NIGHT OF THE LEPUS
Yes, this is the one and only KILLER RABBIT movie! Need I say more?
Believe it or not, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS was a fairly high-profile MGM release back in 1972, with name actors like Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh and DeForest Kelley (who ensured by his presence here that he’d come to be known solely for playing Bones McCoy on STAR TREK). It was one of several nature-run-amok movies to appear in the 1970s--others include FROGS, NIGHTWING, DAY OF THE ANIMALS and BUG--and easily the most ludicrous of them all.
Beyond that there’s little about this film worth mentioning outside its trailer, surely one of the most unintentionally hilarious of all time (“More shattering than your strangest nightmare!”), and the fact that rampaging bunny footage from NOTL was played over the end credits of NATURAL BORN KILLERS.
Dr. Roy Bennett is dealing with a rabbit infestation in a desert community. Roy decides to inject several adult male rabbits with an experimental hormone intended to disrupt the rabbits’ breeding cycle and thin their hordes. What the hormone does, however, is to cause the bunnies to grow to several times their natural size and develop a taste for human flesh! A man is dismembered by one particularly ravenous rabbit in the desert, which as it turns out is the first of several deadly rabbit attacks.
A decision is made not to alert the public. Instead Roy and several cohorts head out to the local mine, where the mutant rabbits are holed up, and blow the place up. But the rabbits survive the blast and run riot through the countryside. Roy sends his wife and young daughter off in a camper to deal with the problem himself, but ends up stranded amid the attacking rabbits. Meanwhile, the National Guard is called in to combat the things, leading to an all-out man-bunny showdown!
It’s interesting that despite what was apparently a fairly substantial budget, director William F. Claxton still managed to turn out a movie that plays like a low-budget trash fest. His set-ups are flat and uninspired, and the film overall has the look of an early-seventies TV movie--an unfair comparison, I will admit, as most TVMs of the time were much better than NIGHT OF THE LEPUS.
There are moments of mind-scraping stupidity worthy of Ed Wood at his most (or should I say least?) inspired. Those moments are contained in the rabbit attack footage, which tends to consist largely of close-ups of the creatures’ twitching noses and bared fangs. I’m talking about actual rabbits, mind you, hopping in slow motion through patently obvious model sets, which are not scary in the least (although in some scenes guys in rabbit suits are substituted, which aren’t too fearsome either).
Best of all is the fact that there isn’t a single moment of intentional comedy anywhere in this movie: it takes itself absolutely seriously, which of course makes it all the funnier. Those of you in need of an especially good laugh are advised to check out an early scene where the heroes are chased down a mineshaft by “giant” rabbits...and if that doesn’t do it than the sight of the bunnies rampaging through a farmhouse while guys holed up in the basement shoot up through the floor should do it...or a sheriff warning drive-in patrons that “there’s a horde of killer rabbits headed this way!”
You get the drift: this a prime example of what-were-they-thinking??? cinema, a movie as colossally misguided as any since...ever!
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS
Director: William F. Claxton
Producer: A.C. Lyles
Screenplay: Don Holliday, Gene R. Kearney
(Based on a novel by Russell Braddon)
Cinematography: Ted Voightlander
Editing: John McSweeney
Cast: Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley, Paul Fix, Melanie Fullerton, Chris Morrell, Chuck Hayward, Henry Wills, Francesca Jarvis, William Elliott, Robert Hardy, Richard Jacome, Inez Perez, G. Leroy Gaintner, Evans Thornton