Friday, September 26, 2008

Night of the Lepus

I'm watching Night of the Lepus on TCM. I remember seeing this when it was new in 1972. Time hasn't improved it. This movie was the tail-end of the giant animal horror movies that began with Them (1954).

Them was very good of type. The special effects were well done for the time and the script was well-written. Them was about a colony of giant ants. They were introduced slowly in the dessert. This colony wasn't difficult to take care of once the leads knew what they were fighting. The problem was that a few queens got away leading to a world-wide ant-hunt. The last of the queens turned up in LA in the sewers where the army had to go in and fight them.

Other giant-animal movies followed. The Beginning of the End had praying mantises attacking Chicago. Obviously, Tarantula featured a giant spider.

Lepus went for something completely different. Where other movies took insects which are already strange and alien, this took something harmless and cute. Lepus is Latin for Rabbit. The monsters in the movie were giant, carnivorous bunny rabbits.

The cast was first-rate with Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh plus a post-Star Trek DeForest Kelley.

The special effects were... well, not so special. They mainly used close-up shots of rabbits to make it seem like the bunnies were large. They also had a fake rabbit that would only be seen for an instant when a rabbit was hopping on someone to bite their throat out.

I'm not sure why the rabbits turned carnivorous but it was crucial to the plot. Without the occasional bunny-slaying accompanied by bright red blood, the rabbits weren't any more menacing than a herd of buffalo. Given how slow they looked, a buffalo stampede would probably cause more damage.

The script didn't help a bit. No one seemed skeptical, or even surprised at the idea of giant rabbits. Near the end of the movie they need to lure the rabbits onto an electrified train track. Someone runs up to a drive-in theater and announces that a pack of giant rabbits in on the loose and no one questions it for a moment.

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