Night of the Lepus (1972) – Episode 16

Night of the Lepus (1972)

Night of the Lepus (1972)

Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!

Well, its spring time down south so I thought a little bunny fun might be appropriate. I am going to start a new line from Paul Fix in The Undefeated (1969). Today’s film is the wonderfully bad Night of the Lepus 1972. Lepus is the genus for hares and jackrabbits and includes rabbits. In this cautionary ecological tale, human actions lead to the growth of king sized mutant rabbits.

The original movie poster had giant glowing eyes rather than pictures of rabbits as the producers did not think people would take the movie seriously as a science-fiction movie if they saw bunnies too early. However, the studio still considered calling the movie Rabbits. That really invokes fear.
What is more amazing about this movie than the subject matter is the number of big stars that were cast.

Stuart Whitman … Roy Bennett
Whitman spent three years in the US Army Corp of Engineers during the post-World War II era. While in the Army he won 32 boxing matches as a light-heavyweight. What a man!
He is best known for those magnificent men in their flying machines plus The Comancheros (1961) which star John Wayne and of course Bruce Cabot.

Janet Leigh … Gerry Bennett
Janet Leigh was a major star and said she only took this part because it was filmed close to her home and she could spend more time with her family. Leigh started acting in 1947. She played the young ingenue and was cast with many of the leading male actors of that time period. In 1951 she married actor Tony Curtis. They starred in five movies together including: Houdini (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), and The Vikings (1958). They had two children, one of which is Jamie Lee Curtis. Jamie Lee is best known for the Halloween movies, Trading Places (1983) with Eddie Murphy, and as the poop yogurt lady.

Janet was in Touch of Evil (1958) with Charlton Heston and Orson Welles. This was followed by a short role in a little horror flick in 1960. Although she was only on screen for about 45 minutes she remains best well known for this movie – Psycho. In 1962 she was in The Manchurian Candidate opposite Frank Sinatra. The Manchurian Candidate was released at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and was well received. Rumor states that it was pulled after the Kennedy assignation but that is not correct. It was shown at the New York film festival in 1987 and became a bigger hit on re-release.

Rory Calhoun … Cole Hillman
IMDB mini biography of Calhoun states “Calhoun starred in over 80 films and 1,000 television episodes. Before becoming an actor he worked as a boxer, a lumberjack, a truck driver and a cowpuncher.” What a man!

DeForest Kelley … Elgin Clark
Kelley joins the US Army Air Corp in 1943 and served in a movie production unit until 1946. He was spotted in a military training film and begin getting work as an extra. This work was mostly in westerns. He bounced back between television and movies and had a decent career until he was offered the role of Spock. That’s right I said the role of Spock.Kelley was first offered the role of Spock but turned it down for the role of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. It is hard to picture Kelley in the role of his pointy-eared green blooded nemesis, Mr. Spock.

Kelly was on the television series Star Trek for all three seasons. He was also in the six original movies and had a small cameo in the next generation pilot episode.

During Kelley’s career, he was cast in Gunfight at the OK Corral three times. First on television, secondly in the movie of that name, and final in the third season of Star Trek. Following the Star Trek series Kelley could get very little work as he was suffering from typecasting. This is one of the reasons he took this role in this movie.

Finally, Kelley is not the only person in this film to play a Dr. on Star Trek. Paul Fix who I discussed in The Undefeated (1969) was the ship’s doctor on the second pilot for the series.

This episodes linker Paul Fix was cast as Sheriff Cody. I went a little more in-depth on him in The Undefeated (1969).

STORY

This movie is set in a mythical time known as the 1970s where ranchers, college professors, scientist, the government, law enforcement, and the military were all on the same side.

It starts out with black and white clips showing the effect of animal population explosion. It switches to the southwestern United States where they are conducting a rabbit drive. Basically herding the rabbits towards a fence and then shooting and clubbing them to death.
As the movie gets down to business Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) is riding across his ranch and his horse breaks his leg in a rabbit hole. He has to shoot the lame horse. Pesky rabbits.

