Night of the Lepus (1972)
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS
WRITER: Screenplay by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney
DIRECTOR: William F. Claxton
STARRING: Stuart Whitman as Roy Bennett
Janet Leigh as Gerry Bennett
Rory Calhoun as Cole Hillman
DeForest Kelley as Elgin Clark
Paul Fix as Sherrif Cody
Melanie Fullerton as Amanda Bennett
QUICK CUT: A small southwestern town gets overrun by bunnies. Oh, and also, they get turned giant size, because no one's done a giant animal movie in awhile.
Cole - Our lead rancher and the focus of the story. It's his farm being overrun, at least to begin with, and where everything begins. He's a good, hard working, salt of the earth kinda guy. He's clearly trying to do his best, and trying to not hurt the rabbits any more than necessary to protect his farm, which is a strong sign of his character.
Roy - A bug scientist that gets called in to help Cole with his rabbit problem. He's a bit out of his depth, but he's got a few ideas.
Gerry - Roy's wife and coworker, and pretty much just here for those roles. She drives their kid around and does as she's told. A bit of a waste, sadly.
Elgin Clark - A friend of Cole's at the local college, and gets him in touch with the Bennetts. He seems to be a voice of authority and reason, such as it is.
THE GUTS: Since in a few days, for the first of the month, the movie I'm doing isn't exactly a *classic* of horror, I decided to turn my gaze to something that's...well, it's a classic of something, that's for sure. In all honesty, I've been trying to get this one Trisked since before I even started the site. It has ALWAYS been on the list, but I'd always move it, have other movies, or just plain forget about it. I finally decided it was long past time to get around to it. Almost everyone has heard of this movie, this silly movie about giant bunnies terrorising a small Southern town. How anyone thought this would ever work is beyond me.
But here we go with Night of the Lepus. It's still close enough to Easter, and April Fool's Day, that this seems appropriate on multiple levels.
The poster art asks, "How many eyes does horror have?" and while I don't know the answer to that question, I've heard that the night has a thousand eyes, so I'd say at least upwards of that.
We set the mood right away with a newscaster covering a recent population explosion of bunnies, and giving some history about the bunny invasion of Australia, giving this some much needed weight to it with real world events. No, seriously. This actually helps set up that rabbits CAN be a really bad issue for ranchers, and the countryside in general. It's great to bridge that gap between reality and what a movie does.
Once the setup is out of the way, we watch as Cole the rancher gets his horse's leg stuck in a rabbit hole and has to put it down. He immediately calls his friend Bones...er, Elgin Clark to get some help with the bunny infestation, and that leads us to the Bennetts, who are more experienced with driving off bugs, but hey, it might work! Bunnies vs. Bennetts! It is on!
Man, 'bunny infestation' even SOUNDS cute and adorable and non threatening.
So Elgin enlists the Bennetts and they head to Cole's ranch, where their daughter gets to watch as bunnies get bagged and shot. Oh yeah, that's gonna mess with her.
Roy and Cole start to come up with plans to deal with the bunnfestation, and poison is out, for a multitude of reasons. But maybe hormones to screw with their breeding, or a bunnfectious agent to only kill the rabbits might do the trick!
So they collect a bunch of bunnies and head off to their lab to run tests, while Amanda watches the cute little furry intrstruments of doom.
After his hormone idea doesn't seem to work, Roy tries a new serum that he has no idea what it will do, but hopes it works! Which is exactly the sentence you DO NOT want to hear in a horror movie. I mean, he literally says he doesn't know what it will do, but let's try it! Argh... But it's okay, the bunnies should be fine in the lab, right?
WRONG. See, Amanda loves bunnies, and she especially loves the bunny her dad injects. After watching the bunny get injected, and when her parents aren't looking, she pulls it from its cage, and swaps it with one from the control group. So when she asks if she can have one and her parents say sure, grab a control bunny! guess which one she takes??
Cue the rabbit escaping in 3, 2...and she takes it to the ranch when her mom goes to collect more bunnies, where it immediately runs off and down a hole.
Time passes and aside from making the rabbits grow a bit, the experiments are fruitless. So Cole has no choice but to burn his fields down to try and starve out the bunnies.
Fire is always the answer people! From Frankenstein to bunnies, it solves everything! Well, except for phoenix infestations, but those are pesky. Just when you think they're gone, they come right back.
More time passes, and the land starts to come back, and Cole and friends head out to check for any new bunnies. They find strangely large tracks they can't identify, and I'm surprised no one said it was a giant rabbit track.
Over with the kids, Amanda and Cole's son head off to meet Captain Billy, a prospector who lives near the mountains but not in this movie, where he's trying to mine gold. He doesn't seem to be in his shack though, so the kids hunt around. Amanda goes into the caves to see if he has struck it rich yet.
Because what's a horror movie without a good few minutes of running around shouting someone's name?
What Amanda does find though, is Captain Billy's dead body, and a rabbit getting an extreme closeup...er, an extremely large bunny! Yes, that's it. You thought it was just a harmless little bunny rabbit, but oh nooo...
