Night of the Lepus (1972)
Guest Review by Jason Scott
Warning to Readers: Any who would be offended at the depiction of rabbits being beaten with sticks, shot, set on fire, & electrocuted should not watch this movie or read this review. For all others, you may carry on.
I have a real gem of a movie here today! Prepare to be shocked & horrified by the tale of how the Arizona countryside is besieged by a horde of ferocious killer rabbits. These cute & fluffy animals are already the bane of anyone with a garden, & run all over the Canadian city I live in. But this film reveals that bunnies also have a surprising malevolence that is released upon the world by means of a mishandled serum. [Editor Nate: They have rabbits in Canada? I always thought that the only furry-backed, twitchy-nosed, woods-pooping mammals in Canada were moose, polar bears, and University of Alberta cheerleaders. Apparently wikipedia lied to me.]
Meet the monsters of this film. The fiends are disarmingly adorable. Resist their lure!
The movie opens with a TV news report on the baneful effects of overpopulation, especially as regards the food supply. Special attention is drawn to rabbits. The broadcaster notes that in Australia European settlers introduced rabbits as a potentially useful source of food. The rabbits disastrously exceeded expectations, becoming so numerous that they threatened crops & pushed native species of flora & fauna to extinction. Black & white footage is shown of Australian ranchers rounding up rabbits to try to get the population under control.
"I know, I know. You're wondering why you should care what happens to the Aussies. I'm getting to that."
The broadcaster then segues to the southwestern United States, where rabbits have similarly gotten out of hand. They're referred to as a plague that humans are at war with, & the question arises whether science can find a way to stem this onslaught of furry critters.
War on Communism? War on Drugs? War on Terror? Those are nothing! Here's a true menace.
There is now a wide shot of a lone man riding through scrubland in Arizona. As the horse is galloping along he steps into a rabbit burrow & breaks his leg. The rider goes down heavily but is unharmed. The horse, sadly, must be put down with a rifle bullet, though we don't have to actually watch the poor beast being killed. All the while, a bunch of rabbits are just sitting around calmly observing what's happening.
"Now that I'm appearing in this movie, I may as well put a bullet through the head of my career."
This man's name is Cole Hillman, played by Rory Calhoun (born Francis McCown). Although he had a rocky youth that included jail time for theft & armed robbery, Calhoun would go on to have a very respectable acting career, earning two stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame for his movie & television performances. His appearance in this silly horror movie is quite peculiar, unless it was due to contractual obligation or having a huge pile of money offered to him.
Cole walks back to his ranch. His son asks him where Ranger is, & Cole has to explain how he mercy killed the horse. He orders a ranch hand to head out in a truck to fetch his saddle from Ranger's corpse. Cole heads into his house & puts in a call to Elgin Clark, the president of the local college.
In the next scene Cole & Elgin are walking along the street of a town in conversation. Elgin is played by DeForest Kelly, much more famous for his iconic performance as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy on Star Trek. It took me a moment to recognize Kelly under the thick 70's moustache he wears in this movie. I wouldn't wonder if he wanted to disguise himself a bit.
"Like my moustache? If the Trekkies harass me at the next convention for being in this movie, I'm going to say that I don't wear moustaches & it was some look-alike who used my name to cash in on my fame."
"Nice! Why didn't I think of that? I'm only remembered as the guy who's 'always standing & walking' in that damn Simpsons episode, but at least I'm not remembered for this heap of rabbit excrement."
Cole wants to fix the rabbit problem before they eat him out of a living. Elgin proposes contacting the fellow who had taken care of the coyote problem Cole had recently suffered from. Cole replies that the solution to the coyotes has caused the rabbit problem, for when the coyotes were wiped out from the region there was nothing to keep the rabbit population in check. He wants to avoid such extreme measures this time, but is baffled how to come up with a better fix.
Elgin says that he knows of a zoologist couple doing work on population control that doesn't involve using poison or other dangerous methods. Cole figures that he has nothing to lose by giving this guy a try, though it will turn out that he actually has a great deal to lose.
We meet these zoologists & their daughter, who are doing work on bats out at a cave. The zoologist is Roy Bennett, played by Stuart Whitman. Whitman was a leading man in the '60's, earning an Oscar nomination in 1961 for The Mark, & continued to act steadily up to the turn of the century. I have no idea what induced him to sign on to this movie, but like Calhoun he doesn't strain his talents very much.
Roy's wife Gerry is played by Janet Leigh, most famous for being the woman who gets stabbed by Norman Bates while dressed up like his mother in Psycho. Has any other bad movie had so many respectable actors appearing in it? Leigh said in an interview years later that she only took this role because it was filmed near to her home & family. She also said that she's tried to forget as much about this movie as she can, which indicates how much effort she'll be putting out here.
Stuart: "Say, Hitchcock made The Birds. Do you think he could have done anything with a plot involving killer rabbits?"
