NIGHT OF THE LEPUS!
Happy Easter. How should I celebrate? I already had a review written up for this Wednesday and Monday morning someone hands me a copy of Night of the Lepus. What the hell is this? The Answer:
A killer Bunny movie.
How could I NOT review this film for Easter? And yes, I know that the Easter Bunny is just an offshoot of the Pagan tradition and/or is just a commercialized tool for selling candy but honestly I picture pink bunnies made of marshmallows before I picture the zombie Messiah returning from his tomb. Maybe I'm odd. So, if you don't celebrate Easter or think that the Easter Bunny is a terrible thing, simply accept that the following is yet another "giant monster" movie. (Random Trivia: I'm sure you've seen at least a clip from this movie. It played in the background of The Matrix as well as in Natural Born Killers.)
In 1972, MGM apparently thought that making a "Giant Killer Rabbit" movie was the way to go. Without even knowing anything about this film you can imagine some of the inherent flaws in what we're about to watch. (Hint: Bunnies are cute.) There's no way I'm going to do a full play-by-play plot review here...this movie is messed up, but not in the same way as some of the other refuse that I've reviewed. I will give you a quick summary:
"Two Scientists are called in to deal with a plague of over-populating rabbits. One of their test subjects is released by their "rabbit loving" daughter and breeds with the wild rabbits (the test bunny not the daughter, you sick bastards) making a population of giant flesh-eating rabbits. In the end, the National Guard kills all of them with an electrified train track (and flamethrowers) and everyone is happy."
I think the first obstacle this film had to get over was how gosh-durn cute bunny wabbits are. I mean, besides maybe kittens, rabbits are the definition of cute. So how did they try to bring you TERROR via the bunny? First, they start the film off like you're watching a documentary. A news reporter makes a fake report talking about the plague of rabbits that have been taking the nation by storm. These (normal sized) bunnies overpopulate and eat all the crops in an area...bring blight and destruction to innocent farmers across the great state of America. This opening scene includes stock footage of angry mobs of people beating wild rabbits with sticks. Basically this whole thing sets the stage for a LOT of farmers bitching about rabbits and using a variety of (mundane) ways of getting rid of them. My particular favorite is when they decide to set their land on FIRE to burn out the rabbits. Watching rabbits flee for their lives isn't supposed to be heart-breaking...but you really have to feel bad for the rabbits. Maybe the film's "Bunny Brutality" isn't having the right effect that MGM expected it to have. Basically, while the narrator drones on and on about how bunnies will take over the world if we don't crush them with a pre-emptive strike, we're bombarded with scenes of pure malice towards our long-eared friends. While the shot of them fleeing the fire is an obvious special effect, there's one moment that is very, very real:
We get to watch our main characters shove a dozen rabbits into a garbage can.
Ok, it's not really that bad but the film puts a whole crate of rabbits into that tiny can and it's implied the rest go in. The other highlight is the gentleman in the cowboy hat....He gets bitten by a rabbit and his biologist friend tells us all that a rabbit bite can be very, very dangerous. God, if I were a rabbit in this town, I think I'd have to go on a murderous killing spree.
Which brings us to the other method the film uses to make the rabbits less-than-cute. For the first half of the film you don't really get to see the rabbits. It's the classic horror movie trick where you only see a brief glimpse of the monster and you're not quite sure what you saw. In this film you know god damn well what you saw but something about it makes your brain explode. Then again, maybe extreme close-ups are enough to scare anyone (a quick Google search confirms this). Now I'm just going to give you some of the gory high-lights that should make you fear rabbits for all time.
Is this cute to you?
How about this? The film really seems to get off on showing super-close-ups of rabbits to not only make them seem huge but to make them look scary. I can just hear the director: "It's just not scary enough! What else can we do to make the cute little bastards horrifying?"
Let's show a bajillion shots of rabbits covered in blood! None of these shots last long, so I apologize for the poor quality of the picture above. The rabbits go on randomly killing anyone they can find, because everyone knows if a rabbit can't find food it'll eat human flesh. (This is the very reason my mother didn't allow me to have one as a pet.) Now, the way the special effects work in this film, you don't get to see a giant rabbit in the same shot as a human actor. So when someone gets attacked and you need to see it, they have a guy in a bunny suit do the job. I so wish I was kidding. This film was smart enough to only show him for a few seconds at a time, but still, if you watch the film...you KNOW it's a guy in a Furry suit. My favorite scene is the one where the bunnies are eating ponies and all you really see is a guy in a bunny suit wrestling with a horse. It's inadvertent comedy gold.
Ok, I'm procrastinating showing you the "money shot" of this film...namely the footage of the rabbits themselves. To take your mind off the delay let me slip into trivia mode. Guess who was in this film?
That's right, Dr. "Bones" McCoy. His real name's DeForest Kelley, but I bet if I just said that, only the people who can speak Klingon and have the habit of saying "Engage!" before sex would have recognized the name. For the Star Trek deprived, Mr. Kelley played the Doctor in the original Star Trek....and not much else. That's not really true but after he starred in "Night of the Lepus" (the original Star Trek series had already aired) he made nothing but Star Trek films for the next 30 or so years...with one exception. His final film was "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars." As for his role in this film, he plays "Elgin Clark" and I can't for the life of me figure out what his job is in the movie. He's some sort of public figure/rancher/sheriff/research assistant or something. Basically, he walks around freaking out about giant rabbits. It's less than thrilling. At least his career didn't make him star in a show called "Homeboys in Space." (Poor Scotty.)
It's time. You may be wondering how they created the "giant rabbit" special effect. Ok, you don't really care, but it's so lame it's funny. The director of "Night of the Lepus" pulled a classic Godzilla film trick. He made very tiny sets fashioned to look like towns and buildings and filmed rabbits running around the models. That's it. There's nothing more to it. This entire film consists of a few shots of people screaming, a lot of shots of rabbits running around on models in slow motion (because slow motion = huge, apparently), and a few "guy in a bunny suit" shots thrown in for spice. Here's a mini-gallery to show you what you can expect to see A LOT of if you have to watch this thing:
They're still so god damn cute, aren't they? If I were a little girl (and believe me I've tried) I'd so want to build a little dollhouse/city for Mistah Wabbit to play in. That last picture on the right is a rabbit getting shot in the stomach (as it tries to gnaw it's way into someone's basement). I will say that there's no declaration that "No animals were harmed in the making of this film." It's no bunny snuff film but, well, you know. Or more specifically, you're not sure.
Wait. I can't end the review there. There's too much pain. What were they thinking when they made this movie? I can think of dozens of animals that no one's ever used in a "giant animals attack" film that would be infinitely scarier than bunnies. I mean, sheesh. "Night of the Killer Squirrels" or even "Night of the Poodles" would have been more frightening. Still, they tried to make up for it in blood and, well, editing to make it not suck so much. :sigh:
In conclusion I will say that there are some moments in "Night of the Lepus' that are worth seeing. Imagine you're driving down a deserted stretch of highway late at night and you see this in your rearview mirror:
While my first instinct would be that I seem to be having a drug flashback, I would be at least a little disheartened. Of course, if giant rabbits really existed, they'd be the perfect predator: They'd be so god damn cute that we'd just stand there saying "Awwww" while they ate our flesh. On that note:
I hope you guys have/had a good Easter. God knows I'll be eating the head off my chocolate Easter Bunny with particular gusto this year.
All material Copyright 2005 by Jared Hindman...except what isn't and what's stolen...particularly any reference to Jesus. After he being bought out, he's the property of AOL JESUS TIME WARNER.