William F. Claxton
Stuart Whitman - Ray Bennett
Janet Leigh - Gerry Bennett
Rory Calhoun - Cole Hillman
DeForest Kelley - Elgin Clark
Melanie Fullerton - Amanda Bennett
Paul Fix - Sheriff Cody
Genre - Science Fiction/Bad Animals/B-Movie/Cult
Running Time - 88 Minutes
Rabbits - cuddly, furry animals that hang out in gardens so they eat vegetation, such as carrots and lettece.
Rabbits - easy to maintain pets that do nothing but eat and poop.
Rabbits - cute mascot for Easter festivities each year.
Rabbits - something you can boil in a pot to send a message to your love that you're kind of ticked off at them for whatever reason [usually related with adultery].
Rabbits - something that grow huge and carnivorous when injected with hormones that will supposedly slow down their fertility.
Okay, so the last one doesn't happen unless you're living in the world that encapsulates 1972's MGM B-Movie, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS. But it should happen more often. I mean, why haven't more films about giant bunnies murdering stupid humans with their buck teeth been made before or since?
Oh that's right... that's because RABBITS AREN'T SCARY!!!
Still, that doesn't stop NIGHT OF THE LEPUS from trying to convince you that a giant hare epidemic would be disastrous to society. And while it fails greatly in that aspect, at least the film is good for a chuckle.
In Arizona, a rancher named Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) needs the help of a husband-wife team of scientists named Ray (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry (Janet Leigh) Bennett to stop a massive rabbit infestation on his property without using toxins to get the job done. Ray believes he can create a hormone that would be able to interrupt the breeding cycle of these rabbits. Unfortunately, their stupid, annoying daughter Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) lets one of the experimented rabbits loose, causing it to breed with the others. This begins a chain of events where the rabbits have suddenly grown exponentially in size, now hungering meat instead of vegetables. Will the rabbits finally take over the world? Will the humans stop this new source of overpopulation? Either way, nothing in this film will answer the question: "What's up, Doc?"
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, while probably mostly made due to the success of 1963's Alfred Hitchcock's classic THE BIRDS, was inspired by the giant killer animal films of the 1950s, such as THEM!, TARANTULA, and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA. In these films, science is the cause of the creation of these huge creatures that end up destroying the world. The thing is that the animals usually tampered with are threatening in their original sizes. Ants, spiders, and squids are threatening to many people. Rabbits, or lepus however, are not. It's hard to be afraid of an animal that does nothing but hop and wiggle its nose. Even in giant size in NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, that's all they do - only in slow motion. And that's why the film ends up being funnier than it was intended to be.
The screenplay, written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney, is based on a novel by Russell Braddon called The Year of the Angry Rabbit. In the novel, Braddon writes about how Australia has been overrun by giant killer rabbits while Australia's Prime Minster attempts to dominate the planet with a superweapon. While the idea of giant killer rabbits is pretty silly, behind that idea were serious themes of Capitalism and War done in a slightly sarcastic and humorous way. NIGHT OF THE LEPUS tries to adapt that story, but it takes away the serious themes behind the whole giant rabbit idea. And without those themes, the film just ends up being completely silly. Yeah, it's slightly entertaining, but it gets old as it comes closer to the finish. There seems to be issues presented in the opening of the film [the newsreel portion] that involve the threat of overpopulation, not just in rabbits but probably the human population as well. But these ideas are never explored, instead focusing on crafting a sci-fi/thriller where giant bunnies want to eat human and animal flesh. And while they show blood [or in this case, ketchup] on the rabbits' faces, we don't really see them munching and mauling victims. And for majority of the film, they just run and hop and nothing more. The effect doesn't work and needed something else behind it to keep the audience's interest.