Janet: "Hell no! Nobody could make this movie be anything other than silly."
Roy & Gerry's daughter is named Amanda. She has freakishly thick eyebrows, which she seems to have inherited from Roy, while getting Gerry's bleach-blond hair. She also has one of the most hideously grating voices I've ever heard. Her scenes are few, though too many for my liking, & I wonder if she got on the nerves of everyone else involved in this movie so her role was minimized. Amanda's played by Melanie Fullerton, who's career would end after one other uncredited appearance in a TV movie a couple years later.
Amanda from a little later on. See how her beady little eyes stare out from under her creepy brows. If you're wondering, I don't have kids.
As Elgin arrives Roy is caging a bat in order to record its screams. He wants to use this sound to lure bats to areas where there are large mosquito outbreaks, so that the insect population can be brought down through natural predation. Elgin talks about Cole & what his predicament is. Cole has helped the college in many ways so Elgin wants Roy to try solving the rabbit problem. He points out that Cole wants to avoid the use of poisons, but doesn't really have any other alternatives. Roy agrees to see what he can do.
"The Academy's going to snub me forever once they find out I was in this."
"Well, I've learned my lesson. I'm doing nothing but Star Trek movies after this."
As the Bennetts drive to Cole's ranch, they see a large group of rabbits being herded up for slaughter. The sound of their terrified shrieks is actually rather disturbing, & Amanda gets pretty upset at all of the cute bunnies about to be put down. At the ranch Roy & Gerry collect captured rabbits to experiment on. Roy notes that these rabbits are a variety of domestic breeds rather than the wild type indigenous to this area. Cole explains that one of his neighbors had been breeding rabbits, & some had escaped during a fire, leading to an explosion of mongrel rabbits running amok through the countryside. Roy & Gerry speak of curbing the population through the use of hormones or some type of selective disease. To show that the rabbits have a bit of attitude, Cole's bitten on the finger by one as he grabs at it.
"So, you're one of those critters that's ruining my career, huh? Wait 'til I get you back to the lab. You're going to regret ever hopping into the world."
"Augh! The rabbit bit me! Oh, the pain, the pa...No, I'm just fooling around. It didn't even break the skin."
At the college, Roy talks to a wheelchair-ridden Dr. Dirksen, who is developing some kind of serum that is meant to disrupt birth patterns in out-of-control populations by introducing genetic defects. Roy wants to see if the serum will help with the rabbits. He & Gerry have already tried for months without success to develop a hormone treatment that would greatly diminish the rabbit's reproductive ability.
"If we inject ourselves with that stuff, could we forget that we were ever in this movie?"
Amanda whines that the one chosen for the serum injection is her favorite, but it gets the shot anyway. Cole phones, & Roy goes into another room of the lab to answer. He calls Gerry over into that room, leaving Amanda alone with the rabbits, & she promptly gets up to some shenanigans. She takes her favorite rabbit from its cage & switches it with another rabbit over in the control group that hasn't been injected. Now I have another reason to dislike this kid. She knows very well that she's royally screwing up her parents' experiment. Her parents' are also doing a poor job of ensuring their experiment is uncontaminated by letting a child mess around in their lab with no supervision.
Amanda's corrupted into wickedness by the cuteness of the devilish bunnies.
Amanda connivingly bleats to Roy & Gerry about getting a rabbit of her own. They let her have one from the control group, but of course she takes the one that's actually been injected. There will be trouble arising now, I'm sure.
Gerry & Amanda go back to Cole's ranch to collect more rabbits. Cole's son Jackie doesn't like Amanda carrying a rabbit around with her. Amanda tries to say that Romeo, as she calls her bunny, isn't a problem, but Jackie's not interested in hearing it. When Amanda won't give up the rabbit, Jackie yanks Romeo out of her arms, throws him on the ground, & holds Amanda until the rabbit dashes off into the nearest rabbit hole.
These kids are unleashing the Bunny Apocalypse.
Jackie is immediately contrite & apologizes, saying that rabbits had killed his chickens. Do rabbits really kill chickens? Amanda's a little upset, but not nearly as much as I would expect. She says that they better not let Gerry know what's happened. Why would they not want to tell the adults what's happened? She was in the lab & overheard her parents clearly stating how important it is that no injected rabbits escape & have the chance to mingle with larger populations. Now that very circumstance has arisen, & the kids are going to try to keep it a secret? A lot of the ensuing carnage will be due to these kids & their irresponsible actions.
At the lab, Roy & Gerry have noticed that rabbits injected with the serum are starting to grow quite large. Since nothing's really come of their attempt to control rabbit populations, they decide to tell Cole that he'll have to rely on more traditional methods, though Roy's still worried about what effects poison will have on the surrounding ecosystem.
