Night of the Lepus is a 1972 American horror film directed by William F. Claxton from a screenplay by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney based on the 1964 science fiction novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit. It stars Stuart Whitman (Guyana: Cult of the Damned; Welcome to Arrow Beach; The Monster Club), Janet Leigh (Psycho; Halloween H20: 20 Years Later), Rory Calhoun (Motel Hell; Hell Comes to Frogtown), DeForest Kelley (Star Trek‘s “Bones”).
Shot in Arizona, Night of the Lepus used domestic rabbits filmed against miniature models and actors dressed in rabbit costumes for the various attack scenes. Widely panned by critics for its premise, bad directing, stilted acting, and laughable special effects, the film’s biggest failure was considered to be the (understandable) inability to make the rabbits seem scary!
Rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) seeks the help of college president Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley) to combat thousands of rabbits that have invaded the area after their natural predators, coyotes, were killed off. Elgin asks for the assistance of researchers Roy (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry Bennett (Janet Leigh) because they respect Cole’s wish to avoid using cyanide to poison the rabbits. Roy proposes using hormones to disrupt the rabbits’ breeding cycle and takes some rabbits for experimentation. One is injected with a new serum believed to cause birth defects.
While inspecting the rabbits’ old burrowing areas, Cole and the Bennets find a large, unusual animal track. Meanwhile, Cole’s son Jackie (Chris Morrell) and Amanda go to a gold mine to visit Jackie’s friend Billy but find him missing. Amanda goes into the mine and runs into an enormous rabbit with blood on its face. Screaming in terror, she runs from the mine…
“The filmmaking is slick and surprisingly bloodthirsty, and for some unexplainable reason the actors don’t even seem too embarrassed to be associated with this nutty feature. DeForest Kelley comes off best of all, since he was simply glad to get a hiatus from Shatner and all the other Trek twits. Fast-paced and indescribably dumb—it’s perfect for an Easter Family Matinee, as well as a must-see for mutant monster aficionados.” Shock Cinema
“As for entertainment value, Night of the Lepus does have something. Unintentional humor seems to be its saving grace, but there’s a certain early 1970s allure that plays a role, too. It doesn’t have the charm of an Ed Wood, Jr. film, but something akin to it. It’s also amusing that the sheriff enlists the help of drive-in theater goers to wrangle the Herculean hares. I imagine a drive-in theater would have been the perfect venue for this flick.” Exclamation Mark
“It’s not as bad as similar giant-animals flicks from the 70s, e.g. The Food of the Gods or Empire of the Ants, but still pretty bad. Western-director William F. Claxton tried his best to scare American audiences with a bloodthirsty killer bunnies, but ultimately failed, mainly because bunnies aren’t scary AT ALL! It doesn’t help showing them jumping around miniature farms in slow-motion with their mouths ketchup-smeared.” Horror Movie Diary