Night of the Lepus
How many eyes does horror have? How many times will terror strike?
Year of Release: 1972
Also Known As: Rabbits
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 88 minutes (1:28)
Director: William F. Claxton
Stuart Whitman ... Roy Bennett
Janet Leigh ... Gerry Bennett
Rory Calhoun ... Cole Hillman
DeForest Kelley ... Elgin Clark
Paul Fix ... Sheriff Cody
Melanie Fullerton ... Amanda Bennett
Chris Morrell ... Jackie Hillman
Chuck Hayward ... Jud
Henry Wills ... Frank
A hormone intended to alter the breeding cycle of rabbits overrunning ranch lands instead turns them into flesh-eating, 150-pound monsters. Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun and DeForest Kelley are among the intrepid humans facing the behemoth bunnies. They use guns, flames and dynamite to subtract them. But the rampaging rabbits know how to multiply. Can anything stop these hare-y scary monsters?
Night of the Lepus, remindin' us that what goes around comes around, an that a rabbit's foot becomes significantly less lucky when it's tearin' your face off. You can't really blame 'em, I mean, if your whole family was carted off an ended up havin' all their limbs amputated like Sherilyn Fenn in Boxing Helena, you'd prolly be a little P.O.'d too. An speakin' of severed succulence, I think these guys in the movie coulda really benefited from the approach we took here in town when we annihilated all our predators after a coyote was spotted eyeballin' one of Silas Tankersley's goats. Seemed like an ideal solution, but after all the ballistic tipped AR-15 shells were finally emptied, all the other critter populations exploded like the heart valve of a constipated McDonald's patron. Huntin's one thing, but eatin' your kill when said kill consists of skunk, possum, racoon, rattlesnake, or magpie kinda puts a damper on your dinin' experience. At least for normal folks. Fortunately, Saul an Blaine Schwartzberg thought it'd be brilliant to cash in on the trend of pretendin' somethin' disgustin' is a local delicacy to lure in unsuspectin' tourists an truck drivers who've prolly seen worse an don't much give a damn.
See, if you tell people from Seattle that the weasel fillets on their plate're part of gettin' an "authentic experience" while enjoyin' the "local customs", they'll suck down unfiltered water an gnaw on gristly muskrat meat on their way to Yellowstone park so they'll have stories to tell their yuppie friends back home while they're sippin' their double lattes at Starbucks. So Saul an Blaine propped this place up out by the freeway an called it The Rural Mural, then drove around town checkin' out all the crap that everybody had nailed to their wood sheds an layin' out rustin' in their wheat fields like those vultures on the reality TV shows they air on the History channel. Eventually they were able to accumulate enough rusty tractor sprockets, shot up deer crossin' signs, an sun-bleached cattle skulls to cover the walls an get 'er up an goin'. They even hired Aesop Marlin to start up a phony baloney huntin' guide service for all the dinks who were stayin' in town overnight, the point of which was to take these wet behind the ears city folks out to massacre their own ground squirrels, badgers, or whatever Aesop was able to locate an then have the restaurant fry up their kill for 'em in the mornin'. Seems like everybody wins in the end; Marlin ends up pocketin' about $200 an hour offa these dopes, an they all get to go home an regale their coworkers with their harrowin' tale of how they treed the fierce an elusive porcupine with their masculine bravado an heroically shot it in the back while it tried to scurry up the trunk. I really can't believe this scheme of theirs worked, I mean, you'd think these people'd notice that the only other customers in the restaurant are all wearin' Birkenstocks an the same flannel patterned polo shirts that Saul an Blaine sell in the gift shop for $49.95 a whack, but apparently I'm mistaken. I tell ya, some people'll do just about anything if they think it's fashionable, but to each their own I suppose. Sides, I got $70 outta Saul for the old cracked gold pan I'd been usin' to sight in my .30-06, so who am I to question the free market?
