Night of the Lepus – USA, 1972

‘There was no limit to the Horror… no end to the’

Night of the Lepus is a 1972 American science fiction horror feature film directed by William F. Claxton (Twilight Zone episodes) from a screenplay by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney, based on the 1964 science fiction novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit. Stuart Whitman, Janet LeighRory Calhoun and DeForest Kelley star.

Shot in ArizonaNight of the Lepus used domestic rabbits filmed against miniature models and actors dressed in rabbit costumes for the various attack scenes.

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.

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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…

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Reviews:

“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

” …plagued by some of the funniest dialogue you’ll ever hear in a horror film […] It’s all such a mismatch. The funny monsters and the lousy special effects play off the earnest actors to generate a really amusing picture.” John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films of the 1970s, McFarland, 2002

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“A misfire on virtually every level, Lepus goes limp almost immediately. A chore to get through, it warrants at least one viewing just so you can say you actually watched a movie about giant bunnies that eat people. If you can’t get enough of flesh-ripping rabbits, see Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) — it’s intentionally funny.” Cool Ass Cinema

“Night of the Lepus is played really straight, without a tongue-in-cheek line or a single pun. As a director, William Claxton keeps things moving but little else. Composer Jimmie Haskell provided the fairly ominous theme music. The well-done sound effects, however, build up more chills than any music. Despite its zany “monsters,” Night of the Lepus has its charms for the rabid monster fan.” William Schoell, Creature Features: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies, McFarland, 2008

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regardless of its sleepy western vibe (Claxton shot a lot of westerns, although he did helm some Twilight Zone episodes) mixed uneasily with laughable effects, Night of the Lepus still works as fun fodder for the B crowd. All the ingredients are here: Science (nature needs balance, see), Scientists (mid-40s “young couple” Whitman and Leigh), The Law, Kids in Peril (of course Amanda heads into a mine shaft that houses the whole litter of rabbits. Coterie? Pod? Whatever they’re called), and The Monster.” Scott Drebit, Daily Dead

“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

” …you will giggle when you see these little critters hopping around HO-scale sets in slow motion to make them appear large and powerful. If the filmmakers had only embraced the humor of their subject and coaxed their cast into the same spirit, this might have been a cult classic. Instead they brought together a group of so-so character actors – and one genuine star, Janet Leigh – who turn in wooden performances that match the lame script.” Mike Mayo, The Horror Show Guide

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“Quite fun, although the enlarged rabbits, shown in slow motion with thundering hooves on the soundtrack, don’t really carry a genuinely monstrous charge.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982

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Categories: 1970s, adaptation of a novel, Blu-ray, creature feature, mutant, nature-strikes-back, surrealist, worst films ever made

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