Cole goes to the university to meet with the university president Dr. Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelly). Cole explains that he wants to get rid of the rabbit without poison. Elgin tries to give him the same person that out his coyotes. But they decide he is too efficient and that’s what caused the rabbit plague to start with. Elgin says he will speak to a “young couple” that are doing ecological research and see if they can find a way with poison.
We meet the Bennetts, father Roy (Stuart Whitman), mother Gerry (Vivian Leigh), and daughter Amanda. This “Young couple” is around 45 years old. They are flushing bats out of a cave and capturing them in a net. Roy shakes the hell out of the cage of bats so he can record their sounds. Good science. Elgin arrives and gets them to go help Cole.

At Cole’s ranch, Cole explains that if he uses poison he will have to move the cattle of the land and now if not a good time to sell them. The other ranchers want to use the poison on the rabbits but Cole holds them off for the time being. They bat around a couple of ideas and then take a sample of the rabbits back to university. Before they leave Cole explains that they a hybrid mob because about 200 domestic rabbits escaped from nearby the year before. Amanda and Cole’s son Jackie become friends.

At the university, the Bennetts have divided the rabbits into two groups; one to test and another as a control group. Good science. The Bennetts try rabbit birth control but it doesn’t work. Professor Dickson from public health sends over a new syrup that works because it creates birth defects. They inject the test rabbits to the little girl Amanda’s protest. When her parents aren’t looking she takes the injected rabbit and switches it with a control rabbit. That’s why you can’t let bratty kids hand around your science experiment. Did you ever see Dr. Frankenstein with a kid hanging out in his lab? She gets all winey and the parents give her the rabbit from the control group, but wait it has been infected.

Amanda and her mom Gerry travel to Cole’s ranch to get more rabbits.

Amanda and Jackie meet again and in a tussle, the infected rabbit gets away. The escape is somehow not that big a deal to Amanda. Back at the lab things are going poorly except that the rabbits are growing in size. Cole decides to burn a strip out a mile wide the other farmers want to poison the rabbits.

Some amount of time passes and the Bennets travel to Coles ranch for an inspection. While riding the range they discover a giant footprint but don’t connect it to the rabbits. The two kids take off to go see Captain Billy a miner that lives on the ranch. I hope Dracula is not hiding in the mine.

Billy is not in his cabin so they head into the cave looking for him. In the cave, Amanda sees giant bunny shadows and eventually she see Billy being eaten by the rabbit. The kids make it back but the Amanda is too traumatized to remember.

The scene switches to night time where a guy driving a truck full of vegetable stops by the roadside and checks his load. As the driver starts to hear some noises we begin to see rabbits moving in the shadows. Let me tell you close-ups of giant bloody rabbit teeth are frightening. Now rabbits like vegetables they go ahead and eat the driver as well.

Sheriff Cody (Paul Fix) finds the murder scene at the vegetable truck. He sees the gnawing and salvia in the lab and asks if it’s vampires. The lab guy says it’s like a saber tooth tiger. The sheriff also gets the word about the murder of Captain Billy. The police also find four more people killed in a picnic area.

Back at the university Roy and Elgin figure out that huge are probably the result of the failed experiment. They decide not to call the sheriff because it might bring bad publicity to the university. What is this Florida State?

The Bennets, Cole, Elgin, and a couple of other guys go to the cave to kill the rabbits. Elgin and another guy go above the cave to attack from above. Gerry and the dynamite guy wire the cave and wait at Captain Billy’s shack while Cole and Roy go in the cave looking for the rabbits. During this entire time, Gerry (Vivian Leigh) looks windblown and crazy likes she’s fresh off the Psycho set.

In a cinematic tour de force, the giant rabbits running through the cave in slow motion is amazing. While Cole and Roy are in the cave taking pictures of the rabbits and trying to find their way out, a rabbit slowly digs its’ way out behind the shack. The nose coming slowly through the dirt is reminiscent of the shark surfacing in Jaws (1975). The rabbit attacks the dynamite guy but Gerry shoots it with a rifle.