Taking these concerns to heart, Cole decides not to use poison, but rather use gasoline to burn a large strip of his land, rendering it barren & hopefully starving out the rabbits. Two other ranchers are with Cole as his men dump the gasoline. The rancher with glasses thinks poison would be the better option. The other rancher says that they should be grateful Cole is torching his own land to keep theirs from being overrun by the rabbit plague. The gasoline is lit up, & plumes of ugly black smoke rise up into the air as the flames appear, causing the rabbits to flee.
This may not be the most environmentally responsible way to clear out the rabbits.
Cole, Roy, & Gerry later ride out to see if the rabbits are coming back in force after the drastic fire treatment. They check out the first spot of rangeland that was cleared by the rabbit hordes, & notice a very odd track. It appears to have been made by a large predator like a cougar, but nothing so big has been seen in these parts for quite a while. It reminds me a lot of the kaiju movies where the mysterious footprint would be the first clue to the monster's presence.
The characters can be thankful that this footprint doesn't belong to Godzilla, or even Varan.
Amanda & Jackie are on horseback observing this operation. Jackie offers to take Amanda to see Captain Billy, an old gold prospector who lives at a mine that he claims will eventually let him strike it rich. Amanda, having apparently forgiven Jackie completely for losing Romeo, agrees to the trip.
It can be guessed what's happened to Captain Billy, which is a shame as from his description he could have been a fun character. Jackie & Amanda arrive at the mine to find Captain Billy nowhere in sight. Jackie tells Amanda to go look in the mine while he checks out the Captain's shack. There is some suspense here, as it's quite possible one of these kids will be jumped.
Neither one is attacked, although Amanda has a traumatic experience. She beholds the mangled body of Captain Billy lying on the floor of the cavern, & gets a glimpse of the beast that has killed him. This creature is a giant rabbit, the head of which appears in a series of quick cuts filmed in extreme close-up to exaggerate its size. Ketchup has also been smeared on the rabbit's face to try to give it a more frightful look.
What do you think? Are you frightened? Disgusted? Horrified?
Rather than just running out of the tunnel as quickly as possible, the girl shrieks & calls out for her daddy, as if he's anywhere nearby. The rabbit is apparently satisfied with the body of Captain Billy & doesn't go after the little girl, though she would be pretty easy prey. There are evidently no other monster rabbits out to snack on Amanda, so she survives this encounter despite her total lack of survival reflexes. The fight-or-flight response doesn't include standing still & screaming, after all. Captain Billy's body is dragged into the shadows as Jackie comes running from outside, then the scene cuts to Cole's house.
Amanda is lying on a couch thrashing around in a sort of delirium. The doctor who has been called in assures Roy & Gerry that their daughter is just suffering from a little shock & will be fine. Jackie is asked whether he saw anything, & claims that he might have seen something but couldn't be sure in the darkness. Jackie's not wearing his usual cowboy hat & reveals quite a thick mop of hair. The actor, Chris Morrell, was only ever in this one movie & his lack of acting skill shows in his dull line readings here.
Jackie's the expressionless mannequin on the left. Emoting's definitely not his forte.
Gerry says that there must be something in that mine, as Amanda's "too sensible" to just make stuff up. Too sensible? What's she done so far that's been sensible? This is the girl who did more than anyone else to start this whole mess by her foolish actions! Amanda starts calling out for daddy again, sending shards of glass scraping across my ear drums.
Now it's night & a truck loaded with food is moving down a road in the country. For some reason, the driver parks on the side of the road & gets out to check the truck contents. He hears strange noises coming from out of the night. There's the sound of thumping feet, as well as strange huffing & snarling. The spooked driver slowly starts back to the truck door, but as he goes around the corner of his vehicle he sees a sight that sets him to horrified screaming.
The next day a police car stops at the site of the attack as the driver notices the truck on the side of the road. The officer who investigates is like Elgin sporting a thick moustache as well as sideburns. This fellow's name will later be given as Jason (good name, I like it) & he's the gopher for Sheriff Cody, who gets called in to view the mess. Cody is played by Paul Fix, who had a long career appearing in mostly Westerns. He doesn't have much to do in this movie, but I mention Fix because he appeared in the second pilot episode of Star Trek as the Enterprise's chief medical officer, before DeForest Kelley got the role & made it his own. Now here the two are years later both appearing in a film about giant killer rabbits. What a film to unite over.
Deputy Jason & Sheriff Cody. Hmm, I wonder how I would look like with a moustache & sideburns? Wait, I better go slap some sense into myself for thinking that.
The scene of the bunny attack is indeed quite a mess, with smashed boxes scattered about & the luckless driver lying mangled in the grass. As Cody & Jason take in this grim scene, a call comes in over the radio alerting them to the body of Captain Billy found mauled in a mine shaft.
The trucker's gory remains. These rabbits mean business.
