Retro Review: ‘Gator Bait’

In 1979, actress and model Claudia Jennings was killed in a car accident at the young age of 29. Despite this tragic end, there is no denying that this young woman truly made the most of her brief time on this earth living life to the fullest. In 1970 she was named Playmate of the Year by Playboy magazine which brought to her to the attention of the entertainment world as a whole. She parlayed this notoriety into an acting career which led to her being dubbed “Queen of the B Movies” as she starred 17 movies over the course of a mere eight years. In 1974 alone Jennings appeared in four films including this particular favorite of the grindhouse crowd Gator Bait.

Deep in the swamps of Louisiana, Desiree lives with her poor hillbilly family isolated from any semblance of civilization. When she outsmarts a deputy and his friend who are attempting to assault her, that deputy claims to the sheriff that she was responsible for the whole violent ordeal. This escalates into a search party hunting down Desiree and brutally murdering her sister in the process. Armed with her knowledge of the untamed swamp wilderness she calls home, Desiree sets out to make sure they pay for what they have done.

This trashy hixploitation classic was the product of Beverly and Ferd Sebastian, a husband-wife duo familiar to many loves of cult cinema. While they always lack in budget, they are always sure to maximize the fun. With Gator Bait they did as the kids say and “understood the assignment”: give Claudia Jennings a vehicle to brandish a shotgun while wearing denim short-shorts and being a badass. As Desiree she is the take-no-prisoner vigilante the swamps need. This is a lawless land filled with violent hillbillies, and deadly wildlife where even those who wear a badge are just as dangerous as the backwoods sociopaths they are supposed to keep in line.

In the grand scope of 70’s grindhouse cinema Gator Bait fits comfortably among the cult favorite female-centric revenge flicks like I Spit on Your Grave and They Call Her One Eye. In 1988 the Sebastians made Gator Bait II: Cajun Justice as a direct to cable and home video release but the lack of Claudia Jennings’ charisma and star power prevents it from becoming the entertainment-fest the original is.