Ferd Sebastian: A Life in Film

The ’70s exploitation filmmaker behind Rocktober Blood and ‘Gator Bait, passes

R D Francis
11 min readOct 29, 2022


Courtesy of the Sebastian Family Estate.

Editor’s Note: The film hyperlinks within this article will redirect you to off-Medium film reviews by R.D Francis.

Prior to Ferd and Beverly Sebastian’s mid-’90s conversion to Christianity and subsequent retirement from an industry where they shared writing, directing, cinematography and producing duties in their crafting drive-in and direct-to-video exploiters, their film shingle, Sebastian International Pictures, was a family affair: a celluloid amalgamate analogous to the exploitation resume of Ron and June Ormond who, along with their son, Tim, produced a profitable resume of westerns, thrillers, musicals, and Christian films from the ’50s through the early ’80s. As with the Ormonds: as the Sebastian clan grew, their sons Benjamin and Tracy, and daughter-in-law, Jan MacKenzie (an ex-Playboy model and former G.L.O.W girl married to Ben), worked behind the scenes, as well as appearing in front of the camera on the family’s films.

Those S.I.R films created throughout the ’70s and ’80s are best described as “grindhouse” flicks — one of which predates the “slasher” craze of the 1980s inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). While horror aficionados, rightfully, remember Rocktober Blood (1984) as part of that Italian-inspired genre, it was the Sebastians’ earlier Claudia Jennings-starrer, the Caribbean Island-set stalker, The Single Girls (1974), shot for a reported $45,000, which splashed blood across our screens, first, as one of the first, Americanized Giallo films.

And just like Roger Corman before them (well, except for his own 1974 opus, Cockfighter): the Sebastians never lost a dime on a picture.

A self-described “redneck” and photographer-by-trade, Ferd — as with George Romero of Night of the Living Dead fame before him — transitioned from photography to directing TV commercials. In an April 1993 interview with the Tampa Bay Times to promote their new, Florida-shot biker-action flick, Running Cool, it’s learned that Ferd and Beverly, then living in Houston, Texas, had $10,000 to their name — and a dream to make motion pictures. So Ferd made the most logical move to set the dream in motion: he conned his way to a phone meeting with Walt Disney, shortly before the studio head’s 1966 death. The master and the neophyte spoke for more than an hour. Walt’s advice to the novice filmmaker: Every successful movie — even kid’s fare like Snow White — has three elements: sex, violence, and action.

Ferd never forgot, as the Sebastians applied that sage advice to every film they made. “We make redneck romper-stompers,” Beverly told Newsweek in 1977, when speaking of their burgeoning “redneck empire” of profitable drive-in exploiters. That empire kicked off five years earlier with their fourth film, The Hitchhikers (1972).

The Sebastians’ company edict, in addition to adhering to Walt Disney’s advice, also mirrored Roger Corman’s: make ’em fast, make ’em cheap and, when opportunity knocks: always produce a knockoff of a then-popular film. So when John Boorman struck box office gold with his redneck-revenge horror, Deliverance (1972), the Sebastians’ response was to bring back Claudia Jennings from their proto-slasher, The Single Girls, for Gator Bait (1973). Made for a few hundred thousand — less than John Carpenter’s reported $300,000 budget for Halloween — the swampy-action of ’Gator Bait grossed double-digit millions on the drive-in circuit.

It began when a 19-year-old Ferdinand Sebastian met an 18-year-old Beverly Cawthorne at a Houston, Texas, roller skating rink in 1952; they ran away to get married a mere ten-days after they met — and remained married for the next seven decades.

Accumulating funds from their mutual TV commercial work, the Sebastians spent $7500 to finance their first film: the crew consisted of six people; Ferd and Beverly served as the lone crew members alongside four actors. That humble, Beverly-penned debut, the black-and-white-shot I Need a Man (1967), concerned with the journeys of a teenage schizophrenic-nymphomaniac, promoted with the outlandish tagline: “I need a man . . . any man!,” was just raunchy enough to pique theaters owners’ interest. That success, and their sophomore follow up, The Love Clinic (1968), a romantic-comedy about a female urologist and male obstetrician, are since lost as result of the film lab involved in the production; the lab’s subsequent bankruptcy resulted in the negatives being stolen — as well as the Sebastians seeing little of both films’ individual, several hundred thousand dollars in box office receipts.

Courtesy of Film Art Gallery.

