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Case Number 07917: Small Claims Court

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Night Of The Lepus

Warner Bros. // 1972 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Maurice Cobbs (Retired) // October 28th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Maurice Cobbs wonders if Anya wasn't right all along.

The Charge

"Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!"—Deputy Lopez

The Case

Well, there you have it. What else can I say? It's all right there for you. Not just killer rabbits, mind you—really big killer rabbits. Gigantic, fluffy, long-eared engines of destruction cutting a swath of mayhem and death across the American southwest as the population flees in mortal terror. How could Russell Braddon have known that his satirical book Year of the Angry Rabbit, about Australian cold-war politics and bio-technological hubris, would be remembered chiefly for inspiring this, one of the crown jewels of crap cinema?

Rabbits are cute; nobody's denying that. But things that are cute in small quantities—like rabbits, frogs, Steven Segal movies, and socialists—become incredibly annoying in larger numbers. That's the problem faced by farmer Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun—you know, that person who's always standing…and walking?). His ranch is being overrun by rabbits, hundreds of the little suckers; they are destroying the land used for grazing, so Hillman calls his old friend Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley, Star Trek), president of the local college, for help. Cole and the other farmers in the area would just as soon wipe them out—all of them—by bombing the area with cyanide (somehow, that just doesn't seem like a good idea), but Clark puts smarty-pants scientists Roy Bennett (Stuart Whitman, who was Jonathan Kent in the '80s Superboy TV series) and his wife Gerry (Janet Leigh, The Manchurian Candidate) on the case. This dynamic duo has an idea to reduce the population of rabbits in an "eco-friendly" manner, by attempting to, as Gerry puts it, "make Jack a little more like Jill, and Jill a little more like Jack"—in spite of the fact that the movie doesn't take place anywhere near San Francisco—with the ultimate goal being to drastically reduce the rabbits' rapid breeding.

After the Bennetts' daughter Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) sneaks one of the test rabbits out of the laboratory, which, of course, promptly escapes into the wild, an unexpected side effect occurs: The rabbits start getting bigger. A lot bigger. Also, the plan to keep them from breeding turns out to be a total flop; if anything, the damn things seem to be breeding at a faster rate. Before long, a vast herd of giant, roaring, snarling carnivorous cottontails is destroying everything in its path. Can the Bennetts stop them? Can the National Guard stop them? Can anything stop them? How many eyes does horror have? How many times will terror strike? And does anybody have a good recipe for hasenpfeffer?

I'm really not sure what I can tell you about this movie. It's bad. Everybody in the movie tries to pretend that it isn't bad, that it's possible to take a threat like large, lethal lagomorphs seriously. It isn't. In the past, when movies were made featuring gigantic mutated critters, the filmmakers wisely chose animals that weren't very attractive or cuddly to begin with and that, when blown up to about 100 times their normal size, look terrifying and alien, like the irradiated ants in Them!, or the mutated arachnids from Tarantula or The Black Scorpion, or even the giant octopus in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. But giant bunnies don't look scary or exotic or terrifying; they just look like giant bunnies.

I don't know that any audience over the age of five is going to be the least bit terrified by the idea of big cute bunny rabbits on a rampage. When they hop around demolishing the little sets and models that are supposed to represent the town, the bunnies are cute. When they're running along in slow motion, chasing victims, the bunnies are cute. I mean, even when they're licking blood off their chops after feasting on a tasty human morsel, the bunnies are cute. But the guy in the bunny suit used for close-ups of bloody rabbit attacks just looks stupid.

Still, the actors play this premise out with absolute seriousness—which is one reason among many that this movie fails. Had they played it more for laughs, had they not been so bloody serious about the whole thing, had they—now here's a radical concept—had they just adapted the damn book instead of going off in this strange, absurd direction…Oh well. If frogs had wings, they wouldn't bump their butts when they hopped. Perhaps a better, more pressing question is this: With fantastic classics like Mad Love, The Major and the Minor, Hold Back the Dawn, Phantom Lady, and so many others still inexplicably not available on DVD, who in the world decided to devote the time, energy, and resources to bringing this to store shelves? I suppose that there is a subsection of the populace that has been crying out to enjoy this movie in digital form, but I can't imagine who they are. I mean, I like a good bad movie as much as the next guy, but given the choice between having this on my shelf and having The Strawberry Blonde…well, that's just no contest, is it? And I say this in spite of the fact that our friends at Warner Bros. have done a pretty decent job with the transfer here.

Maybe I'm wrong about this; maybe I'll be eating this review when the giant bunnies start attacking. But right now, the only rabbit that terrifies me is that sacrilegious Buzz Bunny character from this new Loonatics: Unleashed cartoon. Yeech!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 47

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Bad
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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