NIGHT OF THE LEPUS
* * (1972, 88 minutes, Rated PG)
READER APPRECIATION POLL WINNER: "Cry havoc! And let slip the rabbits of war!"
Let's get this right out of the way: Night of the Lepus is a movie about 150lb. man-eating rabbits.
And unlike the New Zealand film about man-eating sheep, Black Sheep, this movie is not meant
to be funny in any way.
Yep. It's like that.
We open with a "Special Report" news piece, the kind that would be air on a Friday night and be
accompanied by some sultry jazz and ominous lighting if it aired today. A news anchor blah-blahs
about overpopulation -- something people cared about in the days before celebrity trials, flag lapel
pins and "American Idol" -- but then transitions to the over-abundance of rabbits in Australia
(funny, I thought Australia had a toad problem). The anchor carries on about the rabid
reproductiveness of rabbits, completely failing to draw any parallels to the over-abundances of our
own species, and then we get this gem of a title card:
U.S. BATTLES PESTS
TO SAVE NEW TREES
|It's the epic smackdown you've been waiting for, as these two
long-standing foes go toe-to-toe for supremacy!
The action moves to the Southwestern U.S., where a rancher who really, really, really wants to be
John Wayne is riding through the countryside. Suddenly, his horse collapses, having tripped in
one of the many rabbit holes plaguing the fragile desert landscape. The rancher John Waynes
down at the horse, examines the horse's leg... then pulls out a rifle and shoots the horse. The
rancher then glares around with a looks that says, "How many more horses do I need to shoot
because of you carrot-eating bastards?" Yes, there is a lot of misplaced anger in this movie.
DeForest "Dr. Bones McCoy" Kelly co-stars as the even more unfortunately named Elgin Clark, the
president of a college in nearby Ajo. Turns out that Clark is the go-to guy for all your "thinning out
This, my friends, is truly how you can tell this is a '70s movie: No one has cared about trees since
|Dammit, Jim! I'm the president of a
university, not some kind of
futuristic space doctor!
the herd" needs, and he hooks our John Wayne wannabe
up with the Bennetts, a "young" couple from "back East"
(including Janet Leigh with some bitchin' Jersey hair). The
Bennett's big idea is to pump a handful of rabbits full of
hormones to shut down the rabbits' reproductive cycle.
When that doesn't work, Bennett starts injecting rabbits with
any old thing lying around the lab -- including some mystery
serum an unnamed professor in a wheelchair (I'll call him
Dr. Ironsides) gives him. The result? Rabbit 'roid rage.
As if discovering rabbit 'roid rage wasn't bad enough, the
Bennetts' snot-nosed little daughter takes a shining to one
of the freshly 'roided rabbits, tries to "rescue" it, it escapes
from her, and before you can say "Wabbit Theason,"
hundreds of the aforementioned 150lb. man-eaters are hopping around the countryside.
If you're wondering how one accomplishes the effect of a 150lb. man-eating rabbit with 1970s
technology, it's quite simple: shoot extreme close-ups of the rabbit and dub in some roaring. Add
some reaction shots of manly men screaming like little girls, and you're good to go.
|John Wayne (above) does not
appear in this film.
With hundreds of 150lb. man-eating rabbits hopping
around, it doesn't take long for our heroes to sort out what's
going on. Dr. Ironsides reappears to give the audience all
the exposition we need, and Bones predictably starts fretting
about the PR nightmare the incident will cause his school.
The scene ends with Dr. Ironsides getting the looks of
disgust he richly deserves when he asks, "I don't suppose
there's a chance that you could bring back one of those
rabbits alive." Oh sure.
Our gang attempts to blow up the rabbits in a mine shaft,
something the rabbits take exception to. That night the
rabbits strike back, heading out in mass to ransack homes,
eat horses and terrorize the womenfolk -- essentially
making them four-legged pirates.
With everything going pear-shaped, our character meander into action. Okay, not quite, but just
when things should be getting exciting, the film slows down to a snail's pace. We're treated to a
string of scenes where a handful of characters share a bit of information and then scurry into some
moving vehicle. It's that exciting. Seriously, I dozed off during the climax of the film -- something I
didn't even do during the likes of Hell Asylum (though I wish I had) -- and I can't think of a bigger
insult to a storyteller.