The Sebastian’s fortunes improved courtesy of adult film producer David F. Friedman — who also delved in B-movies and exploitation fair, such as Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, and nudie cuties, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bares — hiring the couple to craft Red, White and Blue (1971), a documentary regarding the hearings of President Richard M. Nixon’s Commission on Obscenity: hearings in which Friedman testified. Prior to the release of that adult industry-backed production, the Sebastians crafted a now lost, X-rated “sex education” documentary that, in Friedman’s words: “Sold the sizzle, not the steak,” Martial Fulfillment (1970). That gave way to the Sebastians’ fourth film and third fictional project, The Hitchhikers (1972), a thriller concerned with a pregnant runaway girl (Misty Rowe) working as part of a teen-girl gang luring and robbing over-sexed men. And that “redneck romper stomper” cleaned up on the drive-in circuit: Sebastian International Pictures was on their way.

The Sexcapdes of Don Diego, shot by Ferd for David F. Friedman.

While their son, Benjamin, worked primarily behind the scenes on business and technical aspects, with occasional support roles, their younger son, Tracy, always appeared as a co-star or lead actor. Sometimes professionally credited as “Trey Loren,” the learning-on-the-set actor made his early-teens’ debut alongside Claudia Jennings doppelganger Tricia Sembera: she the mastermind of a dune buggy-backed bank robbery team in the Sebastians’ eighth film, Flash and the Firecat (1975).

Tracy had his first leading man role in the Sebastians’ other rock ’n’ roll flick, which shot in 1977: the radio piracy comedy, On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (1979). An exploiter known to the over-50 crowd from its incessant, early-Eighties airings on the USA Cable Network’s weekend-night rock video programming block, Night Flight, the film achieved its pop culture status when the film’s protagonist’s name was later used in the 1986 “Captain Midnight” pirate satellite broadcast on the HBO cable network.

For four and a half minutes, the pirate signal — broadcast in protest of the burgeoning premium channel’s transmission policies and ever-increasing subscription fees — was seen by over seven million subscribers during a showing of the film, The Falcon and the Snowman. The end result of the incident: The United States Congress passed the Electronic Communications Piracy Act of 1986, making the hijacking of satellites a felony; in addition, ATIS: The Automatic Transmitter Identification System was developed to prevent future hijackings. Not too bad of a footnote for a low-budgeted teen-comedy that would otherwise, been a forgotten drive-in exploiter.

Another of Sebastians’ best-known and oft-run films on the fledging USA Cable Network — one beloved by “metalsploitation” fans worldwide — was also one of the earliest of the slasher ’80s-inspired genre: Rocktober Blood (1984). For many years, fans were unaware of co-star Nigel Benjamin’s ex-musical past connected to Mott the Hoople (and his professional flirtations with a nascent Mötley Crüe). So effective was Tracy Sebastian lip-synching to Nigel’s vocals, it was believed the ersatz-Headmistress of the proceedings was a real band managed by the Sebastians. The band was, in fact, an L.A.-based band known as Sorcery, which gigged the Southern California local scene with a pre-fame Van Halen and Rockicks.

One of the Sebastians’ final films produced prior their retirement was ’Gator Bait II: Cajun Justice (1988), a sequel to their 1973 Claudia Jennings-starrer requested by Paramount Pictures for their newly-incorporated direct-to-video division. A grown up “Big T” (played by Tracy) — a little kid in the 1973 original — now runs the family business as he teaches his wife (sister-in-law, Jan) the ways of the swamp — which she uses to extract bad-ass Cajun revenge. In 1993, when the Sebastian clan relocated to Tampa, Florida, to film their third Paramount-backed film, Running Cool (1993) — the other for the studio was the wrestling drama The American Angels: Baptism of Blood (1990) that starred Jan Sebastian — the ex-Texan-raised lovers fell in love with the western Gulf Coast, and stayed.

A neglected film on the Sebastians’ resume is, ironically, their most successful production: one that not only provided their first opportunity to work with a major studio: it enabled the production of Rocktober Blood. When Let There Be Rock — noted as one of the most successful “midnight movies” and “concert films” of the pre-MTV epoch — played across U.S. theatres during the winter months of 1980, the stardom of the once underground Aussie rockers as a premiere heavy metal band in America, was sealed. Additionally influenced by the film’s runaway success — the Warner Bros.-distributed VHS earned a U.K. “Platinum” status for selling an excess of 50,000 copies — U.S. radio eventually synched with its European broadcast counterpart: a country where AC/DC was already a well-known, respected band by way of their sixth album, the pretty-hard-to-ignore powerhouse, 1979’s Highway to Hell. The connection to Warner Bros. also transitioned Ben Sebastian to a career in A&R with the label: one of his artists, Facedown, came to provide music for the soundtrack to Rocktober Blood.

In an interview with the U.K. publication Hysteria Lives!, Ferd explained his son Tracy — already a fan of the band, and while on vacation in Paris — watched the French-shot and European-released film that chronicled a December 9, 1979, AC/DC performance during their “Highway to Hell Tour” at the Pavillon de Paris.