Gettin' back to the flick though, this is unquestionably the single greatest killer bunny flick ever made. Brought to us by that great decade known as the 70s, where all the creatures on God's green Earth started gettin' so P.O.'d at us that we had to create the EPA just to get pollution levels under control enough to pry nature off our collective throat. So in light of the fact that these brave souls chose to take one for the industry an leave the more menacing creatures for somebody else to tackle, it seems only fittin' that we take a look at what this beastly bunny bonanza has to teach us about life. First, ranch children're so principled an set in their ways that they'd rather you release the deadly predator that's been killin' their livestock rather'n haul it off an prevent it from doin' any further damage. You're either with 'em, or you're against 'em, an they don't take kindly to their so-called "friends" takin' a barbaric bunny home to keep as a pet. Second, when a herd of giant man-eatin' rabbits is stampedin' towards your pad, forget the cops an call the local general store. Apparently the only way to negotiate with bloodthirsty bunnies is with mass quantities of carrot cake. An third, brandishin' a double barrel decreases your chances of gettin' a ride by a significant margin. But somethin' that's been buggin' me lately that conveniently came up in the movie, is the way government just takes what they want from us without givin' us appropriate financial compensation. They decide they wanna run a power-line through your pristine rattlesnake an jackrabbit wildlife preserve an what happens? Eminent domain, son. Your rattler huntin' days're over, an what do you get in return? Bupkis, that's what. It's bad enough that they'll do this to private citizens, but in Night of the Lepus, they take it to a whole new level an deputize the entire audience at a drive-in theater cause they (as usual) can't handle their own problems. Now, if these folks wanna volunteer to help that's fine, it is a free country after all. My gripe comes from the fact that the drive-in prolly wasn't makin' squat offa the entry fee an that their real income comes from the scratch spent at the concession stands. So these cops show up right in the middle of the I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin double feature an just hijack the entire crowd before the concession stand employees can even get the $9 burgers offa the grill or pull the nachos outta the deep fryer. The business undoubtedly lost its ass that night, but does big government care? No sir. I'm reminded of the wise words of one Drayton Sawyer who once said: "the small business man always, always, always gets it in the ass!" an it was never more true than the moment the drive-in community from Night of the Lepus drove off an left the management to eat both the loss an their lethal menu items. It's downright infuriatin'.
The movie begins with this newscaster showin' clips of Australians tryin' to herd about a billion jackrabbits towards the Indian Ocean an discussin' how man's experiencin' some serious blowback from nature, who's throwin' wave after wave of fuzzy creatures at us for buildin' condos on toppa their ancestral breedin' grounds or somethin' like that. Then we head over to America where Rory Calhoun (Cole) is out for a ride an ends up gettin' thrown like the Sunday Mornin' Edition when his horse steps in a rabbit hole as its leg snaps like Katharine Isabelle durin' the full moon an Cole hasta shoot it cause his chiropractor told 'im he shouldn't be carryin' livestock home anymore. Then Cole goes to see Dr. McCoy from Star Trek an ask to borrow his phaser so he can kick some bunny behind, but McCoy says that'd violate the prime directive an get the enviros P.O.'d, so he tells Cole he'll talk to a coupla his hippy friends who're tryin' to bring an end to the use of all DDT that doesn't involve Jake Roberts an see if they can help. So McCoy goes to see Roy an Gerry Bennett who're out testin' bat guano to see just how crazy it actually is, til McCoy tells 'em about Cole's problem an explains that if they don't help 'im the other ranchers're gonna unleash DDT Shock & Awe all over the heartland. Roy considers this the first shot fired in the war against nature in the last 12 hours an agrees to head over to Cole's place where he scoops up some specimens to inject with various chemicals in the hopes that somethin' sticks, in exchange for Cole holdin' off on destroyin' the ecosystem for awhile. Then Roy, Gerry an their kid (Amanda) head back to Roy's lab an start givin' the rabbits drugs, makin' 'em watch the Tanning Mom porno, an presidin' over bunny marriages, but nothin' he tries seems to keep 'em from screwin' like ugly people in a crack den. Roy's got one last serum left to try, but he ends up injectin' it into Amanda's favorite death row inmate, which she then switches with one from the control group while Roy's on the phone with Cole, who's explainin' to 'im that the furry menace is gettin' more an more ornery an that he dunno how much longer he can hold out before he hasta call in Yosemite Sam to handle the varmints. Then Amanda reminds the parents about their promise to let 'er keep one of the specimens to compensate for their clinical disposition towards 'er, an naturally she takes the one she saved from death row. Course, by this point, Roy's killed so many of his specimens from injectin' random household chemicals into 'em that he hasta send Gerry out to fetch some more an when she an Amanda get out to Cole's place, Cole's country-fried offspring takes Amanda's furry friend away an releases it back into the wild cause he's P.O.'d about the wascally wabbits killin' off his chickens. Clearly this kid isn't goin' to the national intelligence finals any time soon.
