Review of “Night of the Lepus” (1972)

Image from IMDB

Saturday pizza and bad movie night lived up to its name. On the bright side, we’ve been buying enough pizza that we scored a freebie! It tastes better if it’s free, I think. We watched this gem with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Arizona rancher Cole Hillman’s (Rory Calhoun) land is plagued with rabbits. The rabbit overpopulation resulted from getting rid of the coyotes. The last straw is the day Cole’s horse breaks a leg by stumbling into a rabbit hole, and he has to shoot him. Just the same, Cole doesn’t want to resort to poison because of the impact it would have on the environment.

He turns to his friend, the administrator of the local college, Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley, who has just retired from a five-year mission abroad—but I digress.) Clark, in turn, recommends two zoologists the college has recently hired, a married couple, Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh). With them is their daughter, Amanda (Melanie Fullerton), who seems to be about ten years old.

Once they have their experimental rabbits in hand, Gerry explains they plan to make “Jack more like Jill and Jill more like Jack” so there won’t be so many juniors. Amanda sees one rabbit as a pet, though, and swaps him for a control rabbit, then takes him out of the lab. Romeo (bad name for an androgynous rabbit) decides he prefers rabbits to intrusive humans and takes off.

The ranchers find tracks near the watering hole that mystifies them. They appear to come from animals that must weigh at least one hundred and fifty pounds. (And intermediate stage? Because the animals who show up later would easily weigh ten times that, I would hazard a guess, based on my in-depth understanding and knowledge of such things)

Later, a delivery man’s car breaks down. He’s attacked and killed by rabbits that tower over those made by Volkswagen.

Thoughts:

As one who grew up in the 70s (yes, by the gods, I’m ancient), I couldn’t watch this movie without hearing Tim the Enchanter saying, “I warned you! But did you listen to me? Oh, no, you knew it all, didn’t you? Oh, it’s just a harmless little bunny, isn’t it? Well, it’s always the same, I always–”

It wasn’t entirely clear to me why trying to make the rabbits sterile—or at least less apt to multiply like rabbits—would make them bulk up in just a few generations to thousands of times in size. That’s an oopsie. Grandma was a harmless little bunny, and the grandkids are charging down Main Street like city buses. And they’re headed for the produce warehouse!

The rabbits do a lot of stampeding. The attack cattle, horses, and humans, including children, though here the viewer sees only the bloody aftermath and not the actual attack. Though they are pretty bloody, Svengoolie assured his audience what appeared to blood on the bunnies was actually ketchup.

Clearly, there’s an environmental message in the movie, as well as an argument for understanding the balance of nature. There’s also a lesson in keeping your car in good repair with emergency equipment nearby. Too many vehicles break down or get stuck in the dirt. Giant killer rabbits are not the first thing that comes to mind when a car breaks down, of course. Of course, there’s also the lesson in keeping an eye on your daughter. Just the same, it wasn’t preachy. The characters are not depicted as evil or foolish but rather simply out of their depth. No one even bawls out little Amanda.

This movie is based on an absurdist science fiction book, The Year of the Angry Rabbit, by Australian author Russell Braddon.

It’s silly and hard to take seriously, but it was fun watching the bunnies leap off “cliffs” to swoop down on their prey and storm down the streets of model towns. One scene shows them sitting down to a banquet.

“Lepus,” as the movie tells the viewer, is a Latin word for rabbit. Doesn’t that make it all sound official?




Title: Night of the Lepus (1972)

Directed by
William F. Claxton

Writing Credits
Don Holliday…(screenplay) and
Gene R. Kearney…(screenplay)
Russell Braddon…(novel)

Cast (in credits order)
Stuart Whitman…Roy Bennett
Janet Leigh…Gerry Bennett
Rory Calhoun…Cole Hillman
DeForest Kelley…Elgin Clark (he’s not a doctor)
Paul Fix…Sheriff Cody

Released: October 4, 1972
Length: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Rating: PG

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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