Night of the Lepus is a classic in the genre of really bad movies. Made in 1972, this cult classic has a strong cast of "B" actors, good special effects, good acting, and it's obvious that MGM really sunk some money into it. It's reputation is such it footage even showed up in "The Matrix", "Pulp Fiction", and "Natural Born Killers", The actors include Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and DeForest Kelley. And it was requested by a lot of MST3K fans to appear, but they could never get the rights for it.
So with all that behind it, the movie suffers from one overwhelming fatal flaw. There is no way on Earth you can giant killer rabbits appear threatening. It can't be done.
The movie starts with a "News Report" by famous Southern California news icon Jerry Dunphy which provides a recap of the "Rabbits in Australia" problem. It doesn't mention that viruses were used there in the 1950's to control the rabbits, (with limited success). Jerry Dunphy implies that this could pose a problem from the mountains to the sea, and then we have a cut to a rancher on horseback riding at a gallop though a field. This is an arial shot and I can see the mounds of dirt from rabbit burrows from the air, so I'm forced to conclude from the start that the rancher is an idiot or has a death wish.
Sure enough, on cue, the horse falls down. The rancher gets up, checks the horse, then shoots it and begins the long walk back to the ranch. He gets back, tells his son the horse "Stepped in a rabbit hole, son. Broke his leg. I had to shoot him". Which leaves out the whole "Dad was an idiot, didn't watch out where he was going" bit. Cole (the rancher's name) then yells at a ranch hand to go grab his saddle and storms off into the house to make a phone call to Elgin Clark, president of the local university.
Cut away to a campus courtyard, and Cole is walking with Elgin Clark, played by DeForest Kelly in a '70's swinger mustache. Cole is complaining the rabbits are eating him out of house and home. Clark suggests poison, which after all works well with tribbles in quadrotriticale, (did you honestly think I WASN'T going to make a Star Trek reference??) Cole's none to happy about this idea, since it would poison everything else too. He also reacts poorly to Clark's idea for the same exterminator that got rid of the coyote problem, since the coyote's disappearance led to the rabbits breeding like, well, rabbits. Finally Clark suggests a married scientist couple working on using hormones to control insects. What this has to do with rabbits nobody knows, even Cole. But he agrees to the idea.
Next is a cave, where the above mentioned scientists (The Bennetts) and their annoying whiny daughter Amanda are capturing bats to study the sounds they make, especially the "cry of fear", which is familiar to the people watching this movie once they realized what they were in for. They're supposed to both be scientists but Roy seems to be doing most of the work and Gerry stands around looking confused. Clark drives up around about then and asks if they could do with him to the ranch and look at Cole's lagomorph problem, since Cole wants to handle it in an eco-friendly way. So off they go to the ranch. When they get there, Amanda freaks out that the ranchers are killing rabbits right and left.
The Bennetts and Cole talk about the rabbits, while the annoying Amanda strikes up a talk with Cole's son Jackie while Jackie is grooming his horse out. Roy mentioned that these rabbits don't look like the normal ones found around here. In an attempt to explain the fact they're obviously using pet store rabbits, Cole, says they got away from a rancher during a fire and did what bunnies do naturally, (what about the coyotes??). Roy asks to take rabbits back with him, Cole goes "help yourself". Cole did some homework and asks about rabbit control in Australia and New Zealand. Roy obviously didn't know about the virus control because he makes some shit up about grasshoppers, birds, and the like. While loading up the truck, Cole jerks back his hand when a future lab rabbit bites him. Roy looks at it, saying "The bite of the Lepus, that's the Latin word for rabbit, can be dangerous.". Amazingly he does this with a straight face.
Later, in the lab, Roy and Gerry are using the rabbits to test various chemicals and compounds out, as well as their new line of cosmetics. Bratty Amanda whines "Mommy, what's a control group?". Mommy Gerry says "Well, we were trying to make Jack a little more like Jill, and Jill a little more like Jack, so they wouldn't keep having such large families!" OMGWTFBBQ, they're making TRANSGENDER BUNNIES!!!!! Meanwhile, Roy is bitching because nothing he tries seems to work.