We go to a crime lab where there's an astonishing scene. The forensic scientist Dr. Leopold is a black man, & he's being treated with respect by the white cops. This is in the southern US in the early '70s, when blaxploitation cinema was in high gear & the civil rights movement was still quite strong. It's very refreshing to see a film where people work together as professionals without any consideration for skin tone.
"Color divide? What color divide?"
Anyway, Leopold gives a little talk about the benefits of his craft, saying that tiny clues can give the story behind the crime. He's asked what the story is behind this crime. He says that the food cans & crates were gnawed upon, & that they contain traces of saliva, as does the trucker's body. Cody takes a look through a microscope at some saliva that looks like it's crawling with bacteria, which I'm sure it is. Regular rabbits eat their own excrement, & these monster versions might do the same, which would render their saliva a biological weapon. Even people who survive a rabbit attack could die from infection afterward. Cody muses about what might have been behind this attack --"Vampires?" he asks in exasperation--& Leopold says that from the evidence the only thing he can think of is a pack of sabertooth tigers. I'd be more inclined toward suspecting werewolves.
Ugh! This is what's transmitted via a rabbit bite. Looks pretty nasty.
Another officer, who could be from Police Academy as he's named Hightower, radios in the brutal slaying of a family. The camera pans over the bloody remains of the family, which includes the two children. This scene should be horrifying, but the officer's tone is so banal that even the gruesome images can't carry the effect. He's reporting on a case of murder in a tone that might be used to report on a case of graffiti. I would commend Hightower for his professional dispassion, but I suspect his attitude is due more to a lack of acting effort.
These rabbits are really vicious critters.
Roy, Gerry, Elgin, & Dirkson are in a lab discussing the situation. They are all suspecting that their recent experiments with the untested serum may be responsible for what's happening. They never find out how any injected rabbits escaped, nor is it a matter of any apparent interest to them. In response to Roy's doubt that a single rabbit could have led to such a terrible scenario, Dirkson says that it would just take a single defective cell in the rabbit populations DNA pool to cause a disastrous mutation to arise.
It's agreed that a group including Cole's gang will go out to investigate the mine where Captain Billy used to dwell. The desire to deal with population problems in a natural way has been completely abandoned. The team will bring along poison & dynamite in case their fears are confirmed & a population of mutated rabbits is holed up at the mine. It's also agreed to keep what they know secret for now. Hum, maybe this is where Amanda got her penchant for deception. The scientists would certainly be in some hot water for their rather sloppy practices with regard to a serum that had unknown effects. As is typical in these sci-fi movies, Dirkson asks whether it might be possible for a mutant rabbit to be captured alive for analysis.
The next day the group assembles at the mine entrance. Elgin & ranch hand Frank go investigating & find three other openings nearby. Elgin picks up a rock & drops it down one of the holes. When the rock hits bottom weird noises issue from the opening, which Elgin transmits to Roy via the bulky radios the team has brought along. It's like Pippin in The Fellowship of the Ring dropping a stone down a pit in Moria & stirring up the Balrog. Upon hearing these noises, Roy orders that the mine be blown up with everything inside.
This is a nifty shot. The shaft hole is like an eye staring up at the two men.
While the charges are being laid, Roy decides to venture into the mine. He intends to get a first-hand look at how exactly the rabbits have been affected. He wants to draw one out for capture & study, or at the very least get photographic evidence of what's taken place.
This plan seems quite foolhardy, especially coming from a smart scientist. Roy's going to travel alone into a cave where a mutant rabbit horde is hiding that has proven to be homicidally violent. He's going to stir up a hornet's nest & risk getting stung without taking any good precautions. He's not bringing a radio with him, & there's no tranquilizer gun or netting to nab a rabbit with even in the unlikely possibility one is lured out of the cave. Not to mention that the dynamiting of the mine will be delayed while Roy's exploring, risking the possibility that one or more rabbits could escape. Cole grabs a rifle & comes along to support Roy.
Their progress through the tunnel is quite slow, given how important it is to get in & out quickly. For what should be one of the most taut scenes in the whole film, there is a notable lack of tension here. Roy & Cole hardly seem anywhere near as scared as they should be at the thought of encountering this monstrous host. Outside, the rest of the group waits with increasing frustration for the two men's return. Jud finishes setting the charges & goes into the shack. As he does, the ground next to the shack starts heaving ominously.
So far, the only thing encountered by Roy & Cole has been a thick flock of bats that the rabbits either don't prey upon or have only picked off a few of. Well into the mine, the sound of the rabbits is finally heard just ahead. Roy & Cole for the first time gaze upon a pack of rabbits "as big as wolves!" The men don't seem nearly as impressed as they really should be. Cole wonders whether that serum could have been responsible for this, although really what other possible cause could there be? Alien experimentation? The rabbits have been very timorous up to this point. They've retreated before the advance of the men, & are complacently sitting around, which seems strange given their obvious aggression. Roy & Cole aren't really trying to be quiet, yet their noise doesn't stir the bunnies at all.
