do the math: gunshots + hard-to-hit creatures in the belly of a boat = bullet holes in the hull. But that’s not all; not content with sinking his father’s $3000 boat, Billy Boy also manages to put a big-ass hole in Ben’s forehead while he tries to shoot all the snakes.
So, what to tell Dad? Billy Boy figures he can blame Desiree for everything-- she’s just a coon-ass bitch, after all-- and the story he tells his sheriff father upon emerging from the swamp has him and Ben attempting to bring her in for poaching, and the girl resisting arrest by killing Ben and sinking the boat. Billy Boy naturally neglects to mention that he and Ben also tried to rape the Cajun-- the less moral ambiguity the better, you understand. Billy’s father is actually the closest thing to a complex character we’ve got here, and there is a very real sense in which he, and not Desiree, it the film’s protagonist. If he’s told Billy once, he’s told him a thousand times to stay the hell away from Desiree. Her family has been hunting alligators for a living for generations, and no legislation passed out in Washington is going to change the way they do things. But he’s also supposed to be the law around here, so while he can turn a blind eye to poaching, murder is another matter-- even if he thinks, deep down, that Billy Boy and Ben brought it on themselves. So the sheriff (Joe Bob’s his name, by the way) and his son head over to the Bracken place to give patriarch T.J. (Sam Gilman, from Blood Sabbath and Macon County Line) the bad news.
Our introduction to the Bracken family does not augur well for the future. The scene opens with an attractive, if not especially healthy-looking, girl in a skin-tight slip hanging the laundry out to dry. A man (Don Baldwin) who looks like an unsuccessful prototype from the lab of the mad scientist that created the BeeGees makes some clumsy attempts to chat her up, and then cuts right to the chase by grabbing her ass and throwing her down on the ground. While the degenerate missing Gibb Brother tries to wrestle her slip up around her waist (“That’s store-bought!” the girl protests), a big, bearded man who looks not unlike Papa Jupiter from The Hills Have Eyes storms out of the house to confirm our worst expectations. “Peter Bracken!!!!” the big man bellows, “I oughtta kill you, ya horny bastard! That there’s your sister!!!!!” Then he starts flogging Peter with a bullwhip. Sweet Jesus...
That’s when No Balls Leroy (Douglas Dirkson) rushes over to tell his father that the sheriff and his son are coming. T.J. Bracken lays off beating his son, orders his daughter inside to start cooking, and goes out to meet the cops. Bracken doesn’t take the bad news about his youngest son terribly well, which actually works to Joe Bob’s advantage, in that he and Billy Boy appear to be the only cops in the jurisdiction, so they’re going to need to deputize somebody if they expect to root Desiree out of the swamp. Bracken would be particularly useful in this capacity, in that he is probably the only non-Cajun ever to have been to Desiree’s shack. (He knew the girl’s mother.)
Meanwhile, out in the bayou, we’re meeting the Thibodeaux family, or what’s left of it. We already know Desiree. Mother and Father are both dead, so that leaves only the younger children. You’ve got to wonder how Desiree turned out so well. Her sister (Janit Baldwin, of Ruby and Humongous) combines an actually quite attractive body with a face straight out of a nightmare-- the skewed layout of her features strongly suggests the faces of the monsters from C.H.U.D. Her brother, Big T, is less grotesque, but apparently the boy was born without a tongue. Do you have any idea how many recessive mutant genes you have to pile up before that happens?!?! Jesus Christ! Anyway, this scene takes the form of a montage of daily life on Planet Thibodeaux-- it apparently involves lots of armadillo-chasing-- followed by the departure of Desiree out into the swamp, which fortuitously coincides with the arrival of the sheriff and his posse at a nearby Cajun settlement, where Joe Bob hopes to get surer directions to the Thibodeaux place.
But apparently there was no money in the budget for a Cajun settlement, because we never see it. We just hear T.J. and Joe Bob talking about what they’re going to do when they reach it, and then the film jump-cuts to the boat trip to Desiree’s shack. In true revenge movie style, Billy and the Bracken boys conduct themselves with all the tact and subtlety of Attila the Hun while their fathers fruitlessly interrogate the mute Big T. Billy Boy and Peter are, however, ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts to rape Desiree’s sister, because they somehow can’t stop themselves from taunting No Balls Leroy about his inability to join in the fun. Eventually, the inbred eunuch gets sick of it, pushes his brother off of the girl, sticks his 20-gauge double-barrel up her cunt, and pulls the trigger. “That man enough for you?” he asks Peter.
It’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for Joe Bob when his son tells him about this new wrinkle to the increasingly sordid situation. He and T.J. conclude that the best thing to do at this point is to burn down the Thibodeaux shack, and thus destroy the evidence, but the place doesn’t burn fast enough to prevent Desiree from coming home and seeing the body of her sister.
Now, you might think that this would be the good part of the movie, the part where Desiree gets all Ms. .45 on the Brackens’ asses, but you’d be wrong. Instead, this is the part of the movie in which it completely falls apart, threatening to grind to a dead stop on any number of separate occasions. It’s not that Desiree doesn’t get all Ms. .45 on them, for she most assuredly does. Rather, it’s that she does so very, very slllllloooooooooooooowwwwwllllyy. It’s also that Ferd and Beverly Sebastian, the auteurs responsible for ‘Gator Bait, can’t seem to think of anything better to liven up this section of the film than yet another high-speed boat chase. Incredibly, despite the presence of a Playboy centerfold in the cast, the Sebastians even largely forego the use of the movie’s cheapest, yet most impressive, special effect-- Claudia Jennings’s magnificent ass, which would have been more than enough to hold my interest. But no, another round of boat chases is all we get, and by the time the girl’s revenge is complete, chances are you’ll have long since stopped caring.
I want you to pay attention to the credits to this movie. Not the closing credits, mind you-- there aren’t any, for reasons that are probably understandable-- but the ones at the beginning of the film will suit my purposes just fine. First, note how often the names Ferd Sebastian and Beverly Sebastian appear-- produced by, written by, directed by, music composed by! Then note how many other Sebastians there are. There’s a Ben Sebastian credited in the cast, and Tracey Sebastian gets an “and introducing” credit for his role as Desiree’s brother, Big T. What’s more, most of the cast and crew who are not named Sebastian are named Baldwin. That’s right, ‘Gator Bait is as inbred as the people it portrays!