Unfortunately, Cole decides he can't wait any longer for Roy to work out a Bugsbonic plague that'll take care of the rabbits so he decides to torch his acreage an send the rabbits scurryin' over to somebody else's property, unless of course they remember they're rabbits an that they live underground. But anyway, awhile later Cole, Roy, Gerry an their respective descendants ride around some of Cole's less char-broiled acreage an look at some rabbit prints the size of Rush Limbaugh's jowls while Amanda an Cole the younger take off to look around an old mine shaft. Cept once they get there they can't find the 49er workin' it, til Amanda heads inside an discovers he's been turned into a prospecter at the hands of the Hellvetine rabbits who're now the size of Ford Broncos. Fortunately, Amanda don't look like Ron Howard or anybody else that closely resembles a carrot an so Cole the younger's able to drag 'er outta there an get 'er home before they can process 'er into a pile of rabbit pellets. Not so lucky, is a hapless truck driver who pulls over to make sure he didn't shatter his load of Old Milwaukee when he took a cattle guard at 65mph, cause the moment he gets outta the truck he's mauled by Peter an the Rottentails who chew through his OshKosh B'Goshs an go for the jugular as he screams like Marilyn Burns fleein' from Leatherface. The next day the cops find the guy an determine that whatever killed 'im musta chugged his cargo, gotten P.O.'d about how weak-kneed it was, an mutilated the guy for not havin' the good sense to have some buffalo wings on hand in case things turned ugly. Then pretty quick more corpses start showin' up an the reports of Little Bunny Chew Chew's exploits eventually reach Roy who's over at his lab with McCoy an some scientist who looks like a Hershey's kiss melted in the center of his bald spot. The scientist theorizes that genetics just go apeshit sometimes, particularly when some jackass shoots an animal fulla that crap Scott Steiner uses to make 'imself look like a radial tire that's sprouted a coupla dozen sidewall bubbles. So the next day, the primary cast heads out to the old mine an start riggin' the thing to blow like a special effects supervisor on a Syfy original movie, til Roy decides it might be his last chance to prove to the world how brilliantly his experiment failed an so he an Cole head inside the mine to get a coupla Polaroids. Cave's so fulla bats an bunnies that the only thing really missin' is an enormous Saint Bernard's head, but when Roy finally gets his picture, the flash enrages the Bunnzillas who're still hungover from their beer run last night an they charge Roy an Cole like a big screen plasma TV on a proletariat credit card. Meanwhile, Thugs Bunny takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque an tunnels up outside the mine where it starts tearin' up one of Cole's ranch hands (Jud) who suffers not just the indignity of bein' beaten up by the Donnie Darko rabbit, but also the shame of bein' saved by a woman once Gerry grabs 'er double barrel an goes all Yosemite Samantha on the belligerent bunny.
Eventually, Roy an Cole escape the mine an start yellin' for Jud to set off the charges, an pretty quick the shaft blows like a financially strapped college student at a sperm bank, leavin' the bunnies buried up to their harey asses in dirt clods. Unfortunately, once they've slept off their drunk a little, the concussed coneys dig themselves outta their holes an climb outta the escape hatch so they can head into town an grab some takeout over at Cole's place. So once the bunnies ambush Cole's herd an pack away more horse meat than an unsuspectin' Wendy's patron, they debone Jud while Cole's callin' up the general store to see how quick they can air lift in a two ton crate of carrots, til the phone line gets cut an Cole hasta take his troops an fall back to the vegetable cellar. Which is kinda like fallin' back to a B-B-Q joint when you're bein' pursued by Dom Deluise, but whatever. Then Cole hears 'em pilin' into his kitchen an gettin' into his pork rind stash an he hasta start blowin' holes through the linoleum to teach 'em some manners before they devour the entire snack supply for his weekly poker tournament. Unfortunately, the phone line went tits up on 'im while he was tryin' to warn the shopkeeper in town about the fourth farmered division hoppin' towards their position, an she's completely unprepared when Bucky O'Hare an his crew show up an start chompin' at the bitch. The next mornin', Roy sends Gerry an Amanda back home in their RV so they won't have to be around when the National Enquirer shows up an starts askin' hard hittin' journalistic questions, while he an McCoy go meet Sheriff Cody at the tumbleweed intercountynental airport to recommend the use of surface to hare missiles. Meanwhile, some joker's secretly replaced Gerry's highway exit with a quicksand gravel pit not far from town, leavin' 'er to sit there snackin' on old ketchup packets in the glove box an wonderin' whether 'er insurance'll cover acts of overgrown rabbits when they inevitably show up an tear 'er RV a new septic drain. Elsewhere, Cole's had a rough time gettin' a ride while brandishin' his scattergun, but eventually gets to town an makes a hare raisin' discovery when he finds all the bunnies still inside the general store in the midst of an alfalfa coma. While that's goin' on, Roy, McCoy, an Cody're flyin' over the mine an realize the rabbits've escaped their Earthly bounds an Cody hasta call up the army an make one of those phone calls that begin with "I know how this is gonna sound, but..." Fortunately, there wasn't anything really pressin' goin' on with the military back in 1972, so they're able to mobilize their forces an arrive in town that night before settin' up a perimeter based upon the reconnaissance gathered by Cole. Cuttin' here, so if you wanna see the big Who Maimed Roger Rabbit finale in all its glory, you're gonna have to check it our for yourself.
