Night of the Lepus

Bloodthirsty Bunnies from Beyond the Briar Patch
★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1972
Director: 
William F. Claxton
Starring: 
Giant killer bunnies rampage through a town.
Discussion: 

Do you remember in The Matrix when Neo meets the Oracle for the first time and he looks at all the bald kids playing in her living room? And in the background, on the TV is playing a scene from a movie showing giant bunnies hopping down a rural street? When I first saw that, I was like “WHAT the hell is THAT movie?” and I have NEVER FORGOTTEN IT. Well, that movie is Night of the Lepus, and it’s here to terrify you to your very soul. Or not.

Now, I recently bought a bunny as a pet, and so when I finally found out what this movie was [I guess I could have just watched the credits of The Matrix, but whatever] I knew I had to watch it NOW. I also made my boyfriend watch it, since he also hangs out with the bunny a lot, and I thought it important that we both face the horrifying reality of the terror that lay in our midst. That terror lay sleeping on my stomach with her legs in the air during this movie, but we were only too acutely aware that at any moment she might leap for our jugulars, gnawing our lives away in as little as 45 minutes. You can sense her terror in the picture above.

We begin with this “special report” on the news that talks about bunny populations in Australia growing out of control, and shows footage of hordes of them hanging out. And chewing. Then we move to the American West, where we learn that bunny populations are also out of control, and have some fairly impressive footage of huge herds of bunnies being hunted and rounded up. This is all to impress us with the fact that bunnies can actually be quite a menace, and, well, yeah. I guess. There is then a freeze frame on four bunnies as we have the credits, with this amazing 70s James Bond-type music, meant to make us contemplate the horror that awaits.

We have also found out that we are going to be treated to a non-Bones performance by Deforest Kelly, and the work of Rory Calhoun [who used to do TV westerns] and Janet Leigh, infamous shower-taker. Our hero, Roy, is out riding the plains when his horse’s foot gets caught in a rabbit hole and he has to shoot the beast and walk [what looks like a considerable distance] home. Do you feel the menace?

Once in town he talks about how the bunnies are out of control, and they have to worry about the viability of their land because “once those rabbits get out [of wherever they are], the other ranchers will lace the whole area with cyanide,” which causes the guy he’s talking to to respond “Wuh-oh!”

Now we may be awaiting the Night of the Lepus, but what we have to endure first is the Day of the Exposition. Roy takes a few rabbits to his lab for experiments, saying “These lepus—that’s the Latin word for rabbits...” There are also blatant opportunities for exposition when the weird-lookin’ little girl says “Mommy, what’s a control group?” and suchlike. So they inject one rabbit, and the evil girl switches that one with one from the control group, because her mommy [poor, haggard, hair-losing Janet Leigh] promised her she could keep one. We have more exposition about how very terrible it would be if any of the injected bunnies escaped into the wild, and the quickness of the bunny reproductive process. Then the girl has the bunny outside and her friend lets it go, whereupon it starts fucking like, well, bunnies, leading to the mass bunny explosion the town experiences just a few minutes later. Anyway, please keep in mind that all of this is the kids’ fault, especially that horrid little girl. And do any of the kids die for their mistake? No, only the adults. Where is the justice?

So by what seems like the next day there is a race of huge, bloodthirsty bunnies. After pausing to note that the hero of our piece wears black leather shirts, the kids whose fault all this is go to check on the old miner, for some reason, and the boy sends the girl into the deep, dark, dangerous mine while he explores the bright, airy cabin. She goes in and sees the dead, bloody miner being dragged by his neck out of the circle of origin-less light, and also spots the giant bunnies with bloodstains all over their sweeet widdle mouths. Her experience is intercut with her screaming in bed, leading you to wonder if this was all just a horrible dream, but its turns out it actually happened. That’s just one of the many avant-garde techniques director William F. Claxton employs to express his characters’ many states of consciousness. Or it’s just complete incompetence. Anyway, soon they are finding a bunch of hacked-up bodies all over the place.

Now, having recent experience with real rabbits, I know that for every ten minutes of a rabbit’s life you have twenty bunny poops, and that’s what my boyfriend started asking: WHERE are the bunny pellets? Where are the basketball-sized bunny pellets? Once might also wonder when and why these bunnies turned from placid herbivores into vicious pack hunters with a taste for human flesh, a question not at all addressed by the film. Another pertinent question this film raised for us is: why is there a sound effect of bubbling water every time the bunnies rampage on screen? You’ll have to search inside yourself for answers, as they ain’t here.

