The movie Night of the Lepus is a something of a joke in horror movie circles. While that is somewhat deserved, those reasons strictly lie with the film’s budget and some of the film’s effects. The rest of the film is put together incredibly well.
Night of the Lepus is set over a few weeks in a rural community in the American Southwest that is facing rabbit infestation. Rather than bombing the area with poison, a cattle rancher decides to turn to a local animal biologist researcher to see if he can find an alternate solution. He tries genetically engineering to see if he can introduce a virus to the local rabbit population to make them less fertile. However, one of the experimental rabbits gets out, and shortly afterward, he learns from the rabbit that it was paired with that the changes he made would instead make the rabbits grow larger and would make them more aggressive and carnivorous. Cue the plague of man-eating rabbits.
This is also where the problem comes in. A plague of rabbits who attack humans, could, theoretically, work as a horror film, if you have the budget to make things more grotesque, and write moments into the film to add a little bit of the macabre – showing the rabbits feasting on “human flesh”, to make them in turn feel like more of a menace.
However, instead, the “giant” rabbits are represented by real-life rabbits on miniature sets (incredibly detailed, carefully crafted miniature sets, but miniature sets nonetheless) or by stuffed animals when the rabbits need to be harmed, or by a guy in a bunny suit who is barely in the frame (when the rabbits need to actually physically interact with a person in order to attack them). Consequently, this particular rabbit rampage fails to provoke the intended reaction of “Ahhhhhhh!” in favor of “Awwwwww!”
This is made all the more unfortunate by the film’s cast. Not because the cast is bad, but rather because it’s literally the opposite. This cast is fantastic – with the actors selling the hell out of the fact that they are facing a horde of murderous killer rabbits with all possible seriousness, including Janet Leigh (yes that Janet Leigh), selling the hell out of desperately fending off the killer rabbits surrounding her RV with some road flares while hoping help comes – or DeForrest Kelly (yes, I mean Doctor McCoy from Star Trek), similarly looking incredibly unnerved while investigating the rabbits’ giant warren.
It makes for a movie that wants to be smarter than it had any right being, with better acting and production values that it had any right having, marred only by the fact that it’s just a little too classy (or didn’t quite have enough budget) to get macabre enough to sell the menace. This film is absolutely worth your time. It’s dumb in a lot of ways, and is certainly so bad it’s good – but it’s one of those so-bad-it’s good movies which you can watch on your own and really get a kick out of.
Night of the Lepus is available on Amazon Instant and on Blu-Ray (and buying anything through those links helps support the show), and I absolutely recommend seeing it – this is one of those ’70s horror films that absolutely is worth watching.
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