In the depths of the mine, Cole & Roy meet the face of terror!
What finally gets them going is the flash from Roy's camera as he takes his pictures. This sparks a stampede of rabbits & causes the two men to flee for the entrance, though again they don't seem as panicked as I would be having a huge gang of mutant rabbits chasing me. They come to a fork in the tunnel & deliberate about whether to go right or left much as if they were heading to the local 7-Eleven rather than fleeing for their very lives. One rabbit that must have gotten a significant head start on the rest of the pack jumps on Cole, but is beaten off by Roy with a piece of lumber.
The rush of the rabbits! They're always filmed in slow motion, & the camera shakes to give an impression of their ponderous size.
The people outside are having their own problems. A snout emerges from the soil, announcing the arrival of a rabbit that has burrowed right next to the shack. This rabbit is alone, & it's unknown why it decided to travel out here. Did it somehow know what was being planned? That seems impossible. Containing the rabbit menace as planned is going to be very difficult if the intended targets are quickly burrowing to spots all around the mine.
The sinister snout shoves up from the soil.
Jud is inside having a snack when the rabbit bursts through a window & attacks him. Well, I think it's actually a guy in a rabbit suit filmed in really quick shots so it looks something like a rabbit, if you use a bit of imagination. Gerry hears the commotion, sees Jud being savaged, grabs the gun Jud left just outside the shack, & fires two point blank shots at the rabbit. The rabbit is injured but surprisingly not killed, & is still healthy enough to retreat by jumping through the other window. Gerry consoles Jud much as if he were a child who had skinned his knee. Jud looked like he was getting badly mauled, but he seems to have only taken a few superficial cuts that stop bleeding quite quickly. He's scared enough, however, to urge setting off the dynamite now, saying that Roy & Cole couldn't possibly get out of that mine alive.
Contrary to Jud's assertion, Cole & Roy do manage to get out of the mine alive & unharmed. Elgin & Frank run back to the rest of the group & the dynamite is detonated, causing a terrific explosion. The bunnies inside the mine shriek as rubble comes crashing down on them. It looks like the threat might have been neutralized.
The roof is brought down upon the killer rabbits.
The next scene is a dark room where Roy is developing his photographs in company with Gerry & Elgin. While the pictures clearly shows bunnies, I don't see that it's really good proof of anything. Even without digital tricks like Photoshop, it's quite possible to tamper with a film photograph such that any creatures pictured would seem to be quite large. Since the rabbits in the photos are surrounded by nothing but rocks, it's hard to tell how big they would be, anyway. If Roy tries to make a case that the recent grisly murders were due to a genetically mutated breed of enormous rabbits, his photographs will hardly be compelling evidence.
Roy has now decided to come forward to the authorities with what he knows. He offers to fall on his sword for the sake of the college by claiming that he was doing unauthorized research, but Elgin won't hear of it, especially since he was the one who first approached Roy. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in condemning Amanda for the deceit she was practicing earlier. The adults don't seem to be setting a fine example of honesty, though I won't go into a boring discussion on whether this deception is morally justifiable. Roy wants to go back to the mine to ensure that the killer rabbits were all wiped out, & also tells Gerry to go with Amanda to the town of Wood Dale, so that they won't be hounded by the reporters who will be showing up in droves once the story gets out.
Elgin heads off to get Sheriff Cody to come to the mine with he & Roy. Gerry tells Roy that she loves him so much she would go with him to Timbuktu for work, if necessary. Something of the sort may very well be an option when it's made public what they've done. Their reputations as respected zoologists are going to take a real beating once it's discovered that they carelessly allowed a rabbit injected with a highly experimental serum to escape into the wild & breed, which has led to numerous deaths.
This is the only romantic scene in the movie, which is fine. A forced romantic subplot could have made this movie that much harder to watch.
Back at the mine, the rubble caused by the massive explosion is shifting as the mutated rabbits start to emerge. How the bunnies survived all the dynamite going off is hard to say. Perhaps they stayed in the deeper caverns where the explosion couldn't reach, since the humans had only been able to plant explosives close to the tunnel entrances. In any event, the rabbits have survived, & may be even more bloodthirsty now that they have been so violently assaulted in their own lair.
The horde heads over to (who else?) Cole's ranch in the deep night. A dog at the house gives the alarm, though fortunately doesn't go running off to face the intruders, which would have been a nasty scene. The horses get really spooked & start panicking. Cole & his men try to calm them, but to no avail. The horses break out of their pen & take off across the prairie, right into the teeth of the rabbits. One rabbit even licks its chops in anticipation of feasting upon juicy horse steak.