Now previously we have seen a somewhat attractive truck driver with a real cute ass decide, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a field, to pull over and open up the back of his truck for some reason. He is attacked, and one briefly laments the loss of his aesthetic qualities until the fuckin’ SMOKIN’ HOT DEPUTY JASON happens upon the scene the following day. Jason is a TROOPER with a real nice mustache and sideburns and a great 5-o’clock shadow and an earnest, somewhat stupid look that is like Spanish fly for me. And of course, I will mention again, he is wearing a trooper uniform. We get some real nice coverage of him for a few minutes, leading me to get my hopes up that he would become a major character, but he doesn’t and the majority of his appearances later in the film maddeningly feature him with his back to the camera. Nevertheless, his brief appearances were welcome and appreciated, and I do believe that his existence will demand the introduction of a new award: The Cinema de Merde Random Movie Hunk of the Year. Jason is definitely in the top spot at this late point, and while it’s still technically possible, I don’t see how anyone could possibly surpass him before we hit 2007. God, thank you for Deputy Jason.

Now, if you are the type of person to whom the phrase “giant killer bunnies” is followed by the thought “where is my bong?” I will offer the following advice: Make a little starter kit for the first 45 minutes, to get into the whole 70s cheapo monster movie tone, then apply the full force of your viewing enhancements at the halfway mark, because that is when you will start to be treated to the sight of GIANT MUTANT BUNNIES RAMPAGING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE. Well, I guess it mostly looks like giant mutant bunnies rampaging through a terrarium, but you know what I mean. They run by a bunch of very cheap-looking models [my boyfriend: “They’ve used that same stop sign about seven times”] and leap menacingly from a precipice that always seems to be just adjacent to whatever they’re about to eat. First they take down a herd of stampeding horses, then they attack some dude [my boyfriend: “They’re attracted to his straw hat!”], and finally leap through the window of the general store to attack Mildred [they were attracted to her giant duck lips?]. Our idiot heroes decide to hole up in a cellar [whew, good thing bunnies can’t dig!] and wait out the night, for, as everyone knows, killer bunnies do not rampage by day.

The bunnies break into the house above them, and at this point you are basically just looking at a bunch of bunnies in a doll house. There is some shotgun-on-bunny violence, accomplished by shooting a squirt of fake blood at a bunny so it spurts around. Of course they survive the night, and the next day Roy says to Janet “You should take the brat [little girl—he doesn’t really say this] and get out of town,” to which Janet is like “Okay, bye!” So she takes off in their MOBILE HOME with the little monster. Roy goes into town and sees all the buns are hanging out at the general store [look closely at the boxes of merchandise in the below photo and you can see that they are TOTAL doll house props], and some other shit happens, but nothing interesting until the bunnies rampage again that night.

Now of course I’m trying to figure out how they’re going to kill all the bunnies at the end, and while doing so I came upon a great climax for this movie: THE BUNNIES SHOULD RAMPAGE THROUGH LAS VEGAS. Of course, then they’d have to travel there from Colorado, but we could just relocate the setting, or just, you know, show scenes of them running real fast. They ARE super bunnies, after all. Anyway, so there’s all this talk about creating a two-mile wide wall, and you’re all like “What does that have to do with anything?” but I guess it’s part of the plan… though in retrospect I don’t even see what it had to do with anything. But first the Sheriff must go to the drive-in theater, which is packed, causing both me and my boyfriend to exclaim, “Okay, so there’s a BUNNY HOLOCAUST going on, tons of people lying butchered all over the place, and all these townspeople either just haven’t heard about it, or are going to forget all that and just take in a show?” Guess so. So the Sheriff whips out his bullhorn and seriously says something to the effect of “There’s a herd of giant killer bunnies headed this way, and we need your help.” I guess people in Colorado really will believe anything that anyone in power tells them [it IS a Red State] because they just all turn on their lights and go help in an orderly fashion.

