Night of the Lepus (1972): United States – directed by William F. Claxton
Rated PG by the MPAA – contains red paint and giant killer bunny rabbits
Take a good, long look at this amazing poster. Pretty cool, isn’t it? It’s got scary eyes peering at a little family from the darkness, coupled with a frightening tagline and description. So take a stab, how many eyes do you think horror has? And how many times will it strike? Well, the answer to the first question is “two.” The answer to the second question is (if you replace the word “terror” with the words “giant bunny rabbit”) many, many times.
You see, these are the types of things they don’t tell you in posters. Seriously, would you go to see a movie about giant killer bunny rabbits? Most likely not, and that’s why they can’t mention the rabbits. If they did mention the rabbits, the only people who would show up would be those who are suckers for bad movies. Well, I’m a sucker for bad movies.
And this is one bad movie. The badness starts with the plot, which is ridiculous. We are treated to a brief review of the history of animal infestations, along with stock footage of cowboys herding up and killing hordes of rabbits. We then switch to the modern day, which is in color. Cole Hillman (played by Rory Calhoun) is a farmer worried about a recent rise in the amount of rabbits he’s been seeing.
Being a good farmer guy, he would rather not destroy the environment by poisoning the rabbits, so he hunts down a couple of people (Janet Leigh and Stuart Whitman) who deal with this sort of thing. They set about finding a genetic or hormonal way to keep the rabbits in check.
But then comes the “tragic moment” that Science makes, as referenced in the poster. The various fluids they inject become mixed up, and pretty soon a rabbit is loose. Of course, it’s a gigantic rabbit. Being a rabbit it has a propensity to mate frequently, so soon there are several hundred giant bunny rabbits roaming the prairie.
This wouldn’t be a horror movie (which is sort of is) unless the rabbits proceeded to go on a rampage and kill lots of people, which they do with hilarious results. Most of the hilarity is due to how poorly done the entire movie is. They started with a bad idea for a plot and proceeded to poorly execute the script. Not only does the production, including the dialogue and acting, have severe problems, but the special effects take the cake. They are what make the movie so entertaining and so terrible at the same time.
Instead of using techniques previously used by creature features like The Killer Shrews (using dogs dressed up with extra fur and snouts and pretending they are shrews) the filmmakers decided to use actual bunny rabbits for most of the movie. By filming them romping around, in slow-motion, across tiny sets the rabbits look huge. The slow motion is essential because big things move slowly, and therefore slow-moving things must be big. When it is necessary for a bunny to attack someone they simply dress a man up in a scary bunny outfit and have him jump on the attackee. These attacks, like most of the violence, involve bright red paint splattered across everything. There’s enough to earn at least a PG-13 rating nowadays (there was no such rating in 1972.)
Even though it is a very poor movie, it’s campy and cheesy enough to be highly enjoyable. Gather some friends around, get ready for a laugh, and enjoy giant rabbits terrorizing American farmland. It doesn’t get much better than that.