Night of the Lepus (1972)


(director: William F. Claxton; screenwriters: Don Holliday/Gene R. Kearney/ from the book “The Year of the Angry Rabbit” by Russell Braddon; cinematographer: Ted Voightlander; editor: John McSweeney; music: Jimmie Haskell; cast: Stuart Whitman (Roy Bennett), Janet Leigh (Gerry Bennett), Rory Calhoun (Cole Hillman), DeForest Kelley (Elgin Clark), Paul Fix (Sheriff Cody), Melanie Fullerton (Amanda Bennett); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: A. C. Lyles; Warner DVD; 1972)

“Well worth watching for those enamored by bad films that are unintentionally funny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

OK, believe it, this dumb B-film mad scientist and monster movie has giant carnivorous bunny rabbits terrorize the state of Arizona. William F. Claxton (“Stage to Thunder Rock”) directs without realizing the bunnies are more cute than frightening; it’s based on the book “The Year of the Angry Rabbit” by Aussie author Russell Braddon.

Ecology-minded Arizona rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) refuses to use pesticides to stop the infestation of rabbits on his land and asks the help of husband and wife experimental zoologists Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman & Janet Leigh), who are employed at the local university. The nice part is that they develop a hormone injection to halt the rabbits’ breeding capabilities. The bad part is the experiment is botched by the inadvertent interference of their precocious disobedient ten-year-old daughter Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) and the result is a run on the land of 25-foot bunnies who are man-eaters that rear their hind legs like horses and roar like fierce jungle animals.

The cheesy special effects are a hoot. The filmmaker uses normal rabbits and shoots them in slow motion as they destroy miniature ranches. He also has people dressed like rabbits pose as monster bunnies.

This cynical film, that pokes fun at the elitist scientists as well as anti-environmentalist chemical users and tells us that the monsters we faced were of our own creation, was influenced by the success of The Birds (1963). It also follows Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 study of the effects of DDT pesticides that had been a wake-up call for Americans to return to nature. This poor imitation of Hitchcock’s The Birds attained a legendary reputation as a genuine Golden Turkey. It’s an honor it richly deserves. Though, if not taken seriously, it’s well worth watching for those enamored by bad films that are unintentionally funny and try to give sincere lectures on subjects they don’t really have a feel for. In order words, I found it watchable for all the wrong reasons.