Alrighty, well, you kinda get the idea that maybe the studio started having funder's remorse once this thing was nearing completion and the execs started gettin' a look at the dailies. Bizarre, really, cause you know that at least a couple of them must have been at that pitch meeting where the writers're telling the bigwigs about their killer rabbit premise and somehow these guys come out of the meeting convinced they ought to greenlight this sucker. Or maybe they started out skeptical until the guy makin' the pitch says "oh by the way, we've got Janet Leigh signed on to play the wife," and before you know it some impotent old executive with a bad comb-over springs to his feet and yells "Yes! Make it happen!" The reason I bring this up is because it's not like anybody was ever trying to hide the fact that they were making a killer bunny flick, but apparently later on once it was too late to do anything about it, somebody realizes what the heck they agreed to and made them change the title of the movie from "Rabbits" to "Night of the Lepus", which is the Latin term for hare. Then the marketing department gets involved WAY too late and forbids the art department from using rabbits in the cover art because they realize that nobody's gonna watch this thing when they see the Cadbury Bunny tryin' to eat Rory Calhoun's face on the poster. I'm havin' a hard time understanding this and I'm kinda curious about when, exactly, it dawned on the guys who wrote the check for this thing that some people might have a little trouble taking the plot seriously and why that didn't happen the instant the idea was pitched. Don't get me wrong, I remember when this flick used to air on cable and I definitely enjoyed its goofiness, but I'd still pay good money to see the look on the financier's face during that moment of realization. But in all honesty, it's a lot better than any movie about killer rabbits has any right to be, and I don't feel that the 3.9 rating on the IMDB is really warranted. Naturally, there's no way I can pass this thing, but the fun factor is *really* high on this one and thus, I feel like some slack is in order. If you can get past the fact that you're watching a gaggle of bunnies that Will Claxton sent an assistant out to buy from a pet shop rampaging through a series of miniature sets eating Rory Calhoun's neighbors, it's pretty darn watchable. In contrast, you've got The Killer Shrews which was produced with the same crazy premise, and it's got a 3.7 on the IMDB. Whatever you think about Night of the Lepus, it's a hell of a lot better than just 0.2 points worth of improvement over The Killer Shrews. There's also Food of the Gods which is admittedly a bit better, but a big part of that is the fact that Night of the Lepus suffers from a complete lack of atmosphere. FotG also utilizes animals that are more universally feared and/or despised, which at least makes the premise a little less silly. Lepus in all honesty probably has better special effects than FotG, but FotG has FAR better atmosphere, and I think that's the other place where Lepus really fails to earn its keep.
Anyway, lets peel this sucker like a carrot an see if the stupid is only skin deep. The premise, as I've explained at length, is simply too laughable to overlook. I don't care if you inject a bunny with the same crap that Charlie Sheen shoots up with, there's just no suspending one's sense of disbelief this far. Still, all that means is that we're now shooting for schlock value rather than something with socially redeeming values. The acting, I must acknowledge, is rather dull. Having looked through some excruciatingly long lists of cast credits for this one, one can't help but notice that most of these guys were career cowboys that appeared in hundreds of Westerns, and mostly bad ones at that. And if we're being honest with ourselves, how many genuinely charismatic cowboys can you name in cinematic history? I'd imagine the average person would cite John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, before moving on to other guys who did some good Westerns (Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Duvall, Robert Mitchum) but who are ultimately better known for their work in other genres. Maybe it's just me, but I generally find the acting in Westerns to be unbearably boring. Admittedly, you've also got Janet Leigh and DeForest Kelley in there, but they're every bit as uninteresting as everyone else is, and I've long since given up on the notion that Rory Calhoun has done anything that could even begin to approach his performance in Motel Hell, so the acting is pretty uninspired and unengaging.