So Janet and the little girl are driving when they have car trouble, and Janet gets out, sees some bunnies, and tells the girl to stay inside and lock the door, which is a FUCKING DUMB idea because then if something happens she’ll have to wait for the little girl to open the door, and you KNOW that if Janet were getting ripped apart outside and screaming to be let in the girl would just put her hands over her ears and say “Mommy, Mommy! I’m scared!” Plus… can giant bunnies REALLY open doors? Do you REALLY need to lock the door at all? Whatever. Anyway, they’re surrounded and Janet holds them off with a road flare, until hubby shows up with a helicopter, which scares the bunnies away, although you KNOW I was rooting for some Jaws II-type action in which a bunny would leap up and attack the helicopter. And helicopter pilots do seem to have an extremely short life span in movies. Anyway, no dice.

SPOILERS > > >
So how do they kill the bunnies? They use their cars to round them all up and they electrify these train tracks, so when the bunnies go over they get electrocuted. Yes, every single bunny passes over the tracks, and Yes, even when they jump over, they still get electrocuted. Here’s where we see the roasting bunny, which you can see is a puppet. Afterward, they have a huge field full of giant bunny carcasses, leading me and my boyfriend to speculate on some recipes that the local restaurants might start to serve, and I KNOW that if we returned to this town a year hence they would have a thriving fur business. The final shot is an ominous one of people running through a field before we pan down and see… bunnies! THERE’S STILL BUNNIES! Regular size ones, though. But whose to say they couldn’t mutate?
< < < SPOILERS END

The biggest problem with this movie is that BUNNIES ARE NOT SCARY. Though when it started, for a second [okay, a half-second] I thought they were actually going to succeed in making bunnies scary. First they show that footage of the massive hordes of real rabbits, somewhat disturbing, and then for a while I thought they were going to go with this The Birds-style thing where you look up and see one bunny, then look again and there’s three bunnies, then look again… And bunnies gathering on a hill around you could potentially be fairly frightening, especially since when alert they just stand perfectly still and STARE at you. But it was all squandered, and the shots of them running down the streets are more just trippy than anything. The models are all pretty bad, like they literally look like things bought from a hobby store. The shot used in The Matrix IS the best shot and I could TOTALLY pick it out when we came to that two seconds of the movie. But you know the movie’s bid to instill terror is not working when the characters are talking about killing the evil rampaging bunnies and one’s boyfriend exclaims “Not my little one with the white nose!”

The other problem is that one can never get a fix on exactly how big the bunnies are supposed to be. At one point they seem to be twelve feet tall, next twenty feet, next only four feet. It’s a little funny at one point where the bunnies are supposed to be outside of a barn, and they scattered these cherry tomatoes around, apparently unaware that relative to the size of the bunnies it makes it seem like there are beach ball-sized tomatoes laying around. I have to say [ahem—I’m going to say something positive] they did a relatively decent job of making a lot of the cuts so fast that you don’t really see anything, and this helps keep you from getting too good a look at the bunny suit they use for close-ups or the roasting bunny toward the end.

The trailer is absolutely NOT TO BE MISSED, as it contains this super-intense voice-over [with slight magnifying effect] and a line about “the terrifying mu-TANT!” It describes the movie as “a night of total terror” [not just partial terror] and, you will notice, NEVER actually shows a rabbit. They obviously realized that they need to disguise that fact at some point. They show a few close-ups of bunny eyes, especially one with two points of light reflected in it, and try to play it off like those two points of light are the eyes of some other terrifying beast. I suspect they also specifically picked the word “Lepus” [pronounced lee-pus] because no one would know what it meant. But if you know that no one’s going to be scared by giant bunnies, why center a horror movie around them?

This movie is obviously one of the major influences on Eight-Legged Freaks, as several of the elements—the old abandoned mine [there’s ALWAYS an old abandoned mine], the attacks on livestock, the rampage of a small town—are the same. But I’m more saying that these are the same in every movie, and they were just spoofed in Eight Legged Freaks.

I can totally imagine one stoner friend in the 70s coming in on Monday and saying “Dude, we have GOT to get baked and go see this movie!” which actually would be a total blast.

Nevertheless, it’s not quite as fun as it should have been. Definitely worth seeing, but I thought it would be a total slam-dunk, and it was only a 70s curiosity along the lines of Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo or Sssssss [the tone here is almost exactly that of Sssssss], with the added amusement of giant bunnies. Have friends with you. And be stoned. Be very stoned.

Should you watch it: 

If you are absolutely off your face and have friends with you.