Running time: 95 mins
Director: Beverly Sebastian, Ferd Sebastian
Starring: Tray Loren, Jan MacKenzie, Brad Kepnick, Paul Muzzcat
Genre: Action, Thriller, Hixploitation
The death of Claudia Jennings (Desiree in Gator Bait) in a car accident in October of 1979 shocked much of the cinematic world and no more than friends Beverly and Ferd Sebastian who directed her on a couple of occasions. Therefore it was a bit of a surprise to see a sequel to the “Cajun Swamp Rat” nine years after her death.
It’s been fourteen years since we last saw Big T (Desiree’s little brother) and he’s all grown up and recast with Tray Loren taking over from Tracy Sebastian. Having met and fallen for big city girl Angelique (MacKenzie) we join them at their wedding and subsequent reception which is crashed by the Bracken boys. Slipping off by boat Big T and Angelique head back to their new home in the swamp only for the brothers to decide today is the day to get some revenge and a little something else from the big city girl.
It was a brave choice for the Sebastians to go back to swamp having lost their star but their decision to refocus rather than recast is a sign of their love for Claudia and an understanding of the pitfalls of sequels and rehashing old ground (once again I point a hate filled finger at The Hangover Part II).
The story is again one of revenge, having left Leroy to die in the swamp (at the end of Gator Bait) it’s apparent that the feud between the two
families has gone unresolved for years and with the departure of their figureheads (Desiree and T.J are both mentioned as dead) it has let the dogs off their respective leashes. The almost Shakespearian undertones of the narrative works against the film in parts, there’s no real characterisation, it’s been fourteen years since we have seen Leroy and Big T yet they seem to have not changed a bit and the relationship between Big T and Angelique isn’t always that believable. The look of the film is significantly different to that of Gator Bait. Where almost none of the first film took place indoors there are several scenes in Cajun Justice that take place in houses and shacks and it is these scenes that lessen the visual strength of the film. Where originally the Sebastians were able to take advantage of the natural beauty of Louisiana to craft a visually rich piece of Exploitation cinema the interior scenes not only age the film but showcase the financial shortcomings of the film. There are two scenes which when put side by side showcase this perfectly. The first in after Angelique has taken her bath and is confronted by Leroy and his friends in her new home the threat of sexual assault should create tension and fear in the audience. After all we can all relate to the idea of home invasion and assault, the scene however falls flat and is surprisingly lifeless, but for Joe Boy (Jerry Armstrong) the mentally disabled brother of Leroy and probable child of incest who’s demand for sex is unnerving. Compare this with the scene later in the film in the ruins and the atmosphere is completely different and handled with pure taste and intelligence by the directors. Louisiana
Jan MacKenzie is a revelation, her transformation from 'fish out of water' 'big city girl' to animalistic survivor is fluid and handled superbly. Her stillness and silence during her assaults bring a real emotional connection to the surface between the film and the audience and is genuinely touching. Likewise the vigour and joy in her performance during the motorboat chase (which is tense and marvellously constructed) might seem odd but contains a great pay off for her character and the cheering audience. Paul Muzzcat (as Leroy) is an excellent addition to the cast, having taken over the role from Douglas Dirkson he’s been smart enough to build on the character created and has taken several leads from Dirkson. His role is no great stretch but he performances it well. Jerry Armstrong provides the true menace though, as younger brother and mentally lacking in reason he takes his lead from older brother Leroy and the normalcy in which he goes about committing some truly terrible acts is frightening. The film lacks a level of authority, the first film had it with Sherriff Joe Bob and T.J and were relying on Tray Loren (Big T) to bring that stabilising force to the proceding but Loren is out of his depth and not the screen presence the film requires.
As a stand alone film it fails as much as it succeeds, though the stripped back use of banjo to denote menace is a lovely device. The true strength of the film is that it’s extremely sensitive to the loss of Claudia and rounds out the realm of the “Cajun Swamp Rat” quite well. It’s worth pondering what it would have been had Claudia not died at the age of 29 or if it would have happened at all. Nevertheless there are several key set pieces that are genuinely enjoyable and well crafted revenge thriller that introduced the excellent Jan MacKenzie who amazingly only ever worked again the following year (again with the Sebastians) which is the greatest surprise of them all.