Jud, having previously experienced first-hand the ferocious bite of these bunnies, panics like the horses & takes off in the only truck. He doesn't get far, though, before driving right into the onrushing rabbit stampede, forcing him to retreat back to the ranch. By great misfortune, Jud crashes the truck into the phone line just as Cole is trying to contact the General Store in the nearest town, Galanos. I won't be too critical of Jud, though, as the actor playing him is one of the few cast members really trying to sell the terror his character is supposed to feel. Jud tries to run away, but trips & is overrun by the rabbits, which finish off the job this time.
Jud's about to meet his demise.
Cole takes a few shots at the rabbits with his rifle, but there are far too many for him to handle alone. He's forced to flee into the cellar with Jackie, Frank, & the housekeeper. The rabbits don't really try too hard to break into the cellar once Cole shoots a couple of rabbits through the door. They jump into Cole's house & start trashing the place.
The rabbits make themselves right at home.
Cole & Frank fire at the rabbits through the floorboards of the house, though drawing attention to themselves like that would seem to be exactly the wrong thing to do. The rabbits try to break through the floor, which is holding up quite well under their combined weight. The shooting continues, killing at least one rabbit even though the bullets have to go through the floor first. The rabbits rather abruptly decide they're finished here & head off. This behavior is actually consistent with that of other predators, which always tend to go for the easy prey. Wolves, lions, & such will target the old, sick, & young in isolation from the larger group. Any animal that even looks like it could fight back is avoided, since predators don't want to risk injury that could seriously hurt their own chances of survival. Since these rabbits have only been recently converted to predatory habits, they're even more likely to be timid in their choice of prey.
The question of how these rabbits have become carnivorous is never explained. A rabbit's entire physiology is geared towards vegetarianism, & would have to be completely re-engineered to accommodate a carnivorous diet. Such adaptation would take a long time to accomplish naturally, & I don't see how this serum would have done it so quickly. Then again, the rabbits don't seem to eat people & animals so much as brutally kill them, so perhaps they're still really vegetarians, but their increased size has led to a proportionally greater mean streak.
Maybe these mutant rabbits are omnivores. They still seem to have some interest in veggies.
At the General Store there's Mildred, her unnamed husband, & a fellow named Les. The men are just finishing a game of checkers, & Mildred tells them about the call she received from Cole that just went so suddenly dead. The men aren't very concerned, & don't think it's necessary to go over to Cole's house. They head off for the night in Les's truck, leaving Mildred alone in the store.
The General Store trio.
She gets very uneasy, & peers out through the window at the flat empty streets. She turns away just as the rabbits start to arrive, their presence given away by their peculiar breathing. The rabbits rush into town now, & the store owner screams as a giant rabbit (or a guy in a rabbit suit) smashes through her window & on top of her. The unfortunate woman quickly gets her throat torn open.
The end of Mildred.
Mildred's husband is dropped off at their house. He starts to get very creeped out as he hears strange noises, & a moment later the pack of rabbits charges out of the night. The nervous old man fumbles his keys & can't get into his house. He grabs a chair in a valiant but completely ineffectual attempt to put up some kind of offense, & is swiftly butchered by the bunnies.
Kudos for fighting to the end, but a chair's going to be no help at all.
It's daytime now. Roy, Elgin, & Sheriff Cody are heading to the mine in a neat red-striped helicopter. Cody has just come back from a crime lab in Phoenix, where the forensic scientists have come to the baffled conclusion that the recent spate of murders has been caused by large rabbits with enormous teeth. He's about to be told why the scientists can stop re-checking their results.
The helicopter, which Elgin must have rented, though I don't know how he has that much money.
As they are out & about, Cole is taking stock of last night's dreadful activity. The late Jud's actions have left him without a phone or a truck. Whatever horses have survived the rabbit attack won't make their way back to the ranch for a while yet, leaving Cole to hoof it to town, not realizing that it has already been swarmed by bunnies the previous night. On the way, Cole tries to flag down a passing vehicle, but it goes right past him, & as a result he tosses away the rifle he's brought along.
We actually follow along with the family in this vehicle for a little bit. The wife asks her husband whether he could have stopped back there, to which the husband replies that his policy is not to pick up strangers, especially ones with guns, which shows that Cole was right in thinking his rifle was the reason he was left to walk.
"What do you mean our careers depend upon driving past this movie as quickly as possible?"
The two kids in the back pipe up about stopping soon. The wife mentions stopping in the town up ahead, but when they get there they find Galanos empty. They stop in front of the ruined General Store, & the husband comments that this place is nothing more than a ghost town. He fortunately doesn't try to investigate the town any further but drives off. As some time was spent introducing this family, I was fully expecting they would be the next rabbit victims, but they escape without even realizing what's going on.
We then get Gerry driving with Amanda in a truck that has an El Dorado camper attached to it. They're still a ways from Wood Dale when the truck hits a hole in the road & stalls. Gerry comments that she almost scraped the bottom of the truck, which Roy wouldn't like, though he doesn't seem to me the sort who would make a big fuss over that kind of thing. In any case, Gerry quickly finds that she has much bigger problems when the truck is unable to get out of the rut it's in.