As Amanda gets looked at by some doctors after passing out, that night a trucker stops by the side of the road and is accosted and killed by more extreme closeups of rabbits.
Seriously, the effects are failing entirely to sell the scale of the rabbits here. Filling the frame with bun might help them *seem* big, but all it does is give you a nice full view of fur or nose or teeth. You need to set the rabbits beside something so we can judge the scale, not this. I mean, I love big buns, and I cannot lie. These shots here you can't deny, when a bun gets a shot of its itty bitty face, the effect is a total waste.
The cops arrive and check out the scene, and the sheriff gets a call on his literal carphone, about Captain Billy. They call in a scientist to check things out, utterly baffled by what could have hacked these people up. I love that the primary suspect is a sabretooth tiger. And he doesn't immediately dismiss the possibility of vampires either.
Oh, and just to add to the pile of random bodies, another cop discovers a family of four. Because random people dying sure make me care!
Faster than Gregory House can run in and say, "It's never lepus!" the movie shouts out, yes! Giant rabbits! That's what Amanda saw, and science backs it up! Well, that's good. We're only a third of the way through, and we're not gonna play the What is it?! game. That's refreshing.
So the Bennetts head back to Cole's to gather up anything and everything they can get their hands on to go on a bunny hunt. Poison, guns, dynamite... So, we've gone from, 'oh no, we can't use poison!' to 'GET THE POISON!!' and explosives. Because why not?
The Bennetts gather at the entrance to the caves, and get their dynamite ready, while Bones and friend head up to the area over the cavern, to deal with any tunnels the bunnies might have dug up there.
Just to complicate matters, they naturally find plenty of holes up there for them to drop explosives down. Because even in the 70s, they knew the power of a good explosion in a movie.
Before the bunnsplosion though, Roy heads into the cave to try and see what the bunnies look like, because he loves a good mystery, and wants to see this for himself. As well as a good scientist who wants to get samples. Cole joins him with the shotgun, just in case.
They finally do find the rabbits, a lot of them, almost as if they've been breeding like...like rabbits! Roy snaps a few photos, because there is no way he's grabbing any samples from the army of buns, and they run for it.
Everyone outside waits for them, so they can blow the impromptu warren to kingdom bun, but they soon have their own problem when a bunny digs its way out of the ground to cause a plot complication.
There's a frantic scene of one of the guys wrestling with a carpet that almost works, and is cut almost well enough with shots of a bloody rabbit...but it does kinda fail because of the carpety look of the guy in suit attacking the ranch hand.
Ginny fortunately shoots the bunny, just as her husband and Cole get out of the cave, and they set off the explosives.
So, bunnies are dead, that's the end of the movie, right? Right? Why is it still going...
The make plans to head back out the next day with the sheriff to make sure all the buns are cooked, but many of them survived and crawl out of the rubble.
A horde of bunnies rampage across Cole's ranch, spooking the horses into a stampede, and then they pounce, attacking and devouring the horses. At last, vengeance for all the rabbit holes that have been stepped in!
The ranch hand that was attacked earlier is still suffering from post traumatic rabbit syndrome, so understandably loses his shit and tries to drive off. Unfortunately, he comes across the buns coming down the road, and is forced to back away.
These are probably the most effective scenes, since the bunnies are running around recognisable things, and messing with the truck, thanks to trickery.
Unfortunately, Cole tries to call for some help with the bunnish invasion, but the ranch hand drives back in a panic, and crashes into the telephone pole. Whoops?
Cole hunkers down in the storm cellar with his family, waiting for the bunnado to pass, and the poor ranch hand finally receives the fate he just escaped a few minutes earlier.
The bunnies invade Cole's home, having their way with it, but Cole does manage to shoot a few up through the floorboards at least.
Mildred down at the general store is less fortunate when the bunnies roam into town and decide to see if they can stock up on supplies. And they carry onwards and kill another rancher shortly afterwards
Sunrise finally comes, and the rabbits settle down for the day, leaving everyone to make a plan to end this once and for all, before night falls and it happens all over again.
Roy sends his wife and kid off to another town while he gets picked up by Elgin to go meet the sheriff at the airport, so they can have a fun helicopter ride over town! Oh, and look for bunnies, I guess.
Meanwhile, Cole is hiking into town to alert them and get help, unawares of everything that happened overnight. A family passes him by, and they think about stopping in the town. But when they see the wrecked, and ruined storefront, and no one around, they assume it's a ghost town and move on.
Gerry and Amanda get themselves stuck in a plothole, as Cole reaches town and discovers all the destruction the bunnies have caused, as well as the resting rabbits.
The other three finally arrive at the mine and get outta the choppah, discovering new rabbit holes, assuming that some must have survived. And the tunnels are currently empty, complicating matters.
Everyone starts to gather at the sheriff's station, and there's a general itching to call in the fighter planes and fire rockets to level the town. Nuke it from orbit always seems like the right solution.
Night falls, and the bunnies return, and still no good plan has emerged. But they're evacuating the nearest town, so that's a good start.
The one time a scientist is actually listened to and not mocked by the officials of a town about an impending disaster, is when it's about gigantic bunnies. Spacedamnit...
