Review Date: October 11, 2005
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/11/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
The Velveteen Rabbit. Bugs Bunny. Roger Rabbit. The Energizer Bunny. For years, the lepus has been portrayed as a wholesome creature, one of jubilance, one of joy, one of childhood fantasy. Every kid wanted a rabbit at one point, after all, who wouldn’t want the bringer of Easter eggs on call in a cage 24/7? Yes, the rabbit has very much been whitewashed as the perfect mild mannered pet…but what happens when they do wrong? They lurk in your cornfields, they burrow in your gardens, and in 1972’s Night of the Lepus
, they tear through your skin! Thanks to the prolific folks at Warner Brothers we have yet another batch of horror classics, and this ludicrous animal attack picture leads the way. Hide your carrots, let’s burrow into this camp classic.
The film opens up on a news bulletin, where a grave newscaster speaks of a horrific new plague. Rabbits…hundreds of them, terrorizing the Arizona farmland. In the fifties they plagued Australia, and now they’ve moved onto the states. Mankind’s fooling with nature had wiped out the coyote population in the desert, and thus the rabbits were able to multiply. Now, man must meddle once again with nature, trying to fix what they started by genetically modifying the furry little creatures. Rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun
) hires the zoologist husband-wife team of Roy (Stuart Whitman
) and Gerry (Janet Leigh
) Bennett to deal with the lepus influx. What started off as a routine rodent extermination would end in a night of bunny terror.
The catastrophe begins when Roy injects one of the rabbits with a hormone altering serum that is supposed to nullify the reproductive systems within the rabbits. Instead, the serum causes them to grow at rapid rate. The Bennett’s daughter steals the injected rabbit (it was her favorite) and accidentally lets it out into the wild. Within weeks it seems to have copulated with every rabbit in existence, and now lurking within an abandoned mine shaft is an onslaught of bucktoothed terror. When people around the shaft start turning up dead, questions arise and it becomes clear that the deaths were at the hands of a beast. They speculate it may be wolves, coyotes, dogs…but we know it was ye with the floppy ears.
Slowly, the rabbits make their way by night through the State, terrorizing every city or pasture they come across. Nobody is safe from their wrath, not the horses, not the cows, not the humans. From carrots to cadavers, the bunnies carve up a legion of terror, and they are multiplying by the minute. The National Guard is called in to counter the bounding beast, but they will need more than firepower to catch these monsters. The sheriff does what any good sheriff would do and goes to the local drive-in (that is playing Bugs Bunny, natch) and rounds up all the cars to set the bunnies up for a trap. The 150-pound beasts are only days away from overtaking the entire state, and all fate rests in the hand of 250 horny teenagers and their steamed up drive-in vehicles. Can they be stopped, or will the bunnies follow the Energizer dictum and keep going and going and going?
I had a lot of fun writing that. Night of the Lepus
is one of the campiest films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, filled with deadpan line readings (“Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way!”) and copious shots of slow motion bunnies bounding through badly constructed miniatures. The story is so lean at 88-minutes, all the bits of social commentary are bundled up into that short little two minute newsreel. Truth be told, the movie is actually quite effective for its first five minutes. The newsreel, in all its gritty black and white splendor, presents shots of thousands of rabbits at once, all in a huge frenzy, bounding everywhere and even throwing themselves headfirst at top speed into fences in their attempts to escape. That is scary, seeing them en masse and at great distance, speedily ravaging the locale. Then the movie goes into its opening credits, freeze framed on a shot of rabbits looking out through their holes. The music that underlies the credits anticipates Bernard Herrmann’s classic theme for It’s Alive
, and perfectly embodies that classical high class horror story score. As soon as the credits end and the freeze frame goes into a motion shot of the rabbits burrowing, it’s all downhill.
Rabbits are inherently not scary. They are even less scary when shot in slow motion and underscored with sounds of somebody’s digestive tract. It would be one thing if the rabbits were actually doing something scary, but instead, with their wide eyes and graceful bounds, they merely just run for the entire movie. If this movie were recut with Vangelis’ theme for Chariots of Fire
the producers really would have had something here. The rabbits just run, and there is nothing scary about it, especially when the slow motion allows you to laugh at every poorly executed miniature or blue screen. Director William F. Claxton makes sure to cut to a shot of them running at least every minute, so really, the laughs never stop.
To Claxton’s credit, he does try to infuse a bit of horror into his cluster of hare. A slow mo shots of the rabbits with foam dripping from their mouth eerily predict Oliver Stone’s cutaways in Natural Born Killers
, and there is surprisingly a fair bit of blood thrown into the mix as well. For a film that carries a PG rating, there is actually quite a bit of blood letting, with plenty of lingering shots on the disemboweled carnage to boot. I’ve seen slasher films with far less blood, so for a killer bunny movie that’s quite the compliment.
Ultimately though, the movie is so hammy and ludicrous ever to be taken in any serious way. Janet Leigh just looks embarrassed throughout, and it’s likely that everyone else was too. It is fun to watch the film though, no doubt, especially when you take into account that at the same time Hollywood was making this shit Wes Craven was making The Last House on the Left. Even though this film is from 1972, it seems as if it were made twenty years prior, and is just a further demonstration of how far removed from reality Hollywood was in the late sixties and early seventies. Still, this is a film for bad movie lovers the world over, and one to see simply to say that you’ve seen a movie with killer rabbits. You’ll never look at the Easter Bunny the same again.
Warner Brothers presents the film in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the film looks in pretty rough shape. There is heavy grain throughout, and black levels are atrocious. The shot to the left is a prime example of weak shadow delineation and a grainy, unflattering image. The film is generally very soft and lacking in clarity. Colors are at least vibrant, but faces tend to be oversaturated and redder than they should be. Night of the Lepus
has never looked good on video, but it certainly doesn’t look good here either.
The English mono soundtrack is not much better than the video. There are some moments where the audio becomes extremely muffled and other moments still when it becomes near inaudible. There is a fine hissing throughout, and the track certainly sounds its age.
Although I really am saddened that there is no historian commentary like per usual with Warner’s catalogue horror titles, I am pleased to announce this disc has one of the best trailers ever. Seriously, this trailer is fantastic. With all the eyes of each rabbit slowly lining up in the background of the frame and the announcer questioning what made them become this way complete with a cheesy echo, its really a classic of overblown late-night horror advertising. If watching the film doesn’t take you back to 1972, watching the trailer certainly will.
It’s a movie about killer rabbits, really, what else is there to say? Night of the Lepus
is a near camp classic, so misguided in its attempt to make rabbits scary that each slow motion jumping sequence will have you up in stitches. The fact that it has a big name cast playing it straight makes it all the more humorous. The transfer is no laughing matter however, and is surprisingly shoddy for a Warner release. The sound is muffled and ridden with hiss, while the video is a flurry of grain and blur. Were it not for the awesome trailer this disc would be a bust, but considering the fairly cheap list price and the awesome artwork, this might be a good film to get for some good old fashioned bad movie laughs. Killer rabbits…heh.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - C-
Sound - C-
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 28 minutes
- Rated PG
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- French mono
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles