Haters gonna hate… Gators gonna gate!
When the sheriff and local bad boys clash with her kin, Cajun swamp gal Desiree is one badass bayou babe bent on revenge!
Bad movies come from every decade, but the bad movies of the 1970s are my favorite. They are unapologetic. They knew drive-in audiences weren’t there for fine filmmaking, they wanted to fool around, drink the beer they sneaked in, and see blood and/or breasts when they happened to glimpse at the screen.
’Gator Bait (1974, note the apostrophe) delivers.
Former Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings plays Desiree, a gorgeous, half-feral redhead who just wants to poach gators and feed her brother and sister. But the sheriff’s son Billy Boy and his no-good friend hassle her in a most ungentlemanly fashion, and she tosses a toe sack full of cottonmouths into their boat. In the ensuing hilarity, Billy Boy accidentally shoots his friend in the head. And being the cowardly kind, he blames it on Desiree.
The sheriff and the dead boy’s father decide to “haul that wild coon-ass out of the swamp” for some justice. (Coon-ass is something you don’t call a Cajun unless you want a foot broken off in your own.) They chase her in motorboats and duel with shotguns, but are no match for Desiree’s swamp gal skills.
Claudia Jennings is a fine physical actress, rather like Jean-Claude Van Damme. And like Mr JCVD, she has a terrible Cajun accent. She sounds like a cavegirl, but she does a great job of looking like she was born to motor over stumps and gatorbacks with a hunting knife in one hand and a twelve gauge in the other. And despite her hair looking like the nest of a meth-head squirrel, she looks quite stunning in cut-off jeans and a tied-off shirt.
Alas, Ms. Jennings tragically perished in a car crash on the Pacific Coast Highway before making it to age 30, leaving a legacy of grindhouse classics like Deathsport (David Carradine riding destructo-cycles) and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase.
’Gator Bait is practically MST3K fodder, but it is good fun in spots, especially when the baddies meet their deserved demise. The budget did not allow anyone to become bait for gators, which is disappointing. They didn’t even try to merge in stock footage of alligator death rolls. What it does have is Claudia Jennings tearing ass all over the bayou and Sam Gilman as Bracken, gnawing the Spanish moss scenery like a fire-bearded Kris Kristofferson. If you like slapped-together fun exploitation cinema, and if you can track it down, ’Gator Bait is for you. The rest of us wanting a Cajun badass revenge film will have to settle for Burt Reynolds in Hal Needham’s Gator, which may not have Ms. Jennings, but has a lot more thrills and fun.
Thomas Pluck is the Bullet Award-winning writer of the Denny the Dent stories, as well as hard-boiled and humorous fiction that has appeared in The Utne Reader, Beat to a Pulp, Spinetingler, McSweeney’s, Crimespree Magazine and many others. He is also the editor of the Lost Children anthologies to benefit PROTECT and Children 1st. He is working on his first novel, entitled Bury the Hatchet. Find him on Twitter @thomaspluck.