Sunday, July 16, 2017

Night of the Lepus

I noticed that Night of the Lepus is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I watched it off my DVR in order that I could do a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a dramatized news report of how mankind introduced rabbits into various places that weren't the species' natural habitat, and how it resulted in the rabbits getting loose and, well, breeding like rabbits so that they became a pest. Among the places mentioned in this report is the US Southwest.

Cut to the real action. Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) is an Arizona rancher who's found that the rabbits are eating him out of house and home. He doesn't want to poison them because of the obvious deleterious effects that would have in the longer term. So he calls Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley), the president of his old alma mater, to see if their sciences department can do something. Fortunately, there are two visiting researchers, the Bennetts (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) who are doing relevant research, trying to find some sort of contagious disease that will leave the rabbits sterile.

Unfortunately, the Bennetts have an idiot daughter Amanda. She doesn't understand what a control group is, and thinks it unfair that her parents are experimenting on cute little bunnies. So she switches two bunnies between the control and experimental groups, and then asks her parents if she can keep one of the bunnies from the control group. And this is where her parents are profoundly stupid in a way that severely tests one's disbelief: they let her keep one of those rabbits. She naturally picks the one she moved from the experimental group. Even dumber, she brings the bunny with her when the Bennetts visit the Hillman ranch! The bunny gets away.

Unfortunately, the Bennett's research is a failure in that their injections don't lead to the rabbits' becoming sterile. The side effect is that they become gargantuan, like 150-lb rabbit big. Oh, and they also become carnivorous, so they start attacking people.

The idea behind Night of the Lepus really isn't a bad one. In fact, as I was watching it, I couldn't help but think of Them! and the giant ants. And yet, Night of the Lepus has the reputation of being a ridiculous almost cult classic. Why is this? I think that the movie winds up being not as good as Them! in part because the script requires people to act in utterly implausible ways -- real life scientists would never have let their daughter screw with the experiment like that. There's also the fact that this one came relatively late in the horror cycle of dangerous creatures.

The bigger reason, I think, has to do with the effects. Every time they need to show the giant rabbits, there's this bizarre music, with regular-sized rabbits running around sets of miniatures. And then they took this footage and slowed it down. The result is just ridiculous unbelievable and laugh-inducing, and every time the action switches from the humans to the rabbits, any possibility of horror goes right out the window. And then there are the scenes when rabbits kill humans, which are even sillier.

Night of the Lepus is, however, ultimately well worth a watch both for the ideas and for its inherent silliness. The Warner Archive DVD is unfortunately a bit pricey.

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