Night of the Lepus (1972)

March 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’m telling you, if you need to class up a B-movie about killer rabbits the size of wolves, use the latin word for rabbit. It also doesn’t hurt to have fairly recognizable actors like Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh (best known for Psycho in 1960) and DeForest Kelley, best known as Dr. McCoy in the original run of Star Trek, from 1966 to 1969. Someone should do an article on Trek actors dabbling in seventies horror after the cancellation of the original show and before Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and the revival of Trek made all that unnecessary. Aside from DeForest Kelley in this film, Shatner made Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and Leonard Nimoy had a prominent role in an impressive update of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).

I watched this mainly for Kelley, and he seems to have tackled this in a relaxed but professional manner, sporting a moustache and chatting about what to do (and, there’s a lot of dull chatter here), or wearing a funky brown leather jacket and blasting away at a rabbit (sorry, a lepus) with a shotgun. The special effects are limited to actors reacting to close-ups of rabbits, quick shots of guys in bunny suits pretending to maul someone, or actual rabbits bumping their way through a model farm.  To be fair, there are also a few effects shots where people are briefly in the same scene as a giant rabbit, but however seriously the film runs with this, there’s simply no way to make rabbits frightening. It goes without saying it’s a film to see with a few friends and a few drinks, unless like me you’re a fan of Kelley.

A few scenes are devoted to the genetic tampering that helped create the problem. I sometimes wonder about the collective impact of so many science-fiction / horror films like this — as often as they suggest we’re a little too free and loose with science and in danger of making horrible mistakes, they also always seem to suggest we’ll improvise some sort of solution. My favourite scene actually comes near the end, when it’s finally time to create a corridor and try and herd the rabbits over the electrified train tracks. An officer pulls up to the front of a drive-in film, gets on the bullhorn and announces the following:

“Attention, attention — ladies and gentlemen, attention!  There’s a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help.  Roll up your windows, turn on your lights and follow the police car at the entrance to the theatre. Please keep calm and cooperate with the authorities. Do you read me?” And everyone immediately honks their horn and starts up their car. Because you know, this is the sort of thing that happens, right?

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