"No! We'd almost escaped from this movie!"
Cole has made it to town but finds no help there. He goes to the General Store where Mildred is dead & a group of rabbits occupy the space, though fortunately they don't notice him. He also comes across Les's torn up body. Strangely, there seem to be no other occupants of Galanos. Roy's expressions at the sight of this carnage are pretty flat. He doesn't really seem that upset about any of it. It may be the horror of the situation & the need to avoid drawing the rabbits' attention is muting his response, but I think that Calhoun just didn't feel much like playing along.
The world has gone to the rabbits.
Here's Cole's response to the horrors he's witnessed. Don't get too choked up there, Cole. You have to keep control of your emotions.
Over at the mine, Elgin drops another rock down into the hole he had earlier investigated, only this time there is no response. The rabbits have all abandoned this cave & gone elsewhere. Sheriff Cody uses the chopper's radio to notify the National Guard, though I wonder who is really going to take him seriously about an attack of mutated giant rabbits. Whoever's on the other end might think the Sheriff has been dipping into the whiskey a bit too much. Perhaps Cody will simply say there's an emergency & not go into any great detail about it.
Cole is trying this tactic on a preacher who he has stopped out on the road. He begs for a ride & says in response to the preacher's query that his story simply wouldn't be believable. He might have tried saying something about the Rabbits of the Apocalypse arriving, but I think it's better that Cole didn't bother with any explanation. He does manage to get a ride without any further questions being asked.
"Well Father, there was this plague of rabbits, & instead of praying for deliverance I relied on science. You wouldn't believe what that's led to."
Back at the local law enforcement office the National Guard is being organized. The chief thought is to evacuate the city of Ajo before the rabbit hordes arrive to cause further death & destruction. An evacuation in the amount of time they likely have doesn't seem possible. As for stopping the rabbits, Cody doesn't see how that's possible without a fence at least 2 miles long & 20 feet high. These are very precise measurements, & I wonder how Cody is so sure that a fence such as this would be so effective against a threat that has never really been faced before.
Roy has an idea, however. He believes that the rabbits can be lured into an area surrounded by train tracks, which can then be used as a makeshift electrified fence to exterminate the beasts. He gets in touch with a rail dispatcher who seems to be safe where he is & so fortunately hasn't been evacuated. The dispatcher agrees with the plan & identifies a section of track that could be used. However, he says that the one hitch is a slowly moving cargo train that has to pass by using the rail that is to be isolated before the power can be shut off so the rabbits can enter the trap.
Another of the Sheriff's deputies, Lopez, enters the Miracle Drive-In while a show is on. He steps in front of all the parked vehicles & says through a blow horn that officials need the people's help to stop a "herd of killer rabbits". I grinned when I heard this statement, which sounds pretty ludicrous, especially when Lopez speaks it so seriously. I was expecting laughter & mockery to result from this pronouncement, but there is respectful silence as Lopez says that everyone there must follow him & do exactly what they're told. Horns honk in an enthusiastic show of assent.
The Miracle Drive-In, where the National Guard is carrying out their latest enrollment drive. Every Little Crook & Nanny is an obscure comedy starring Lynn Redgrave that also came out in 1972.
We return to Gerry & Amanda who are still stuck out in the countryside at night with a band of killer rabbits on the loose. Amanda is holding a flashlight as Gerry tries to dig out the truck tire. They've been out here for what must have been hours, but judging by how clean Gerry is she only started trying to dig the truck out very recently.
Gerry & Amanda are in trouble.
The rabbits start to show up now. Gerry orders Amanda into the camper & tells her to lock the door. She goes to the truck's glove compartment & pulls out some flares, which for whatever reason she hasn't used to signal for any help. The rabbits begin to surround the truck, but Gerry fends them off using her flares, like Aragorn fighting off the Nazgul with a torch. She even sets one on fire by hurling one of her flares at it. The beast goes up like kerosene-soaked kindling. The rabbits don't retreat, but are understandably shy about advancing.
Gerry looks like she's firing a Harry Potter wand.
A big bunny burning.
While Gerry is trying to keep the rabbits at bay, Amanda doesn't help matters by constantly shrieking in her hideous voice for her mother to be careful, as if that wasn't obvious. If I were in Gerry's position, my blood pressure would be shooting up to a whole other degree by having to listen to these banshee screams while already in danger of my life.
Meanwhile, Roy has become very worried about his family, who haven't called him from Wood Dale. He's cruising around in the chopper again looking for what's befallen his wife & daughter. The chopper's searchlight reveals a sea of rabbits streaming along below. Although the search area is huge, Roy & the pilot manage to find the lost ones. No doubt the glare from all the flares glowing in the night helped. The rabbits seem to be scared off by the noise of the chopper & scatter.
