Horror books and movies are, of course, based on peoples’ fears. There are the universal fears we all share: death, taxes, and clowns. And the fears and phobias of my friends and family include (but are not limited to): cockroaches, eyeball injury, flaming death, moths, frogs, stinging insects, fish, tidal waves, worms, midgets, ventriloquist dummies, and enclosed spaces.
I’ve never met anyone who was afraid of rabbits. It seems an unlikely source of fear, but there must be SOMEONE with leporiphobia. And that someone must have been a friend of a bigwig at MGM studios back in the early 1970s. It’s the only thing that can explain Night of the Lepus, a film about killer rabbits. No, not like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These are giant rabbits! That roar! And drool!
Allegedly based on the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Braddon (it’s out of print - find a copy and send it to me, and I’ll buy you an ice cream cone!), Night of the Lepus opens with stock footage of rabbits running rampant in Australia and a newscaster to provide helpful exposition. Then we meet a rancher (Rory Calhoun) whose ranch has been nearly destroyed by hordes of bunnies. He doesn’t want to poison the lil critters, so he enlists the help of married scientists Janet Leigh and Stuart Whitman to find another way to exterminate the bunnies. The scientists are a rather odd couple – they dress in the height of 1970s fashion (Leigh’s pants must be seen to be believed), tool around in an RV camper, and let their little daughter hang around while they conduct what are essentially biological warfare experiments. One day daughter swaps a bunny that’s just received a dose of some experimental serum with a control group bunny (the parentals are in the same room and don’t notice a thing). Naturally the experimental bunny gets loose, finds a bunch of girl bunnies, loves them very, very much, and faster than you can say “Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter”, giant bunnies are roaming the countryside killing everything in their path.
Scary? No. Hilarious? Yes. For the first 15 minutes or so. Unfortunately, Night of the Lepus has nothing more to offer than its wackaloon concept of giant carnivorous rabbits. Before long the same footage of rabbits running in slow motion around miniature buildings and cars is repeated again and again. To liven things up, on occasion a bunny will leap and then there’s an awkward jump cut to an extra wearing a suit made of carpet remnants wrestling with a gamely screaming cast member. There’s a surprising amount of gore for a PG movie, but it’s all very unconvincing bright red paint.
Not helping matters is the films utterly straightforward tone. Despite all the obvious opportunities for it, there’s not a trace of campy humor. (Not even a character named Warren!) Nor is the film a portentous so-serious-it’s-funny movie like Prophecy. Night of the Lepus plods resolutely from one scene to the next. The actors all keep straight faces and have that glazed “focus on the paycheck” look in their eyes. Things perk up at the finale, when an electrified railroad track that an ordinary-size rabbit could easily jump over is used to fry the giant hopalongs. But ultimately Night of the Lepus is a dull affair – like many bad movies, it’s more fun to read about than actually watch.
The disc has a nice transfer considering the age of the film and what an embarrassment it must be to a major studio. The only extra is a trailer, but it’s hilarious and almost worth renting the film for. Only one fleeting glimpse of a rabbit is seen in the trailer, and the narrator gets really excited (and uses lots of reverb).
Star Trek fans beware: DeForest Kelley is in the movie, but he doesn’t do much of anything except wear a cheesy mustache and a really ugly orange sweater.