Thursday, January 3, 2013
Night of the Lepus (1972)
Night of the Lepus (1972)
I've wanted to see Night of the Lepus out of sheer curiosity after I first heard about it thanks to The Matrix. A brief clip of Night of the Lepus is shown in that film when Neo is at the Oracle's house in the room with the kid bending spoons with his mind. I had to know why there was a movie with giant rabbits running around a town! I finally got around to seeing it and it met my low expectations. As you can see by the above poster, the marketing campaign for this film tried to hide the fact that it is about giant killer bunnies. Clearly they knew audiences at the time would find it ridiculous and the premise of huge mutated bloodthirsty rabbits hasn't gotten any better with age.
Night of the Lepus was directed by William F. Claxton, who mainly did TV work for shows such as The Twilight Zone, Bonanza, and Little House on the Prairie. This isn't surprising as Lepus looks and feels like a TV movie, not a theatrical release. The film is based on the 1964 novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit. Apparently the book takes place in Australia, which makes more sense than the film's setting of Arizona given the problems that country has had with rabbits as an invasive species. I guess there is a bit of commentary on animal testing as that is what causes the rabbit mutations, but it gets overshadowed by simply by the fact that we have giant bunnies killing people and running amok.
Lepus is unintentionally funny since it is a monster movie about big bunnies. The camera trick of making the rabbits look huge with miniature sets reminded me of bad 1950s sci-fi monster movies such as King Dinosaur. It looked silly for those movies and it looks even more obvious here. At least those 50s movies tended to use lizards and not cute furry creatures. Of course what is even worse are the close-ups that clearly show people in rabbit suits! Although these bunnies are depicted as vicious, shots like those above are cute and just makes the horror both humorous and surreal. While the movie has some slow parts, it's still watchable thanks mostly to the ridiculousness of the situation. There are worse films out there with killer animals (thanks Syfy channel!) but that still doesn't make Lepus any good.
Somehow a bunch of recognizable actors made it into this movie. DeForest Kelley, best known as Dr. McCoy on Star Trek, plays a college president but basically acts like Bones. Sadly this was Kelley's final non-Star Trek movie to get a theatrical release, though to be fair he was always more of a TV actor anyway. Janet Leigh made this movie just 12 years removed from Psycho. It's a shame she went movies like Touch of Evil, Psycho, and The Manchurian Candidate to this nonsense in roughly a decade. Besides Leigh there is another Oscar nominee in the cast, Stuart Whitman. Prolific actors Paul Fix and Rory Calhoun also have roles.