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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Night of the Lepus (Blu-ray)
Night of the Lepus (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // PG // June 19, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $22.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted June 24, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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Night of the Lepus (1973), an ecological horror film with sci-fi elements, operates from a premise so absurd that it's doomed from the start. Shot in Arizona, it follows a group of ranchers and scientists threatened by voracious mutant animals the size of pick-up trucks attacking everyone in its path, leaving a trail of ravaged farm houses and corner grocery stores, its victims bloodied and mauled almost beyond recognition. Mostly it follows the well-worn path of earlier, ‘50s science fiction films like the excellent Them! (1954) and the mostly terrible films of producer Bert I. Gordon.

But, unwisely, no one connected with the production seems to have considered that, no matter how good the special might be to bring them to life, the title monsters would unavoidably look ridiculous: cuddly if man-gnawing bunny rabbits.

In most respects Night of the Lepus is competently made, if unimaginatively so, resembling a TV-movie of the period as much as a theatrical feature. A.C. Lyles had produced many modest-priced Westerns for Paramount, and had an obvious affection for the genre, its stars and character actors, and some of this influence is reflected here. The movie might have played a bit better had it embraced its Western genre roots a little more, but then again, nothing could have saved it from its laughable monsters.

As was done on a number of 1950s science fiction movies, Night of the Lepus opens with a prologue, often taking the form of a lecture or faux newscast. In this case legendary Los Angeles anchorman Jerry Dunphy introduces a few scraps of documentary footage: ranchers in Australia and elsewhere frustrated by hordes of rabbits ravaging their crops, and in these black and white clips ranchers try to round up the spritely, frantic little creatures.

In Arizona, wealthy rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) calls in a favor to college president Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley). Scads of rabbits have been grazing uncontrollably across his land, and Clark suggests married researchers Roy (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry Bennett (Janet Leigh), advocates of ecologically safe, natural wildlife management. Hillman isn't anxious to resort to cyanide anyway, as that'd mean selling off his livestock at a loss.

Without anything approaching believable exposition, an escaped rabbit injected with a birth defect-causing serum gets loose on Hillman's farm, and in no time hopping and stampeding across the countryside are mutant rabbits are the size of wolves. (That's how they're described by the actors, but the visual effects suggest larger animals of varying size, some roughly that size but others nearly as big as buses.)

The movie Them! clearly influenced the script. In both the menace nests in large underground caverns that are dynamited but some of the monsters escape. There's also little girl (the Bennett's daughter in this case) so traumatized by a close encounter with the monsters that she goes into shock. And, as in Them!, authorities are initially puzzled by the unusual animal tracks they find. But, one might reasonably ask, where's all the rabbit poop? My kid sister kept rabbits years ago, and let me tell you….

Production-wise, Night of the Lepus more closely resembles the cheapo drive-in fodder of Bert I. Gordon, pictures like Beginning of the End (1957), Earth vs. the Spider (1958), and later on The Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977), all of which featured optically-enlarged live animals masquerading as overgrown monsters. As is Gordon's film, Night of the Lepus occasionally combines ordinary rabbits on miniature sets with full-sized humans in static split-screen shots, though most of the effects shots simply have the bunnies running around models of farmhouses, barns, lonely desert highways, etc.

The miniatures aren't very good but they're not terrible either, and clearly some effort was made to light them properly and to obscure the monsters as a shadowy stampede. But there are also unintentionally funny close-ups of the long-toothed mammals with their snouts smeared with fire engine-red "blood." For some scenes at least one full-sized giant rabbit costume was made, but the movie audience never gets a good look at it; undoubtedly it must have resembled a "furry" merrymaker gone rogue.

Too many scenes invite unintended laughter. When Clark and a ranch hand (Henry Wills) nervously hover over a huge rabbit hole, one can't help but expect Bugs Bunny to emerge, elevator-style. The film bears only a passing resemblance to Russell Braddon's satiric 1964 novel, The Year of the Angry Rabbit; an approach that acknowledged the absurdity of it all, a la the later Tremors, might have helped.

The cast, caught unaware or maybe not caring particularly plays it straight. Whitman, Calhoun, and Leigh don't embarrass themselves even though the movie is an embarrassment. DeForest Kelley appears in one scene with veteran character actor Paul Fix, briefly uniting two different doctors from the starship U.S.S. Enterprise. An all-in-the-family connection has Stan Jolley listed as the film's art director. He was the son of I. Stanford Jolley, the prolific character actor of myriad B-Westerns, who makes a brief appearance as a railroad dispatcher.

Video & Audio

Shout! Factory's Blu-ray of Night of the Lepus, using a 2K scan from the interpositive, looks reasonably impressive, the colors and image accurately reflecting the routinely dull cinematographic style of the era. Likewise the DTS-HD Master mono audio. The Warner Bros.-licensed title is region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

Supplements include, incredibly, two audio commentaries, one featuring author Lee Gambin and the other with pop culture historian Russell Dyball. Also included are TV spots, a still gallery, and a trailer.

Parting Thoughts

Worth seeing once just for laughs, Night of the Lepus isn't remotely good but neither is it so bad as to fall into "so-bad-it's-good" territory. Rent It.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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