‘Night of the Lepus’ (1972)


Night of the Lepus (1972)

Night of the Lepus opens with an absurd news expose designed to explain why people should be concerned with rabbit overpopulation. Various bits of stock footage show people all over the world (and, most importantly, Arizona) rounding up the furry creatures and offing them. As the story unfolds, scientists Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) are called in to experiment on the rabbits to find out why they are reproducing so quickly. Cruelty to animals seems to be a primary motivation of the first twenty minutes of the film until a key mammal injected with a growth hormone escapes back into the desert. It is not long before giant footprints begin appearing in the sand. As a member of the audience, it is hard to attach a lot of weight to this discovery, mostly because rabbits are not very scary.

From this point on, the film takes on the pace and tone of a typical “pseudo-science causes some animal to take over the world” scenario.  The rampage begins with shots of people screaming and a reverse close-ups of rabbit faces adorned with swaths of red paint. As the film continues in this vein, the film’s primary flaw holds true: rabbits are not very scary.

As the need to up the ante arrives, we get slow motion shots of furry antagonists terrorizing miniature train set buildings and stuntmen in rabbit suits engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the townsfolk. Occasionally, a character is killed off. It is fun on a lot of levels; the predominant level being that rabbits are not very scary.

The rabbits go on to do a number of uncharacteristic things like growl, dismember locals, cut phone lines, and eat horses. Night of the Lepus has all the charm of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) when a bunny jumps up and bites a knight’s head off. You might think that 90 minutes of this would be tedious. However, the movie is endlessly engaging for one, solitary reason; I’ll leave you to figure out what that reason is.