Night of the Lepus is about giant bunny rabbits. The movie’s got lousy special effects. The composite shots of regular-sized bunny rabbits blown up to giant-ish size are bad, but the life-size giant killer bunny rabbit arms and body parts—only used for rapid-cut action sequences—are worse. When they have the bunny rabbits run around on model train sets and pretend they’re big, it’s the best (of the film’s options) because you get to see the bunny rabbits. They’re adorable.
With these special effects, Lepus doesn’t have a chance. It doesn’t have a chance for many reasons, but the special effects are the most obvious (and adorable). Otherwise, all the failings are boring and mundane. Director Claxton barely keeps the eighty-eight-minute movie running. Someone—Claxton, maybe producer A.C. Lyles (who, shockingly, is not an Australian who made Lepus to say “yes, bunnies are too dangerous” to his doubting Hollywood chums)—decided to let editor John McSweeney Jr. do rapid-fire cutting to cover: bad special effects, lousy acting, reused footage of the actors, reused special effects footage, boring scenes, nonsensical scenes, and stock footage. Lots of stock footage in Lepus.
The film only always uses the rapid cutting for action scenes. It’s predictable. But then, towards the third act, they start using it everywhere and anywhere. It’s an assault on the senses. And the cuts are way too fast to see the cute widdle bunny wabbits.
Then there’s the script, which manages to be joyless in its stupidity. It’s just bad writing, poorly adapted for its cast. The first actor we see is Rory Calhoun. He’s a man’s man rancher who intentionally rides his horse through a bunny rabbit burrow, breaking the horse’s leg, so he kills it and doesn’t even care. Manly.
Calhoun’s bad, but he’s so much better than eventual lead Stuart Whitman; he’ll eventually be a welcome sight. Whitman’s a bug scientist who wants to kill them off without using chemicals. Instead, he wants to do it naturally, like causing a bat plague or something. See, Calhoun goes to the local university to see DeForest Kelley (who, despite a happening wardrobe and a very seventies mustache, looks embarrassed much sooner than anyone else). Calhoun wants someone to kill off the bunny rabbits but without poison. Kelley suggests anti-poison Whitman, who travels around in a camper with wife Janet Leigh and daughter Melanie Fullerton.
Even Fullerton can tell acting off Whitman is pointless. Even in the scenes where Whitman is doing science exposition, he can’t carry the scene. It becomes about the people listening to him, waiting for him to stop talking so they can get on with it.
Leigh doesn’t embarrass herself, which is almost more embarrassing. She can weather stepping in giant bunny rabbit turds without it phasing her. It’s a compliment to her professionalism, but damn sad.
There are a bunch of other characters. They’re mostly bad, but what are you going to do about acting when it’s pretending there are giant killer bunny rabbits who eat Brussels sprouts like they’re heads of lettuce and cherry tomatoes like they’re… giant tomatoes, I guess.
Paul Fix plays the sheriff. He’s the best performance in the movie. Paul Fix isn’t going to let this Lepus nonsense get in the way of his performance, not even when he’s waiting for the other actors to remember their lines and getting visibly frustrated with them.
Ted Voigtlander’s photography is surprisingly competent. Not with the effects shots but the other times. Terrible sound design—the bunnies do phone perv heavy breathing to show they’re mean—and a weird, lousy score from Jimmie Haskell.
Lepus is the pits. But it is a movie about giant adorable bunny rabbits, so it’s at least a fun time at the pits.
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