Nothing says “Happy Easter” like zombies and bunnies. And with Paul’s annual Easter Weekend Zombiethon, I thought I’d contribute a bit of fluff to this sacred weekend. As always, I’m a day late and a dollar short so it’s more or less a retroactive Easter celebration complete with cute kids, bunnies, and lots of blood. Night of the Lepus is 70s eco-horror at its finest. Featuring B movie royalty like Janet Leigh and Rory Calhoun, Night of the Living Dead style atmosphere, and a nauseating amount of exposition about overpopulation and science run amok come together to make an awful movie somewhat magical. But don’t take my word for it.

Wait. Do take my word for it. That’s why you’re reading this, isn’t it?

Opening with a newsman’s clunky exposition about human overpopulation before segueing into crop obliterating rabbit plagues ravaging the countryside, the premise is hamfistedly established and the furry fun begins. The story itself has an exceptionally choppy timeline that feels like it takes place equal parts over a long weekend or a six-month span and follows a couple of scientists trying to stop the rabbit overpopulation decimating an Arizona farming community without doing even more damage to the ecosystem in the process. