Night of the Lepus

Year: 1972
Production Co: A C Lyles Productions
Studio: MGM
Director: William F Claxton
Writer: Don Holliday/Gene R Kearney
Cast: DeForest Kelley, Janet Leigh

Of all the reasons I wanted to watch this movie, the biggest one was to see how they'd play it – completely straight or with a camp factor that would be very hard to avoid.

Beautifully (and in a move that makes it even funnier) the movie plays it completely straight, and a soldier on a megaphone shouting 'Attention. There's a herd of giant killer rabbits heading this way' with a straight face has to be one of the best lines in any movie ever.

Like most sci-fi of the 20th century it's a cautionary tale casting scientists as evil dabblers in the black arts. When a rancher wants an ecologically sound method of controlling rabbits, a zoologist husband and wife team are called in. She's Janet Leigh of Psycho fame, he dresses like he's headed down to the local discotheque and Plato's Retreat afterwards.

They test a hormone compound on some of the rabbits, and somehow one of the test population gets away and infects the rest of the ranch's residents. The catch? It not only causes them to grow to the size of cows, it gives them an insatiable appetite for flesh.

The execution isn't nearly as ridiculous as the set-up could have been. Considering the early 70s film technology, it doesn't actually do a half bad job of depicting hungry, oversized rabbits swarming through towns. Every time they're on the warpath the soundtrack breaks out in a heartbeat-like drumming, and the shots of normal rabbits running through miniature sets of roads, houses and cars are a bit shoddy but surprisingly watchable.

The shame of the movie is how tame it is. Maybe the director wanted a serious horror thriller, maybe the producer didn't want to be worried about censorship or maybe they just couldn't make it work, but the same movie with lots more blood (scenes of a giant rabbit tearing limbs off victims, for instance) would have been a grindhouse classic.

But the accomplishment of the film is still how to take what must be one of the most ludicrous ideas in the history of sci-fi or horror and play it so straight. It absolutely cries out for a contemporary slasher-style remake.

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