Roy decides to try injecting
some serious shit he got across the border on a streetcorner a vial he got from another scientist with a compound made up of all the factors that cause birth defects. Considering all the possibilities for such, that vial must be Love Canal in convient pocket size, and shouldn't be handled except in a Level 4 Biohazard enviroment. Considering he pulled it out of his pocket, we're going to start assuming that Roy's parents didn't have any smart ones that lived, something that's reinforced when he says "I wish I knew what the effects of this serum would mean!" On a wild guess, I'm going to say economic havoc and the death of people, cattle, and horses. But I'm not a scientist, so what do I know?
Gerry gets a rabbit, Amanda whines "not that one, he's my favourite". The Bennetts ignore their little whiner and proceeds to shoot up the rabbit with industrial-strength thalidomide, and puts it back into the cage. They then leave the room so that Amanda can (important plot point here) switch the rabbit with one in another cage. This done, the Bennetts come back in, and allow their little brat to pick a rabbit from the control group. Three guesses which one she picks. Yep, the one Roy shot up and hopes transmits "hereditary changes" to other rabbits.
You know, if they were so hot to give their little whiner a bunny, couldn't they have gone to a pet store, rather than, oh, a wild rabbit they got from a ranch round-up that has Gods-knows-what and was going to be used in biological research???
The phone rings, and it's Cole, bitching the rabbits are even more out of control, and can you come get more for your research? So off they go, with Amanda and her new pet in tow.
At the ranch, the Bennetts are gathering up more lab rabbits while Amanda goes off to show Jackie her new pet. Jackie, having to deal with the little monsters on a daily basis, gets pissed off, first telling Amanda to "get that rabbit out of here or I won't be your friend anymore" because rabbits killed his chickens. He then grabs the rabbit out of Amanda's hands and, rather than wring it's neck, releases it BACK into the wild, showing he's not the brightest crayon in the box either. He then apologizes to Amanda and agrees to lie though his teeth for her.
We have now established that everything bad that happens from this point forward is a direct result of these two children. You know, it's not every kid that can claim to be the direct cause of death for a chunk of people - and before they hit puberty. You really hope karma comes back and something horrible happens to Jackie and Amanda. Alas, no such luck.
Back at the lab, Roy is getting more and more annoyed that nothing seems to work. He finally goes "eh, screw it" and heads back to the ranch to try and convince Cole one more time not to use poison. Cole tries a last-ditch effort to burn the rabbits out. While walking over the scorched land afterwards, they find a track in the mud of a watering hole. Cole doesn't know what it is, but says the animal must be about 100-150 pounds. Meanwhile, Jackie takes Amanda off to meet his swell friend "Captain Billy", who owns a gold mine and everything. Neither Amanda or Jackie have any self-preservation instincts, so off they go to see creepy old Captain Billy. But when they get there, Captain Billy is nowhere to be found. Jackie looks though the shaft while telling Amanda to go play in the mineshaft. Yeah, real smart there.
In the mineshaft, Amanda calls for Captain Billy, then suddenly starts screaming. We see rapid cuts of Amanda screaming, a rabbit face splattered in candy apple red paint, and the legs of a body splattered with the same paint. We then get another cut, where Amanda is under a blanket crying, the doctor is
asking her where Captain Billy touched her explaining she's got a mild case of shock, and Jackie is saying "I dunno, she just started screaming."
Along the highway, a truck pulls over to check it's load. From the music and the heavy breathing, you know that the wabbits are going "Kill the twucker, kill the twucker....." Sure enough, you get screaming, and the trucker gets jumped by a man in a rabbit suit, (coming up on Fox, "When College Mascots Attack") , and then a police car shows up with the sheriff. The sheriff gets out with his deputy, and they look over the crime scene, with is splattered with Testor's candy apple red paint. They're about to call in for a pickup when a motorcycle deputy calls in, and reports a family of four has also been splattered with candy apple red paint. And the another call, they just found Captain Billy.
The victim count is now at six. I hope Jackie and Amanda are proud of their work. The little scamps.
Side note, the sheriff is played by Paul Fix. Otherwise known as Dr. Mark Piper, the chief medical officer of the USS Enterprise before being replaced with Dr. Leonard McCoy. I'm not saying there's a curse on Star Trek doctors, but if I was Gates McFadden, Alexander Siddig, Robert Picardo, John Billingsley, or Karl Urban, I'd start to worry.......
Anyway, back to the movie. The token black expert is examining crime evidence under a microscope, while spouting info about crime analysis that any law enforcement officer learned on day one at the academy. He finally points out that the cans around the trucker's body were bitten or gnawed open. He then leaves to escape further contact with this movie.
Back on campus, Roy and Clark are talking to the scientist he got the superfund-in-a-bottle from. From what whiny Amanda saw, they're starting to consider that they're facing "Rabbits as big and as ferocious as wolves", and oops, they may have screwed up just a tad. Since the idea that this might not be the delusion of a scared little girl doesn't cross their minds, they decide to get Cole and the ranch-hands to meet them at Captain Billy's mineshaft o' doom and investigate for themselves.
Sure enough, at the mineshaft o' doom, they find more of those mysterious tracks. Clark and a ranch hand go up to investigate the ridge and see if there's any wholes up there. Cole and the other ranch hand start to unload Cole's pickup truck o' death of it's cargo of dynamite, poison, and other party favours. Clark and the
red shirt with him find three holes up on top. He drops a rock down the shaft, then holds the communicator radio over the whole so Roy can hear the squealing and rumbling that signifies the presence of giant killer bunnies. After hearing this, Roy, showing where Amanda gets her lack of self-preservation from, decides to go into the mine with a camera and a shotgun to get evidence. Cole shows where Jackie gets his lack of self-preservation from and takes the shotgun and joins Roy in traveling into the mineshaft.
Halfway in, and Roy comments "gee it would have been a good idea to mark the way out, silly us" or words to that effect. They start noticing something odd, and then, there they are! Giant Killer Rabbits! In Slow Motion! Roy takes pictures of loppoluza and then, because the bunnies are hungry and annoyed by the flash of Roy's camera, run like hell. Cole gets attacked by the guy in the rabbit suit but beats him off and escapes.
But Roy and Cole aren't the only ones with rabbit problems. Outside, a giant rabbit, who obviously made a wrong turn at Albuquerque, comes up out of the ground. Gerry and ranch hand #2 are waiting for the two explorers, when ranch hand #2 goes into Captain Billy's cabin. Where he gets attacked by a guy in a rabbit costume. I know Furs are usually pretty peaceful, but this guy is getting mauled like a Something Awful contributor at a Furry convention. Gerry shows she's not completely useless and shoots the bunny, which runs off. Ranch hand #2 is pretty scared now and wants to blow up the mine real good right now. Gerry insists they wait until Roy gets back, Amazingly, ranch hand #2 doesn't clobber Gerry and blow things up. Right about then, Roy and Cole run out of the mine. Yay! They can blow up the mine now. And so they do, sending the mine tumbling down around the killer bunnies.
Umm, aren't rabbits *BURROWING* animals? Just askin.....
Back on campus, and Roy is developing the pictures. Clark agrees they need to go public, and offers to take the heat off of Roy. How about blaming, oh, I dunno, Amanda and Jackie?? But before they do that, they come up with the great idea of going back the next day and making sure the rabbits are dead. Yeah, don't cha think you should have done that sooner?? Like when you were there? Anyway, Roy decides to get Gerry and little killer Amanda off somewhere away from the reporters that are going to swarm once the reports of GIANT MUTANT KILLER BUNNIES start to go out. Which obviously means they're going to be in greater risk later mind you. They share an awkward tender moment together that makes the audience want to drop a brick on them, and then Gerry takes off.