The Bennett family joyously reunites.
The rabbits are continuing their rampage elsewhere. A large herd of cattle is sent stampeding by the plague of toothy terrors. The cargo train still hasn't cleared the tracks. Cody complains to the dispatcher, who tells him that the train is slow in a tone of voice he might use to talk to an irate passenger rather than a man trying to stop an onslaught of monster rabbits.
"Yes Sheriff, I understand you're feeling a lot of pressure, but there's no need to be raising your voice."
The drivers who were enlisted by Lopez before have been lined up by the train tracks. They are again told to obey all orders without hesitation, to roll up their windows, & not to panic at what happens. I wonder if the National Guard & local law enforcement can really round up civilians like this? If this plan doesn't work, these people could all be in serious trouble from the teeming mass of angry rabbits that will soon arrive. It's true that nobody has been expressly ordered to take part in this scheme, but I think the officials could still be in a bad spot if any civilians end up injured or killed.
The civilian vehicles are being led into formation.
Roy returns in the chopper to take part in the final battle. The cargo train finally gets across, & the men quickly switch the rail so that the rabbits are securely ensnared. The rabbits arrive & are diverted to the trap by the civilians' vehicle headlights. Once they are in place the power is turned on.
The scene of the mutant rabbit extermination is fairly long. Whatever rabbits don't end up fried by the train tracks are gunned down by the military & police. The rabbits' tortured screams fill the air, which is likely also heavy with the stench of burning flesh & fur. Cole, Roy, & Elgin take part in the rabbit shooting. One rabbit gets through the electrified rail & leaps on Roy but is killed by Cole. Eventually, the power lines that have been augmented for this mass killing short out, but by then all the rabbits are dead.
The rail yard is lit up with sparking rabbits.
Someone's going to get a ginormous electrical bill at the end of the month.
In the next scene, it's bright daylight out as Roy takes part in a football game at the town stadium. Cole visits Roy there, & tells him that coyotes have finally started to reappear, as well as other animals such as deer & foxes that have been away for a while. As for the rabbits, some burrows have been sighted, but they are by no means large enough to be home to the monster creatures that have been killed off. Cole invites Roy & his family up to the ranch, an offer Roy accepts.
"Whew! We did it! We survived this movie."
"Yeah, but will our careers?"
As the kids are running through the now lush grassy fields, the camera focuses upon a couple of normal rabbits. Are they secretly planning yet another attempt at conquest?
Trust me. Anything that innocuous has to be up to no good.
This movie is extraordinary in a way, really. A major studio, MGM, backed its production, & a host of successful actors who probably weren't desperate for the paychecks agreed to appear in it. This is the sort of film b-movie directors like Roger Corman would be much more likely to film, though even he might have thought the notion of killer rabbits too silly. (I do wonder what Ed Wood might have done with this material?)
The studio clearly knew they had a tough sell with this one. The title was changed from the original Rabbits! to Night of the Lepus (Lepus being the Latin word for rabbit), which sounds much more sinister. Trailers never showed or mentioned the rabbits, & the poster also avoids depicting any rabbits, instead presenting baleful eyes glaring out of the blackness at the Bennetts. The question is why the studio would have funded a horror movie it had so little confidence in? The director hired for the project, William Claxton, was a strange choice, as he mostly worked in Westerns & had very little experience with the horror or sci-fi genres. Claxton's involvement does explain why this movie resembles a Western in many scenes, & how he got in contact with many of the actors, who had all appeared in Westerns.
Probably the worst part about this film is the acting. I understand how the actors would likely consider this movie to be a black mark on their respectable careers, but they'd signed the contracts already, so why not just make the most of it? At some points, it seems like the leads might be trying to deliberately undermine the film, especially in scenes like the one where Roy & Cole walk through the mutant rabbit-infested mine. In some ways it might have been better to hire unknown b-movie actors for this project, as they at least might have tried to make something out of what could have been their one appearance in a big studio picture.
The serious tone also doesn't really fit the content. A very serious message about the dangers of over-population & the need to find a balance between human activity & the natural world is explicitly brought up in the news report prologue. Throughout the movie various characters keep pointing out how vital it is to keep this natural balance. While this message is certainly very important & even more relevant now than it was 40 years ago, it's turned on its head when the monsters meant to represent the dangers of thoughtless tampering are nothing more than domestic rabbits filmed to look humongous.
This movie was very loosely based on an Australian novel called The Year of the Angry Rabbit, which from what I've read on Wikipedia is a social & political satire. This sort of tone would have suited the movie much better. It would also have worked well as campy parody of the horror movie & message movie genres. After all, even played straight, the movie still sometimes appears as campy parody at times. It's a one-of-a-kind production, just not necessarily in a good way.
Thanks for reading! See you next time.
Written in July 2012 by Jason Scott and used with his permission.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...