The characters aren't well developed either, but since NIGHT OF THE LEPUS doesn't require depth to enjoy on a superficial level, then it doesn't really matter. Did I care about any of these people? Nah. But I didn't find them annoying either, except for Amanda. She's the epitome of why I usually dislike children in science-fiction and/or horror films. She gets in the way of thing and ends up being the reason why the film exists to begin with. And no one bothered to punish her for it. Why did the rabbits have to murder horses and cattle, but leave this girl alone? Also, I just laughed at how easy these citizens went along with the whole "giant murderous bunnies" deal. The Sheriff, who usually is the last one to believe anything in these kind of films, was told and quickly convinced without much proof. And that audience at the drive-in theater listened to the warning about the killer rabbits, easily and quickly helping out in making sure the problem was contained. Really? No doubters or cynics in this town at all? Has this actually happened before in this town?? I found it sort of refreshing because it went against movie conventions, but it wasn't believable either. What the hell am I talking about - this is a film about deadly gigantic rabbits!
The "special effects" in this film were pretty cheap and very funny. The evident green screen effect in some of these scenes just had me chuckling at how silly this film looked. We also have smaller sets recreated so the rabbits can go nuts around it, making it seem that it's the same normal-sized town being overrun by giant lepus in slow motion. At least that was better than the horrible screen effect. And of course, we have the director shooting extreme close ups on the rabbits to make them seem huge, with growling sound effects [???] to make them sound threatening. And let's not forget the dude in the rabbit suit, swiping at his victims. Too funny, but I prefer this to horrible CGI. At least this showed some creativity. CGI looks cheaper than this a lot of the time and it's lazier as well. So the special effects team gets an B for effort. Plus, how bloody was this film? For a PG film, this movie was pretty violent.
The direction by William F. Claxton was good enough for this B-movie. It was framed and shot competently. The editing was a bit shoddy though. There were times when an actor would look one way in one shot and then look a different way in the next shot, even though time didn't jump ahead. Also, the ending sequence with the way the town solved the lepus issue had so many quick edits that it was jarring and kind of annoying. I know it was supposed to add a sense of intensity to the climax, but it just bugged me. And Claxton tried to make these rabbits scary, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. But at least he tried, so I can't knock it too much.
The acting was just there for the most part. To be honest with you. I thought Stuart Whitman [who played Roy] and Rory Calhoun [who played Cole the rancher] were interchangeable. They looked alike, even spoke the same, and seemed really bored. I see they actually read the script. And poor Janet Leigh - she looked totally embarrassed to be in this film. You could see it on her face that she was thinking on how to fire her agent. Star Trek's DeForest Kelley had a decent performance, even though he wasn't in the film much. I wished the actors had more fun with the silly material, but they took it so seriously. Oh well. And the rabbits were decent as well, especially the one with the wiggly nose. He should have been a star.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE WATCHING PETER COTTONTAIL HOPPING DOWN THE BUNNY TRAIL
- Rabbits are seen as a vicious threat to the survival of mankind. Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam could have told you that years ago.
- Amanda let one of the experimented rabbits go, pretty much starting the giant bunny outbreak. If only Glenn Close had boiled her ass instead of that innocent rabbit.
- Giant rabbits killed someone in a mineshaft and on the road. I guess they were tired of Trix being just for kids.
- The rabbits seemed to run after their victims in slow motion. Well, being on Baywatch does help one become a Playboy Bunny!
- Janet Leigh handles herself well with a shotgun. When it comes to hunting wabbits, the screen queen is just plain PSYCHO.
- A group of giant bunnies were chillin' inside a General Store by a gas station. If I ever want to stock up on V8, I know where to go!
- The rabbits scared away a herd of cattle. What bullshit. I hate when furry, lovable creatures try and start beef.
THE FINAL HOWL
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS is a terrible film, but it's entertaining for the most part due to the fact that someone actually had the nuts to make a movie about giant killer rabbits. I wish the actors had let us in on the joke, but maybe the fact that they were so serious increases the funny factor. It's silly, campy, and is pretty forgettable after it's all done. All you snobs with lucky rabbit feet should stay away. But for those who want a stupid, brainless B-movie to fill 90 minutes of your time, you could do worse than NIGHT OF THE LEPUS [like FROGS - ugh]. I wouldn't hop to see it again anytime soon, but I wouldn't wiggle my nose at it either.