Monday, June 27, 2011

Horror Movie Review: Night of the Lepus

Night of the Lepus

Starring: Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and DeForest Kelley

Directed by: William F. Claxton

Written by: Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney based on the novel by Russell Braddon

Production Company: A. C. Lyles Productions

Release Date: October 4, 1972

Let me confess...a pg rated movie about giant killer rabbits is something I'd probably pass up, unless it was apparent that it was done up for laughs. Night of the Lepus is clearly not done for laughs, so this is the kind of thing I would typically just ignore. Well, I'm not too proud to admit that when I saw DeForest Kelley's name attached, I got curious. I'd never seen Kelley as anything except Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in my beloved Star Trek, so the chance to see him, like so many lucky Star Fleet nurses, out of Star Fleet Uniform and in my beloved genre of horror...well, I couldn't pass that up.

Rabbits are running out of control eating pasture land and crops. There are so many rabbit holes horses are breaking their legs in them. It's a big problem and farmer Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) has had enough. He goes to his friend Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley), the head of a local college, for help. However, he doesn't want to just poison them because of the effect it might have on the other fauna in the area...namely his cows. So they get scientist Roy Bennett (Stuart Whitman) to try and come up with a humane way of getting rid of the rabbit menace.

Bennett and his wife Gerry (Janet Leigh) begin working on a way to inhibit rabbit reproduction, but one of his attempts escapes and mutates into a giant carnivorous beast. That wolf-sized rabbit, let's call him Rabbit Zero, infects and mutates the other rabbits in the area. Soon there are hundreds of flesh eating, giant rabbits roaming the countryside eating horse, cow, and human alike.

It's a little slow to start, but in the end I have to confess this was an interesting giant animal film. The effects to create the illusion of giant rabbits are simple, but pretty effective. Impressive miniature sets were created to let real rabbits run through creating a pretty effective effect of giant rabbits rampaging through town. Close ups of rabbit mouths with fake blood and foam help us feel the rabbits are in fact dangerous, and fake rabbits used for when they get shot and splatter blood, a pretty decent amount of blood actually for an early 70s PG film, create an impressively realistic viewing experience. The men in rabbit suits jumping on victims was a bit painful to watch, however.

But most interesting is the vast array of conflicting themes and messages to be found. First there's a theme about using humane ways to get rid of animal vermin, but those attempts in the film go horribly awry, so then it seems to be against humane handlings and just killing outright. After all, had they just killed the rabbits, they wouldn't have become mad eating beasts. However, it also mentions how eliminating one pest in can lead to new pests like the elimination of rabbits in Australia lead to more locust troubles.

In the end it's a balanced display of the troubles endemic in dealing with pests, which is rare for Hollywood, known for taking one side and beating a dead horse with it...ironically.

It's not particularly scary, and it's slow at times, but it's an interesting watch nonetheless.

Related Trailers

Demonoid - Stuart Whitman also stars in Demonoid. A British woman visits her husband at the Mexican mine he is attempting to reopen and discovers that the workers refuse to enter the mine fearing an ancient curse. The couple enter the mine to prove there is no danger and inadvertently release a demon which possesses people's left hands and forces them to behave in a suitably diabolical manner. The only way for a possessed person to free themselves from this torment is to cut off their left hand after which it scurries away in search of its next victim.

Halloween H20 Janet Leigh was a pretty prolific scream queen with Halloween H20 marking her final horror appearance. It's the first reunion in 20 years for two estranged siblings: former baby-sitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her brother, crazed slasher Michael Myers. With a witty script, a great cast (including LL Cool J and Michelle Williams) and Curtis's return to the role that made her a scream queen, Halloween: H20 is the final chapter in a legendary tale.

Motel Hell - Rory Calhoun also appeared in Motel Hell. Farmer Vincent kidnaps travelers and buries them -- alive -- in his garden, fattens them up and harvests them to use in his famous fritters.