Last weekend, TCM aired the cult classic, Night of the Lepus, a B-horror movie about a failed science experiment to curb rabbit overpopulation. I decided to celebrate Easter weekend, in part by seeing just how terrifying the Easter Bunny could be. Unlike the birds in Hitchcock’s The Birds, the rabbits in Night of the Lepus remain cute and cuddly despite the filmmakers’ (who must have been highly intoxicated) “best” efforts.
The cult classic, Night of the Lepus, opens with a given: rabbit overpopulation. Beginning in Australia, it has now spread to the American Southwest, specifically the Arizona. The horde of rabbits are eating the farmers out of house, home, and cattle. Not wanting to poison the rabbits and risk harming their livestock, the helpless farmers call in husband and wife scientists Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) to assess the situation. Obviously ignorant of the sexual proclivity of rabbits, the scientists decide to treat the rabbits with an engineered hormone to disturb their reproductive cycle. Of course, the treatment backfires and only fuels the rabbits’ already heightened reproductive process and causes them to grow to enormous size. When the Bennetts’ daughter, Amanda, steals one of the treated rabbits and accidently releases it back into the wile, it breeds rapidly, producing furry terrorists that wreak havoc with their sharp fangs, attacking anyone or thing that gets in their way.
When the farmers and scientists realize that a scientific approach just won’t work, they resort to old fashioned brutality. When bombing the rabbits’ burrows doesn’t work, they devise a plan to herd the rabbits toward an electrocuted railroad track. What the railroad track doesn’t kill, the army finishes off with machine guns and hand grenades. All seems well on the farm as the credits roll, until a camera zooms in on a hole in the ground, from which two rabbits emerge. Where two are gathered, there will soon be 2,000.
I’ve always said that if there’s anything I like better than a great movie, it’s a really bad one. Films don’t get much worse than Night of the Lepus. The dialogue and editing are as erratic as the rabbits themselves, and the plot…well…we’re talking about mutant rabbit overpopulation. The trick photography alone is worth the price of the DVD. To portray the enormous rabbits, the filmmakers shot regular rabbits running around tiny sets. On some level, one could argue that this is another version of the cruel and unusual punishment of animals that the film seems to denounce.
Night of the Lepus (88 mins.) is rated PG and is available through Netflix or Amazon.