Roy and Cole make it out of the cave and they blow the cave. The dynamite guy has lost it – Game over man style. Anyway, I hope no bunnies were injured in the making of this movie.

Most of the rabbits survive and at least one in close up is foaming at the mouth like it has rabies. They then show a large herd of rabbits escaping the cave.

That night the bunnies invade Rory’s ranch. As they stampede the horse one of the rabbits licks its’ lips before it leaps off a cliff and attacks the horse herd. Since Cole is a manly man he drives the herd off his ranch. The dynamite guy steals the truck and sees giant bunnies in the rearview mirror. I believe they reused this shot in Jurassic Park. He crashes into the telephone pole knocking out the phone and dies as they truck explodes.

Meanwhile, Elgin decides they need to let the sheriff know and Roy tells Gerry to take their daughter and go away for awhile. The rabbits make it to Galanos where they kill the telephone operator and her husband.

Gerry and Amanda turn onto a dirt road and get the RV stuck right in the path of the rabbits while Cole takes his shotgun and heads for help. Everybody in Alabama gets stuck in the mud.

Cole makes it to the town where the rabbits are holed up in the store waiting for sundown. Rabbits are actually “crepuscular”, meaning they are most active in the twilight hours of both sunrise and sunset. This protects them against a lot of predators.

Roy, Elgin, and the sheriff start looking for the rabbits via helicopter and finally decide to call out the National Guard. They get Cole picked up and decide the rabbits are heading for the town of Ajo where the university is located.

Great understatement speaking of the cave – evidently some survived and got out. Reports of death and destruction are coming in as the herd moves forward. One of the best comes from the National Guard – Alpha Company reports rabbits are near 4 corners killing as they come. Later they state that there is a two-mile wide rabbit attack. I’d say a few got away.

I have to take a second to comment on what could have been the best job ever; Folly artist when your job is to create growling rabbits and thundering herd sounds.

The National Guard realizes they are outgunned or out-rabbited. Ray comes up with a plan. He wants to electrify a section of railroad track and drive the rabbits across it so they will be electrocuted. They need more help so they go to the drive-in, I love movies that feature drive-ins, and make the following announcement – Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!

Somehow all the people don’t run away screaming and line their cars with the headlights on to funnel the rabbits towards the electric rail. The National Guard set up machine gun nests to help with the herding.

Roy borrows the helicopter to find his wife and daughter. At the RV Gerry is fighting the rabbits off with road flares as the kid who started all of this screams out the window of the RV in a very annoying manner. Roy picks them up and is a big hero although Gerry did all of the fighting. As the rabbits are driven away from the RV by the flares and the helicopter they decide to attack a herd of cattle and cause a big stampede as they bloodthirstily jump down onto the cows.

The funnel of cars and machine guns work and soon thousands of rabbits are being electrocuted. I would say a few got away. Great plan you would have gotten an A at West Point. This is a line from Cast a Giant Shadow with Kirk Douglas.

Flamethrowers are the last line against the rabbits at the rail line. It must smell like burned fur. This is the point where a guy in a bunny costume, maybe a furry, attacks the line. A shotgun blast takes care of him and all of the rabbits are dead.

The Bennets go to Cole’s ranch and he remarks that the coyote have comes back to the farm. Survival of the fittest. As the movie ends it shows menacing little bunnies in the field. Scary music.

Notes

Young rabbits are called kit or kitten. A male adult male is a buck, and an adult female is a doe. The group is called a colony or a nest. The underground tunnels where they live is called a warren.

The movie showing at the drive-in was – Every Little Crook by MGM.

The killer rabbit effects were created using normal rabbits on tiny sets. Also a lot of close-ups and slow motion.

World-Famous Short Summary – Couple makes a case for birth control set against the backdrop of rabbit research


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JEC

I am a professional archaeologist, a bonsai guy, a classic movie reviewer, and database expert. Past exploits include Golden Gloves boxing, a 2nd Degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and an Eagle Scout badge.

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