Later that night at the mine, the bunnies are awake and pissed. And so they swarm out of the mine and away. And what is directly in the line of swarm? Cole's ranch! We get a few minutes of upset horses cut with slow motion rabbits, the noises from the horses waking up Cole, his housekeeper, Jackie, and the ranch hands. Attempts to settle the horses down don't work, finally they break though the fence and run off into the night. Cole tells Jackie and the housekeeper to get into the cellar (yeah, underground, GREAT idea). We get a cut scene with the horses being taken down by guys in bunny suits, and the back to the ranch, where Jed, (ranch hand #2), has an attack of bunny related PTSD and steals the truck to escape. Cole gets on the phone to try and call for help and convince the operator he's not drunk.
Jed heads down the road to bunny-free paradise, only to round a corner and see slow-motion bunnies everywhere, from hill to hill. He freaks out again and turns back to the ranch, being chased by the rabbits. Finally Jed gets back in time to blow though the gate, hit the telephone pole, and get eaten by rabbits. I'm starting to like the rabbits right around now. Cole and everyone else lock themselves in the cellar while the bunnies swarm the outside and break into the house. They then start to weaken their defenses by firing shotgun blasts though the door and the kitchen floor above them.
Cut to the nearest town, and the operator tells the two playing checkers that the line just cut out for everything past Cole's ranch, and maybe someone should check and see if they're okay. The two duffs blow it off and head home, with one of them saying he'll pick the operator up later. Soon afterwards, the bunnies arrive in the town. The operator looks out the window, sees the rabbits, thinks "I shouldn't have taken that last bud of peyote" before getting pounced by a guy in a rabbit suit and splattered with candy apple red paint. Duff one gets dropped at home, then sees a horde of slow-motion rabbits bouncing towards him.
Note: Chair leg is -2 against giant bunny attack.
Morning rises at the ranch. Cole decides to get his rifle and walk to town to get help. At the campus, Roy is telling Gerry and whiny Amanda good bye as they get ready to head off in their camper. Clark and Roy head off to meet the sheriff, who meets them at a helicopter. Seems the crime lab finished their report, and whatcha know, giant killer rabbits splattered the trucker, Captain Billy, and the family of four with Testor's candy apple red. They fly off to Captain Billy's former mineshaft o' doom. Where they find nothing. No rabbits, nothing.
Cole is trying to hitchhike, with no luck. After getting passed by a vacation van, he then thinks that "ya know, waving a rifle around while trying to get a ride isn't a good idea", and throws his only form of protection into the brush. Finally he gets picked up by a priest and taken to the nearest town. You know, the one that was wiped out by rabbits last night? Once the priest drops Cole off in town, he goes to the general store to find the operator dead and giant rabbits sleeping inside. He finds duff #2 dead in the garage. Rather than hotwiring a car and getting the hell out, he finds a phone booth and calls the sheriff.
Amanda and Jackie are now responsible for the deaths of at least 10 people. Awwwwwww. Aren't they cute???
Speaking of the cute little hellspawn, Amanda whines "are we there yet", and Gerry says they're almost at the turnoff. Said turnoff is a unpaved road where, right on cue, they get the camper stuck in the sand.
Back at the mineshaft o' doom, Clark, Roy, and the sheriff determine that the rabbits are nocturnal, and with a few hours until sundown, they have time to try and prepare a defense. The sheriff calls the national guard out, and amazingly enough, the state governor DOESN'T think the sheriff has been smoking the contents of his evidence room. Back at the station help, the three are plotting out their attack when Cole calls to tell them the little town near his ranch is infested with giant killer bunnies. They send a car to collect him. The National Guard commander shows up and suggests hitting the town with rockets and maybe a few bombs to kill the bunnies. They decide to evacuate the town instead.
