In honor of Easter (which is coming up soon…I think?), I decided it was time to review everybody’s favorite killer bunny movie, Night of the Lepus. After all, nothing says Easter like hoards of mutates rabbits attacking a kooky cast including Janet Leigh, DeForest Kelley, and Rory Calhoun. I have a special attraction to this movie because my own father (affectionately known in these parts as Ralph Merrye) spent every spring of my childhood battling a little family of black bunnies that enjoyed snacking on his yearly attempts at a flower garden. JM and I can tell you that there’s nothing better than watching your bug-eyed father chase around a tiny little bunny with a rake – and being outsmarted every time.
Anyway, before I dive in, it’s important to point out that there’s a big problem with this movie. Here’s a hint: it’s got two big ears and a fluffy cotton-ball of a tail. Look, it’s impossible for rabbits to be scary. Impossible. The growling MGM lion at the beginning of the movie is scarier than bunny rabbits. Janet Leigh’s hair is scarier than bunny rabbits. Hell, the easy listening instrumental theme song – tailor made for a 1970’s swingers cruise – is way scarier than bunny rabbits. Nonetheless, the filmmakers waste the first three minutes of this movie on a fake newscast warning viewers that an explosion in the world’s rabbit population is threatening human kind.
So Night of the Lepus takes place in the American southwest, where the adorable little critters are putting rancher Rory Calhoun out of business by eating away his land. A group of researchers comes in to help out…and naturally inject the bunnies full of chemicals, which cause the animals to grow and start attacking people. Oops! While I’d say this ranks among the stupidest scientific mistakes in film history, nobody really seems that pissed at the labcoats for the rest of the movie.
Among the researchers is our leading lady Janet…a long, long way from the Bates Motel. Janet is the good-natured lab assistant with a “Golden Girl” hairdo who’s always got a smile and witty comment close at hand. Sample dialogue, while ordering her daughter to pick up a bunny: “Rub his foot while you’re at it honey, and see what kind of luck that brings us. As a matter of fact…rub all four of ‘em!”
Before you know it, everyone’s noticing giant bunny prints everywhere, and we finally get some awesome rabbit attacks. At first, we don’t actually see much in the way of bunnies actually ripping people apart. What we get are get lots of shots of big bunny buckteeth – which, frankly, are just plain cute – and then we see the bloody aftermath, which appears to be the work of Leatherface as opposed to a ravenous rabbit:
Anyway, as the bodies start piling up, our crack researchers are back on the scene, heroically hunting down the bloodthirsty beasts that – don’t forget – they created in the first place! They finally find them in a huge mineshaft under the desert which, in another stroke of brilliance, they decide to blast with dynamite…therefore scaring out the rabbits and setting them on a wild rampage through town! My God, what’s wrong with these scientists…did they even go to college?
The scenes of the hundreds of giant bunnies galloping across the desert are priceless; it’s like watching the sweetest, most delightful program on the Discovery Channel. Seriously, who’s gonna root for the humans when you’ve got little furballs running amok? Anyway, the great rabbit stampede of 1972 continues for about fifteen minutes, first terrorizing our poor ranchers hiding out in the underground storm shelter and then moving on to the town’s General Store. The special effects get a little more ambitious here, as we move on to not only real bunnies crashing through miniature sets, but also actors in bunny suits wresting with the humans:
Soon the National Guard gets called in (wouldn’t you love to have heard the military commander on that call: “Giant whhhhhhhhaaaaaaat?????”) and it’s an all out bunny battle, as the ferocious fluffies continue making their way across the desert, leaving a trail of bloody paw prints everywhere they go. After evacuating the nearby city, soldiers wait as our scientists (who…again…caused this whole damn disaster in the first place!) hatch a plan to electrocute the bunnies on a stretch of train track. Amazingly, it works…and that’s…umm…the end.
Okay, so I know that’s not a very exciting ending…but what do you expect from a movie about killer bunnies? Anyway, Night of the Lepus is a great as you’d expect it to be; a truly preposterous movie that fails on pretty much every level except shear enjoyment. My advice this Easter Sunday? Grab a box of Cadbury Crème Eggs and watch the cutest pack of bunnies you’ve ever seen devour a Southwestern town. Now that’s a real treat!