Tracy, being a rock ’n’ roll fanatic, and with his dad in the film business, a light bulb went off: he was adamant Sebastian International Pictures bring the film to America. After taking care of some post-production sound issues and finalizing a distribution deal, according to Ferd, “we four-walled the theatres and brought the money home every night. Lots of it.” Then Warner Bros. took notice and wanted a piece of the action. So the Sebastians cut a deal with Bugs — and made even more money. Sadly, while those funds subsequently financed the exploits of the slashin’ n’ singin’ of Billy Eye Harper — and stymied any plans for AC/DC’s involvement in the “metalsplotition” production — the band’s lead vocalist, Bon Scott, never had a chance to enjoy the film’s success: he died on February 19, 1980, just over two months after filming was completed in Paris.

Retired from the business by the early 2000s, the Sebastians shifted their dedications to Christian-based causes and animal rights. Ferd became an ordained ministry and, with Beverly, incorporated prison outreach and greyhound rescue programs as part of his 2jesus.org ministry. Using their Floridian-river front back yard as a “set,” the Sebastians occasionally shot nature films, which they distributed via Amazon. Meanwhile, Tracy and Ben took over the filmmaking reigns. Reacquiring the rights to the Sebastian International Pictures’ Vestron Video and Paramount-distributed films, the brothers reissued the shingles’ catalog to DVD via their Panama Films imprint through various online retailers. And their biggest project was yet to come. . . .

In April of 2016 The Screamcast podcast reported the Sebastians launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for a proposed sequel to their 1984 heavy-metal slasher, Rocktober Blood: Rocktober Blood 2: Billy’s Revenge. Sadly, those sequel plans quickly crumbled in the midst of a fan-controversial DVD/Blu-ray/CD reissue of the film and soundtrack — with the intention those proceeds would also fund the production of the sequel. The film’s affections and influence continues in 2022, as images from the film have since been licensed for posters, tee-shirts, and Billy Eye Harper action figures. The Sebastians’ catalog is also easily found on DVDs and Blu-rays in the online marketplace via portals such as Amazon and eBay.

At the time of their joint Paramount production with Running Cool, the Sebastians worked with their largest budget: $2.5 million. “The bigger picture we got involved with, the less control we had,” Ferd Sebastian told the Tampa Bay Times in 1993. So Ferd got out of the movie business. “I’ve wasted most of my life fighting the world, trying to get ahead by hook or crook,” he stated in his testimony to Christ. “He raised me up, healed my body, renewed my mind and filled me with his spirit and love. . . .”

John Milton, in the pages of his epic poem, Paradise Lost, advised man can make a heaven of hell; a hell of heaven. So Ferd shed the hells of Hollywood for the heavens found in the riverside city of Homosassa, Citrus County, north of Tampa, Florida, where he became an ordained minister on October 17, 1999. Born on July 25, 1933, in Travis County, Texas, Ferd loyally served The Lord for the rest of his days. He had his homecoming on March 27, 2022, at the age of 88 due to complications from a February 2022 brain stem stroke — mere weeks before Ferd and Beverly’s 70th wedding anniversary.

Godspeed, Ferdinand. Thanks for the great films.



1993 — Running Cool
1989 — American Angels: Baptism of Blood
1988 — Real Life 101 — (TV Series w/Ben Sebastian/producer)
1988 — ’Gator Bait II: Cajun Justice
1984 — Rocktober Blood
1980 — AC/DC: Let There Be Rock
1979 — On the Air Live with Captain Midnight
1979 — Delta Fox
1975 — Flash and the Firecat
1974 — ’Gator Bait
1974 — The Single Girls
1972 — The Sexcapdes of Don Diego — (Ferd as D.P for David F. Friedman)
1972 — The Hitchhikers
1971 — Red, White and Blue — (documentary)
1970 — Martial Fulfillment — (documentary)
1969 — The Love Clinic
1967 — I Need A Man

Promotional Radio Spots 45 rpm courtesy of Discogs.

The Sebastian’s National Greyhound Foundation operated by Beverly has the distribution rights to their film library via Panama/HIS Movies — and funding from those films’ reissues has helped the foundation rescue and save the lives of over 15,000 retired racing greyhounds.

Ferd, through his still operating 2JESUS.org healing ministry, has helped reach and save hundreds of thousands of souls worldwide.

Ms. Sebastian is currently writing an auto-biography of her life with Ferd, Living with a Man of God: From Hollywood to Heaven — itself the companion book to Ferd’s own Walk with Jesus memoir. You can purchase the eBook for free via the link.

About the Author: You can visit R.D Francis on Facebook.



R D Francis

Is a screenwriter, author, music and film journalist. Visit him at B&S About Movies, Garage Hangover, It's Psychedelic Baby, Ugly Things Magazine, and the IMDb.