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Reviews from the Edge: Night of the Lepus

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MGM

Greetings from the Edge!

Just in time for Easter, the Edge will be celebrating the season with the second killer rabbit movie I’ve had the… ”pleasure” to review for you good folks. Yes, my friends, we’ll be looking at Night of the Lepus, a 1972 film that instilled so little faith in its producers that they made sure that no images of rabbits appeared on any of the promotional materials for the film. Why, it almost seems like they were afraid that a movie about giant killer bunny rabbits wouldn’t be taken seriously as a horror movie.

To be fair, this was the age of the giant animal disaster film. We had crabs, rats, worms, frogs, spiders, scorpions, ants, and more than once, a mantis. So the idea isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might seem today, but still, bunnies… really?

Starring two Academy Award nominated actors, Janet Leigh as Gerry Bennett, doing her damnedest to put a little effort into this film, and Stuart Whitman as Roy Bennett, a scientist trying to cull out of control animal populations without widespread use of environment destroying toxins.

But let’s not forget, Night of the Lepus also includes two Stark Trek alumni, both U.S.S. Enterprise chief medical officers to boot! DeForest Kelley as Elgin Clark, and Paul Fix playing Sheriff Cody, who appeared as Dr. Piper in the Star Trek pilot.

Now if Shatner could have brought over the Kingdom of the Spiders ( 1977 ) to Night of the Lepus, we could have let the spiders and bunnies duke it out and simultaneously had a mini Star Trek reunion.

“Eventide of the Lagomorphs” opens with a ’70s style news broadcast on the population explosion and how rabbits are savaging the countryside of both Australia/New Zealand and the American southwest. From there, we go to a lone rancher riding over the plains until his horse puts its foot into a rabbit burrow and breaks its leg.

We soon learn that this epidemic of lapin larcenists are literally stealing the food from under the local cattle and denuding the plains until there is not even enough left for the insects to survive.

Roy Bennett and his wife Gerry Bennett are called in to try and head off the plague without the use of cyanide and begin to experiment with tailored diseases. Unfortunately, their daughter takes a liking to one of the rabbits and it gets away from her. Now the disease is spreading through the local rabbit population, causing them all to grow to enormous size and seek further and further afield to sate their hare raising appetites! ( I make no apologies for my puns. )

Will our heroes stop the wampaging wabbits, or will this become a world where bunnies rule? …Or, y’know, the National Guard gets called in and we all have a giant rabbit based barbecue.

Seen here, three actors just realizing what they’ve gotten themselves into and one guy in a wheelchair wondering what craft services has for lunch today. (image courtesy of MGM)

Oh Night of the Lepus, you give me so much to say about your special “effects.” Now, trying to make giant rabbits terrifying may have been doomed from the beginning, but running bunnies through model cities to simulate gigantism wasn’t the way to go. I think we all know that if you want to scare someone with rabbits, all you have to do is play Watership Down!

Besides the normal rabbits rampaging Godzilla-style through tiny towns, a man in a bunny suit was used in the up-close lepus attacks. I’d like to think this one man kicked off the entire furry movement, that way we could blame the whole thing on Night of the Lepus. Oh, if only they had not meddled in fur-suits that man was not meant to fetishize!

However, my personal favorite effect is that to simulate blood on the very disinterested bunnies’ muzzles, they smeared them with ketchup. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw the little bunnies licking the ketchup off in a couple of scenes. That is so unbelievably cute that it melts even my own black and crusty heart.

Still, I shouldn’t complain. There was obviously a lot more time and effort put into Night of the Lepus than Cute Little Buggers, the other killer rabbit film I’ve reviewed on the Edge. Of course, Night of the Lepus also doesn’t involve incredibly unappealing nudity, way too much playing around with urine ( way, WAY too much ) and alien pregnancy fetishes, so point to Lepus!

Awww, they’re all tuckered out from rampaging and devouring the local populace. Let’s not disturb them. (image courtesy of MGM)

I know that Night of the Lepus was intended to play on the age’s fear of overpopulation, environmental destruction, and the dangers of well-intentioned but overreaching science. However, they undermined themselves so badly, they never stood a chance. I can’t help but think that if they hadn’t wrangled a couple of big name stars, Night of the Lepus would have quietly disappeared into the archives of B-movie oblivion instead of becoming the running ( hopping? ) joke that it has.

I’ve certainly seen far worse horror/disaster movies, but with the total effects failure to make the rabbits intimidating and the glacial pacing, Night if the Lepus collapses under its own weight.

The bunnies may have made it more memorable, but even if you replaced them with gila monsters or giant rattlesnakes, I don’t think Night of the Lepus could have been saved.

Oh, and a little piece of trivia from the Southwest: apparently, rattlesnakes are beginning to lose their rattles as they are detrimental to their survival. Just a happy thought for the next time you go out hiking or clearing brush.

Hey, Night of the Lepus may not give you nightmares, but I never said I wouldn’t!

That’s her, your honor. She’s the one who switched the rabbits and caused dozens of deaths, millions of dollars in property damage, and countless hours of the most confusing grief counseling ever. String her up! (image courtesy of MGM)

I can’t beat around the bush on this one, my friends ( it might scare the bunnies! ): Night of the Lepus just isn’t worth your time as a horror film. It’s slow when it should be exciting and even slower when it isn’t. Not once do the placid and calm bunnies look invested in their wampage and the fact that they slowed the film down to give them some extra “umph” doesn’t help.

You can compare them to sabre-toothed tigers as often as you like, but I’d be more afraid that these sleepy looking rabbits seem more likely to cuddle you to death than voraciously strip the very flesh from your bones.

However, Night of the Lepus is riffing material of the very highest caliber! Grab some friends and go to town on the most sinful of cinematic abominations, and even better, the crew from original MST3K has even taken care of the job for you and you can find Night of the Lepus in the RiffTrax library.

If you really want the best of the giant creatures film ( and for some reason the original Gojira is anathema to you ), I’d have to suggest Them!, the 1954 giant ant movie. You won’t find a better example of the genre outside of Japan and it’s a beautiful time capsule of the age that made it. It’s as cheesy as Night of the Lepus in its own way, but it’s done right.

Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!

Believe it or not, Night of the Lepus is based on a novel titled “The Year of the Angry Rabbit” by Russell Braddon. I don’t know if the producers of Night of the Lepus actually bothered to read the book because it’s actually a satire of Australian politics which, admittedly, does include giant mutant rabbits.

I can’t help but think that if they’d kept a bit of the humor ( intentional humor that is! ) of the original book, that Night of the Lepus might have done a bit better.

This was the last non Star Trek movie that DeForest Kelley would ever be in. Once again proving we just can’t have nice things!

Come back next week when we’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. Seeing that I’m huge old school fan of the comics, can you expect a sloppy fangasm or a hypercritical beatdown based on my expansive ( and disturbing ) knowledge of Iron Man minutiae? You’ll have to tune in to find out here on the Edge!

About Author

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Justin T. Williams hails from the Great state of Texas. His life has been a series of strange adventures that makes for intriguing writing but difficult laundry. Justin is known to his friends as a lifetime fan of comics, movies, and classic pulps. He lurks far from the sun, indulging in his favorite pastimes of writing and hoarding random bits of interesting but useless knowledge.