There was a time I wouldn’t have considered giving Night of the Lepus (1972) a higher-than-average (or even average) rating. My memory of it was that it was boring, featuring endless scenes of giant rabbits bouncing across the countryside in slow motion. It’s still no masterpiece, but when I re-watched it recently, I was surprised how “not bad” it is.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s absolutely ridiculous. Early scenes of regular-sized rabbits in overpopulated colonies are scary enough… I imagine they could do some damage. Why do the rabbits in Night of the Lepus have to be giant rabbits? I mean, three years later, Monty Python turned one crazed bunny into a killing machine.
Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) doesn’t want to poison the increasing number of rabbits on his ranch because of the effect it could have on other wildlife. The scientists visiting the local university, Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh), believe as quickly as the rabbits multiply, they can change the hormones of one and before long, evolution will change them all.
If the science meets the minimum standard for a horror/sci-fi film, the execution of it is clunky. The Bennett’s daughter, Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) plays musical cages and ends up with a rabbit from the control group. Then, when Hillman’s son, Jackie (Chris Morrell) releases it on the ranch, giant hares are suddenly popping out of rabbit holes everywhere.
These rabbits are vicious, and scenes depicting their attacks on humans are gory. The aftermath of a family of four after they’ve been mauled is gruesome. I even jumped when one crashed through the front window of the General Store to pounce on its proprietor. If the power of your imagination trumps the sometimes-laughable special effects, there are thrills to experience.
I’ll go as far as to argue that most of the special effects aren’t that bad. Sure, there are regular-sized rabbits running through miniature sets; but, when shot from beneath as they’re leaping over ditches, I was able to suspend my disbelief for a few moments. What bothered me more were bad shots in which I wouldn’t imagine it would have been difficult to convey reality.
Svengoolie informed me (and he may have gotten the information from IMDb) that rabbits screeching are really rabbits yawning, and that blood on their faces is really ketchup. What, then, are the rabbits at the end that look like they’re being shot, electrocuted, and set on fire, their lifeless bodies stacking up by the railroad tracks? If nothing else, that should disturb you.
None of this is particularly “fun.” While it’s not boring, Night of the Lepus isn’t suspenseful, either. The characters keep talking about protecting the city that they’re approaching, but it’s not named and never once do we see it. If it’s like the rest of the Arizona locations, there’s not much at stake. The bigger threat instead may be to DeForest Kelley’s 1970’s mustache.
Written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney
From the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Braddon
Directed by William F. Claxton
Starring Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley
RT 88 min.
Released Oct. 4, 1972
Recorded on Sept. 12, 2020 (Svengoolie)
Rating 6 Possessed Children (out of 10)
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