Night falls, and the town is being evacuated from the attack of the killer bunnies. Clark, Cole, Roy, and the sheriff are thinking of various ideas when Roy comes up with a "fence" - isolate a section of railway track, electrify it, herd the rabbits there, and BAM, the biggest outdoor BBQ the world has ever seen. The National Guard commander gets buy-in on Roy's idea, and they start to round up cars and drivers to build a funnel to lure the rabbits to the tracks. One guardsman goes to the local drive in, where he delivers the following line:
It being a drive-in in the early 70's, you know the people in the cars that WEREN'T humping like bunnies are going "Dude! What are you smoking! Don't bogart it man!". But surprisingly, they follow them out to get a ringside seat to Bunny Shoot '72. The sheriff sends some deputies to the power station. Roy starts to worry that you know, he hasn't heard from his wife or his little mass-murderer. So he goes off in the helicopter to look for them.
Yep, they're still stuck in the camper. Gerry is STILL trying to dig them out. Suddenly, KILLER BUNNIES!! Gerry shoos Amanda into the camper, and gets some road flares, instead of, oh, I dunno, locking herself AND Amanda inside the camper?? Amanda screams and whines and acts like a little creep. Roy in the helicopter sees a sea of giant bunnies below. Gerry uses the road flares to drive away the bunnies, at one point almost getting mauled by someone in a rabbit suit. At one point she throws a flare into the pack, and discovers that giant bunnies must have napalm for blood, because they catch fire altogether too good. Finally Roy sees the camper and Gerry's last stand. They drive the bunnies away to save Gerry. Alas, they also save Amanda rather than allowing her to meet a fate she deserved.
More slow-motion bunnies trying to convince the audience they're a predator, not prey. This time you see slow-motion bunnies mixed with rabbit faces speckled with candy apple red and people in bunny suits taking down toy cattle. Back in town, the helicopter arrives, Roy is dropped off, and they now have to wait for a train to pass to turn on the juice, a radio reports five dead. Amanda and Jackie's death count are up to 15 people! Aren't they adorable??
The Guardsmen take more of a hit off the killer chronic and say:
Yes, don't panic, just watch the show. FAR more interesting than that Tom and Jerry cartoon you were pretending to watch, right? Meanwhile, the guardsmen hunker down and wait for the attack of the killer mutant rabbits.
The slow-moving train comes though and passes, the sheriff tells them to turn on the power, and the guardsmen see a wall of slow-motion rabbits. The guardsmen start to fire, using M1 rifles, machine guns, and flamethrowers to herd the rabbits towards the train tracks. And right on cue you see rabbits throwing themselves onto a HO scale train crossing, complete with electrical arcs to complete the effect. A few guys in rabbit suits make it over to try and attack Cole, Roy, Clark, the sheriff, and anyone else, but in the end, you see a wasted battlefield filled with the bodies of dead killer bunnies.
Flash forward an unknown length of time. Cole goes to see Roy who is
working as a bottle washer trying to earn enough money to pay off the millions in property and death claims his daughter's actions caused watching a game of touch football at the campus. Cole says he saw a couple of rabbit holes, "but nothing like they used to be", and that it set him back a few years, which I guess is a polite way of saying "killed all my horses and cattle, killed a ranch hand, and trashed my ranch". He ends up inviting Roy, Gerry, and Amanda up to the ranch for a visit. One would feel justified in assuming that he's going to kill them all and bury them in an unmarked grave for the damage they caused. But no, you see a flowery ending as serial killers Jackie and Amanda run into a field followed by 70's guitar music and a slightly foreboding sound as they pass two normal-sized rabbits.
As I said, the main flaw to this movie is that you can't make giant killer bunnies look threatening. The actors did the best they can, but the people who approved this script must have been smoking joints the size of road flares. You can throw all the money you want into it, and there's nothing that could be done with a bad story idea to start with. Though it is interesting to note that, according to IMDB, at least one of the writers (Don Holliday) never had any other writing credit. And the actor that played "Jackie" did no other roles. So maybe this was a career ender for a few. And well deserved at that.