This year marks the 50th anniversary of some great movies from 1972, starting with The Godfather. And also, of Night of the Lepus.
The film, a science fiction/horror pseudo-Western about giant bunnies attacking a small town, isn’t a great film by any stretch, but it is a great oddity.
Night of the Lepus was directed by William F. Claxton and written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney; it was adapted from an Australian novel with the much better title The Year of the Angry Rabbit. Its cast includes some famous names, including Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and Dr. McCoy himself, DeForest Kelley.
The story, like a lot of sci-fi films all the way up to Jurassic Park, is about the dangers of man messing with danger. A town in Arizona is being overrun by rabbits because the coyotes that are their predators had been killed off. So a rancher teams up with a college professor to come up with a solution: Rather than just kill the bunnies with cyanide, they decide to inject them with hormones.
Needless to say, this backfires, as the rabbits become larger and much more violent. Between Lepus and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the 1970s were a golden age for rabbits turning out to be surprisingly violent.
And that’s the central problem with Night of the Lepus: The plot only works if the rabbits are scary, and they’re not. In fact, the whole idea of them being scary is unintentionally hilarious in its own right. (The bunnies were produced using miniatures, mostly.)
I first became acquainted with Night of the Lepus when I first saw The Matrix upon its release in 1999. When it got to the scene where Neo is about to see The Oracle, and a TV is glimpsed with giant bunnies running, my friend blurted out “that’s Night of the Lepus!” The moment is at the 3:37 mark of this clip: