Night of the Lepus (1972)
They were born that tragic moment when science made its great mistake... now from behind the shroud of night they come, a scuttling, shambling horde of creatures destroying all in their path.
There are many different types of horror. So far this October, we’ve checked out some psychological thrills and some cheap evil monster spooks. Tonight, we go to a universal stand by that’s been around longer than I have - Science! Yes, the folly of man, science gone wild. Oh, and I should mention it’s just about the cutest science gone mad you could get - except that close-up view of it’s big nasty teeth. Tonight, we get hopping with Night of the Lepus.
This is a story of a girl who screws things up and gets a lot of people killed all because she finds one bunny cute. Beyond that, it’s a bit of an eco-terror movie, tapping into things like population explosions - which in turn leads to the girl being able to screw up in the first place. After a PSA of sorts elaborating on what’s to come, talking specifically about population explosions of rabbits in Australia (these sort of things happen in old movies, trust me), we get started on our actual movie. Here, our stories start off with a rancher who finds himself getting overrun by rabbits. He’d like to have something done about this while there is still time, but doesn’t want to just poison them due to the side effects it can have. Yep, a farmer who somewhat grasps the concept of balance in the ecosystem ends up leading into getting help from some researchers - the parents of the before mentioned girl of nightmares. During their experiments to try and take care of the situation in a more balanced way, their child decides to swap a test rabbit with a control rabbit, which then promptly she allows to get away from her and start mingling with the problem rabbits out free-range. From there, big old rabbit start eating up people, animals, and whatever food supplies they can get their teeth into.
All of that said, the plot is pretty simple. It never really tries to overburden you with big words or elaborate schemes. Yes, it does carry with it that PSA at the front so you do end up learning something one way or the other, but it doesn’t feel condescending. It does set the mood for everything else going on - so for the sort of person that likes diving into things to find out what the meaning is, it might be a bit spoiled with how it points it out front and center. The characters themselves all end up being relatively likeable or at the least passable - with most somewhat being background fodder that doesn’t really serve as any form of impact one way or the other. The leads at least feel as though they aren’t entirely bland paper-thin, but that comes more from the fact that they actually feel like thinking people than having in depth history or interactions. Most will probably find themselves more broken up over animal deaths than actual human ones - but that’s usually the way in movies anyways.
Actors do a pretty good job in keeping things interesting. It might not be the most knock-out performances, but they are done pretty well. The main three, being the science parents and the rancher, do a pretty good job of interacting with each other and anyone else they are on screen with. The two kid actors aren’t exactly great - but in all fairness most kids in older movies weren’t. The girl ends up coming off as more annoying - perhaps because her character sets off all the horrible events - probably because of the amount of times her part comes down to just screaming or yelling “Mommy!” When it comes to other characters, they range the gamut from hammy to passable, alright to lacking energy. The rabbits? Well, they do what rabbits due mostly.
It’s actually almost hard to tell if the rabbits should be under effects or with the actors. I mean, they don’t really act, as much as (I’m pretty sure) react to things that might happen to them (like a toss across the camera, or a squib going off). Most the stuff in here is practical - it came out in that time period after all - but we do see some optical effects like layering to sell rabbits being as big as they are. These don’t really hold up that well at times. Certainly, the movie shows it’s age here. Yeah, the rabbits rampaging around little model landscapes and towns hold up nicely, but the optical layers end up being pretty noticeable. There’s also a moment in the ending where the line used to overlay the sparking electrical effect on where the train tracks should be can be seen against the less darkly color parts of the scene. To me, these sort of things end up being more comical, or perhaps charming although I’d hesitate to call it such, than flat out bad - but I’m not here to make excuses for things as much as just report it. Blood also is the consistency of a bunch of paint thrown on people, and violence is largely wound-less beyond the overabundant smearing of said obviously fake blood. The only other real highlight I feel I should share here is the rabbit attack scenes, where someone will get pounced and pawed at, and I’m roughly ninety-eight percent sure it’s a person in a fuzzy bunny costume smacking an actor around until they cut to the bunny-camera without the actor in it. I got quite the unintended chuckle out of that one.
Balancing of audio is pretty good, and the music also does a good job of just playing its role as background and mood. I could hear all the actors clearly, but as is a habit of mine I left subtitles on just in case something were to pop up and not be heard or a louder sound randomly showed up to blast out the sound of the movie. Neither happened, but there’s a fine moment of cows being attacked by the killer rabbits that promptly subtitles “Sheep bleating” that also got a chuckle out of me. Folly work is also pretty solid, at it occurred to me that mostly anyone present at the finale would have probably had nightmares for a long time had the rabbit “death shrieks” not been tuned down to a more passive rabbit sound. Have you ever heard a rabbit screaming bloody murder? Imagine that coming out of thousands of man-sized rabbits, and that probably will end up more frightening than the movie itself. Regardless, they did a pretty good job with the sound effects.
Now, this being an older movie, the actual visual quality of the movie can be a bit sketchy sometimes. You can always see things just fine, but every now and then there’s some grain to it that you wouldn’t get on a fancy pants modern super-res flick. For me, it’s largely just ignorable but to some it could be an issue. Of course, despite the assumption that “nothing much was harmed badly during the movie,” there is also a lot of animal deaths - be it bunny or horse or cow. It doesn’t bother me here - granted, the old “horse broke a leg, better put it down” was a bit sad - because of the assumption that nothing is actually getting hurt, but that’ s a major turn off for some folks so it bears mentioning. It does have it’s purpose in hammering home the environmental dangers of things, but it also comes off as strange since it’s not often you see rabbits deciding to go and chomp up any meaty thing it comes across, so I made the logical step that it was most likely lack of food causing irrational behavior or just a side effect of the size-altering hormones. It’s a movie, so one usually shouldn’t be trying to deep-dive look for reality in every step, and quite frankly the people attacking hoppers tends to lead to funner moments I spoke of before as well as plenty of close-up mouth shots, which honestly is probably the creepiest looking part of a rabbit in the first place.
While not going to jump any huge hurdles for a lot of audience, I found myself some enjoyment here. I had meant to watch it a while ago, and indeed I did some time before I started doing reviews, so most of it was fresh in my easily forgotten mind. It’s got it’s message spelled out for you so you can get the point without the extra thought and contemplation, but still provides the entertainment that a movie should. Mostly likeable characters who aren’t complete idiots help make the movie more enjoyable, and a lot of the effects are decent or charming given it’s age. It has some cheesy moments in there, but it never really comes off as intentionally so, and if you are already a fan of older color movies than you probably won’t find too much to hate here.