Wednesday, 15 January 2014

MOVIE: Night Of The Lepus (1972)

Night Of The Lepus

US 1972, 88 mins, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

DVD: Warner Archive Collection (US import), UK Cert X (original release)

When a Texas farmer's ranch becomes overrun by rabbits, a zoologist attempts to keep numbers down by developing a contraceptive injection. However, there is an unexpected side-effect - the rabbits grow to giant size and terrorise the surrounding cattle, before developing a taste for humans...

1972 was quite a banner year for so-bad-it's-good movies. There was the quite unique brit-biker-zombie flick Psychomania, as well as the unintentional giggle-fest of lighthouse horror Tower Of Evil. Not wishing to be outdone by the British, the USA unleashed Night Of The Lepus on an unsuspecting public. Now, you might expect this to come from someone like American International, or maybe Roger Corman's New World Pictures, but would you believe that the execs at none other than MGM gave this the go-ahead?

Based on a novel entitled The Year Of The Angry Rabbit (I'm not making this up, honest), it must already have seemed quite old fashioned when first released, a throwback to the 50's cycle of science-related horror flicks. On the other hand, it may have been ahead of the game in presaging the 70's cycle of animal related horrors spearheaded by Jaws, and taking in Grizzly, The Pack, The Long Weekend and Day Of The Animals, to name just a few. But seriously... Rabbits?

It's got a solid cast: Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh and Dr McCoy himself, DeForrest Kelley (modelling some truly shocking ties) all play it with a straight face, which is the only way to pull off this sort of thing with any dignity (how their agents talked them into it is anyone's guess). Director William F. Claxton keeps it moving on-track at such a pace that you can't help but be impressed with his efforts. His previous experience is worth noting: A prolific TV director on western series Bonanza and The High Chapparal, not to mention a few Twilight Zone episodes, his experience in working to tight schedules in desert locations helps the film no end.

There's much to commend in the technical department, too. Some very good miniature model work makes the sequences of rampaging bunnies weirdly effective, and some slow-motion camerawork gives them an eerie quality, kind of like witnessing Elmer Fudd's worst nightmare. That possibly encapsulates both the film's fatal flaw and its enduring charm. Throughout the creature attacks and the climax, you keep thinking "yes, that's very well done, but... it's a RABBIT for chrissakes!"

Still, you may accuse Night Of The Lepus of many things, but it certainly isn't boring. I'm not sure I can adequately express the sheer demented genius of it. You'll just have to check it out for yourself, preferably well oiled with some cheap wine. I plan to do just that again, very soon...

Rational score: 5.5/10

Score for pure unadulterated entertainment value: 10/10

Original Theatrical Trailer (which only hints at the delights to come)

FOOTNOTE: It may be worth pointing out that I was in bed with some virus-type illness when I watched this and wrote the review...

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