Night of the Lepus (1972)

Today was supposed to be Retreat, which my legions of devoted fans will recall I tried to catch in theaters last year, only to discover it wasn’t getting a New York premiere. This year I fared no better. The disc I got from Netflix was so damaged my player had to skip most of two chapters right in the middle of the movie. What I saw seemed like a fascinating thought experiment and I was much enamored of the performances of the principal cast, especially Jamie Bell. But I came away with the sense that something was keeping me from getting as invested in the story as I might have been. Since it’s possible that something was in one of the missing scenes, I decided I couldn’t include it on my list. So instead of a serious drama set against a possible global pandemic, you’re getting Night of the Lepus, which totally sucks ass. But does it have tons of giant, mutant bunny rabbits ripping people to shreds? Fuck yeah it does.

The story: Big mister rancher guy has a problem. Thousands of those dern rabbits are ruining his grazing land. They even caused the tragic death of his horse by forcing him to shoot it in the face! He doesn’t want to poison the little bastards out of existence, he says, because a balance must be maintained for the good of the ecosystem. COMMIE.

Were we just photobombed by George W. Bush?

El ranchero grande enlists the help of some scientists in cowboy hats from The University, led by none other than DeForest Kelley, who appears here between the cancellation of the Star Trek television series and its rebirth as a hugely successful movie franchise. I just love that there was a period of time when one of the most recognizable faces of a billion dollar pop culture phenomenon was living off residuals from Night of the Lepus. Bones beams down the doctors Bennett, a totally believable husband and wife biologist team, who set about randomly injecting lab animals with experimental hormones. Left unattended in the lab(!), their idiot kid swipes a test subject before anyone realizes the formula turns adorable bunnies into 150-pound man eaters. Her new pet promptly busts loose and starts breeding like, well, himself. Before long the rancher and his pals have a real hare-raising problem. (I REGRET NOTHING.)

Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a…okay just what the fuck is on this guy’s head? Seriously, that’s the best we could do?

Biggest letdown: Night of the Lepus is based on a novel called The Year of the Angry Rabbit. Tell me this Wikipedia description doesn’t sound like a more interesting movie: The Year of the Angry Rabbit is a science fiction novel by Australian author Russell Braddon, in which giant mutant rabbits run amok in Australia while the Prime Minister uses a new super weapon to dominate the planet.

Super weapon to dominate the planet! How do you leave that out? In their insane fervor to keep their killer jackrabbits from looking ludicrous (impossible) the makers of Lepus cut out all the satirical sci-fi elements from the book. They completely banished any trace of humor, as if not allowing the cast to smile would make the audience forget how closely the monsters resemble the Easter Bunny.

His body was discovered beneath a pile of softball-sized rabbit pellets. Hell of a way to go.

The nail in the coffin was delivered by whatever cut-rate technical adviser convinced the director that live rabbits on miniaturized sets would look gigantic if they just slowed the film speed down to about 20% of normal. The idea is good on paper: slower movements trick the eye into thinking the moving objects have more mass than they do. But when you cut back and forth between bunnies hopping in super slow-mo and a stampeding herd of cattle running full tilt, it’s hard to imagine the oversized varmints terrorizing anything that isn’t tied to the ground.

I’m not sure if it’s because of the constant slow motion but even the climax lacks energy. It starts when the good guys explain their strategy in detail, well in advance of the critters’ arrival. (Given their speed, they probably had months to prepare.) When the lethargic lagomorphs finally get there, our intrepid heroes simply carry out their plan. There are no unexpected detours or surprises of any kind. Everything just works out exactly as anticipated. GRIPPING.

Why you should watch: Did you read Bunnicula when you were a kid? It’s about this vampire rabbit that drains vegetables of their juices. Cutest thing ever. I wonder if that book is still safe for kids, or if the adults in it are all chainsmoking misogynists who take opium for headaches. Vintage children’s literature can be a frightening place.

Sure you can play with the hypodermic needles, honey. Just light daddy’s cigarette for him first.

Watch Night of the Lepus because it’s a brand of creature feature we don’t get much of any more. (Probably because of movies like Night of the Lepus.) The power of man to manipulate the natural world is immense yet poorly understood, and the danger of accidentally turning something cuddly into something vicious is always worth considering. Besides, how many excuses do you have to watch grown men running in terror from furry woodland creatures? As bad as the effects generally are, every so often the sight of a massive, grunting Thumper with ketchup smeared on its muzzle is disquieting, if not quite horrifying.

I will love him and squeeze him and name him George!

Memorable Moment: I like when the rancher and his kid seek shelter in the basement while the lepi (lepuses?) ravage the kitchen above. So cute! It’s only too bad they didn’t take a moment to try on ma’s apron. I would have liked to see them keep growing so the end of the movie could be one massive lepus vaulting triumphantly over the Rocky Mountains.

Choice quote: “I wish I knew what the effects of this serum would be. Let’s hope it works.”

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3 Responses to “Night of the Lepus (1972)”

  1. […] Night of the Lepus- Cutest man-eating monsters I ever saw. Not nearly enough world domination, though. […]

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