Here's who matters and why: Stuart Whitman (Sandman, Omega Cop, Deadly Intruder, Vultures, The Monster Club, Demonoid: Messenger of Death, Ruby, Eaten Alive 1977, City Beneath the Sea, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951), Janet Leigh (Psycho, The Fog 1980, Halloween: H20), Rory Calhoun (Roller Blade Warriors, Taken by Force, Hell Comes to Frogtown, Motel Hell), Paul Fix (The Ghost Breakers, Dr. Cyclops), Chuck Hayward (Nightfall, The Clonus Horror, The Lord of the Rings 1978, The Swarm, Scream of the Wolf), Henry Wills (The Purple Monster Strikes), Inez Perez (The Ghost Dance), Roy Gaintner (Eight Legged Freaks), I. Stanford Jolley (The Haunted Palace, The Crimson Ghost, Valley of the Dragons, Atlantis the Lost Continent, Captain Video; Master of the Stratosphere, Batman 1943, Black Dragons, The Ape), Robert Gooden (Maximum Overdrive), Walter Kelley (Attack of the Giant Leeches), Phillip Avenetti (A Knife for the Ladies), Steve DeFrance (Night Warning), Jerry Dunphy (Independence Day, Helter Skelter 1976). You normies out there might recognize Janet Leigh as Susan Vargas from Touch of Evil or Eugenie Rose Chaney in The Manchurian Candidate, and Rory Calhoun would probably prefer you remember him as Bill Langley in the TV series The Texan, or perhaps the role of Eben in How to Marry a Millionaire. DeForest Kelley was of course Dr. McCoy on the classic Star Trek series as well as all the subsequent movies starring the original cast, while Paul Fix likely went to his grave feeling most proud for the the following roles that did not involve battling over-sized bunnies: Marshal Micah Torrance on The Rifleman, Judge Taylor in To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. Miller in El Dorado (1966), Sheriff Billy Wilson in The Sons of Katie Elder, and Richard Bravo in The Bad Seed (1956). Chuck Hayward would appreciate it if everyone would remember him as Rafe Hannassey in The Big Country, and Don Starr was just as soon be known as Jordan Lee on the TV series Dallas.
The special effects aren't really anything to get excited about, although as I stated earlier, I'll go to bat for this one and state that the miniature sets and forced perspective used in the cinematography is head and shoulders above the effects from The Food of the Gods. At the end of the day you're still looking at domestic bunnies stampeding around Lionel train set terrain, but it's clear to me that they went to more effort than a lot of these "giant monster on a miniature set" movies do, as they've included many cute little props that synchronize to events in the movie including the miniature mine cart and a tiny flashlight. Less forgivable than the miniature sets is the positively god-awful man in a bunny suit that they wisely kept on the screen for very short periods, as well as some plush rabbits that weren't particularly impressive either. The editing hides it as well as possible, but it's still bad enough that you catch a glimpse and feel the need to rewind and pause it just to have a giggle or two. Something else that's positively stupid, is that with the numerous dead bodies on display, nobody's ever missing any chunks, limbs, or anything to suggest they were eaten. So are the rabbits too high and mighty to eat human or what? The producers're okay with spreading around gallons of much too vibrant blood, but including a severed arm or a pile of guts is considered distasteful? Even so, we'd prolly be looking at a PG-13 if the rating had existed at the time. Because it didn't, they got away with a PG, which is pretty messed up even considering how silly the flick is. The shooting locations are probably the high point, sad to say, as it's very much a situation where the other aspects just stink for the most part. Still, we've got some decent outdoor photography in what is at the very least, completely realistic rabbit habitat. The lab scenes were all shot at the University of the Arizona in Tucson, with the bulk of the outdoor scenes being filmed in Ajo, Arizona which had a population of about 6000 at the time of the shoot. So really, there's little more than wide open spaces and Stuart Whitman's laboratory, although the general store and the other storefronts attached to it have a pleasing authenticity to them, as I'm sure that's precisely what the building actually was. The soundtrack is completely ineffectual as far as generating any kind of mood to help the audience try to move beyond the fact that they're watching some of the cutest creatures ever put to film menace a rural population. This flick REALLY needed a helping hand from the soundtrack to add even a tiny shred of plausibility to its asinine scenario, and it gets positively zero in the way of help from Jimmie Haskell's musical composition. Jimmie's actually composed for a lot of movies and TV over his career, but looking at the list of credits I'd say he's just not well suited to the Horror genre. Overall, it's got one of the most ridiculous plots outside of Jaws: The Revenge, dull acting, goofy special effects, but it sure is a lot of fun. A real treat for connoisseurs of bad cinema, so if that sounds like you, check it out.