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Sunday, 16 March 2008

Night of the Lepus (1972)

We open with Criswell introducing stock footage of rabbit plagues across Australia and the American west. Can anything be done about this population explosion? OK, it's not Criswell, but it could so easily have been, and with a source novel titled The Year of the Angry Rabbit, I'm amazed that it wasn't. Actually the quality is a little higher than you'd expect from an Ed Wood film, but not by the amount it should be, even with the quality of the people in it.

We're in Arizona and the rabbits are the bad guys from moment one, because Rory Calhoun playing some moron called Cole Hillman rides his horse a little too fast in countryside obviously riddled with rabbit burrows, and so has to shoot it dead when it breaks its leg. Cole brings in Elgin Clark at the university, played by DeForest Kelley proving that he didn't just play Bones in Star Trek (this was the last time he played anyone else on film). Clark brings in Roy and Gerry Bennett, who don't like poisoning animals and want to find better ways to control populations.

The hilarious thing here is that there's plenty of talk about the risks involved in messing around with the natural order of things (kill off the coyotes, the rabbits take over; kill off the birds, the grasshoppers take over), yet the Bennetts seem completely happy to inject the rabbits with some unknown serum as a test. There idiot daughter swaps rabbits around in their cages, takes one as a pet and then lets a new friend scare it off into the desert, thus introducing the consequences of this unknown serum into the environment to wreak complete mayhem.

Of course when you make a movie about giant mutated maneating fluffy bunny rabbits attacking the neighbourhood, you can't expect too much of a logical scientific approach. Pseudoscience is definitely the name of the game and the film relishes in it. Apparently the serum was hormone based and intended to reduce the breeding rate but hey, whatever. I particularly enjoyed the apparently brutally gnawed corpses that were liberally coated in blood but had no wounds whatsoever. These maneating bunnies massacre families but they don't break the skin, magically making the ripped clothes bleed.

This is even more hilarious than I remember it. I saw it as a kid but only remembered Bones from Star Trek. How could I have forgotten the pounding rabbit feet sounding like voodoo drums? How could I have forgotten a line like 'Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!', as delivered by a sheriff via loudspeaker in front of a drive in movie theatre screen? How could I have forgotten slow motion giant rabbit stampedes to an undulating electronic soundtrack?

This is truly and awesomely bad, so bad that I'm stunned that someone could have been dumb enough to green light the project. They even made the rabbits roar! What seems most amazing is that, while some viewers have suggested that it's a deliberate spoof of fifties monster movies, I don't buy it. There are a couple of lines like the one I quoted above and another delivered by a soldier just ahead of the final showdown that could easily have been inserted by someone wanting to crack a joke but most of it plays too seriously to be anything else. And if it was supposed to be a comedy someone would have written a 'What's up, Doc?' joke for someone to say to Bones.

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