But the sheriff made an offhand, joking comment about a giant electrified fence that gives Roy an idea to electrify a section of railroad line, where they'll funnel the rabbits to their electrocutional doom.
The cops head to a nearby drive-in and interrupts the nightly show to enlist all the people trying to take their minds off the rabbitterror, and has them get in position to use their cars and lights to drive them towards the tracks.
Meanwhile, Roy's wife and kid are busy trying to dig their way out of the plothole, and notice the bunnies are nearby. Ginny grabs some road flares and uses the fire to keep the bunniculas away from Amanda.
Fortunately, Roy's been getting worried that he didn't hear from his family after sending them away. He shows up in the nick of time, scaring the buns away with the lights and sound of the helicopter.
The rabbit rampage continues, as they keep running across the same model sets and leaping over the same tiny gorge, but they have come across a herd of cattle and have a little steak tartar along the way.
Our B-Team does their setup montage getting the train tracks ready as the bunnies draw closer. So we finally reach our climax, with a good solid few minutes of rabbit carnage.
They break out guns of all sizes, even flamethrowers, and the already established electrified train tracks. There is much, much screaming of buns. Oh, the bunnanity.
But they all get killed nicely, and that makes me wonder how they heck they're gonna clean up hundreds of giant sized rabbits, but I suppose that's one of those questions I shouldn't be asking.
So, see Australia? All you have to do is mutate your rabbits to giant size, and they become much more manageable than smaller ones ever would be! For truly, twas beauty who slayed the bun.
Which just leaves a little wrap up scene with Cole finding Roy to tell him everything's great and back to normal, although they still have bunnies. They never do say if they're normal or giant sized bun-things though.
But, the bunnies are dead, mostly, and everyone rides off into the sunset on their horses...until someone steps in a burrow, I guess.
No amount of good will in the world can make bunnies terrifying, I don't care how giant they are. But at least everyone gets fur coats this Christmas!
Video: Looks really good for an early 70s drive in movie type experience. Aside from a few glitches of rotoscoping, and considering its a burn on demand DVD, I've got no real complaints. I mean, there's issues with how it was directed and edited, but that's another discussion.
Audio: A mono track that does the job well.
Sound Bite: "Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!" One of the cops trying to get people to stop watching their movie and partake in this one.
Body Count - A pretty decent bit of carnage this time out. On the one hand, I'm impressed this many people bought it, while at the same time you would expect more from a herd of killer rabbits...
1 - After 21 minutes, Amanda finds the dead prospector after a bunny has a snack on him.
2 - A trucker feeds the rabbits with his corpse.
3 - A man is found dead in the park.
4 - With his wife...
5 - And child...
6 - Well, two children, a family of four are the bunnies next victims at a local picnic area.
7 - Cole's poor ranch hand gets attacked, but lives until the night where he is attacked again by the rabbits and finally killed.
8 - Mildred at the general store gets gnawed on next.
9 - Another rancher bites it as they rampage over the town.
10 - Oh, and Cole mentions they also killed Mildred's husband, which I either missed or they didn't show.
11 - And a whole crapton of rabbits!
Best Corpse: I quite like that we at least get to see Mildred pounced on by the hoppity carpet. Easily the most memorable death, I think.
Blood Type - C+: Nothing too great, but they do give some nice bloody shots here and there, so pretty average overall.
Sex Appeal: Nothing to see here, not those kinds of bunnies.
Drink Up! Every time someone tries to take killer rabbits seriously.
Video Nasties: This time, enjoy a scene of bunnies running everywhere! Because why not? Warning! Scenes of excessive bunny carnage follows!
Movie Review: Okay, okay, yes, it's about giant rabbits terrorising a ranch and nearby town. The idea is inherently absurd, but hey. It's a giant animal movie. You just kinda gotta roll with these things. But once you move past that, it's not terrible, y'know? The acting is actually really decent, with a solid cast of period actors. Even with someone like DeForest Kelly not having a lot to do, he brings his a-game to this, and does very well with very little. The story is light, but this was clearly made as fluffy popcorn entertainment. This wasn't going for anything major or life changing, and that's just fine. The biggest problem is the attempts to make the bunnies look huge that rarely come off until midway through the movie. It's thoroughly competent enough, with no major complaints, but nothing to really make this a great film either. Three out of five killer bunnies.
Entertainment Value: It's never quite over the top enough to be super fun, but it is still a movie that tries to take a giant rabbit rampage seriously, and you gotta marvel at that. This definitely falls into the 'quaint 70s horror' type of movie I've done before, right next to Gargoyles. It's once again, thoroughly okay. Nothing offensive here, unless you're sensitive to screaming bunny carnage. Enjoyable and fun for what it is. The bunny threat is just serious enough that it IS a real problem, which gives this movie some much needed weight beyond the silly *sounding* idea. It's definitely a better attacking animals movie than Corpse Grinders. Any of the three, take your pick. But it's not quite as good in that regard as Dogs was. That movie was brutal and hard to beat. Three out of five control group bunnies.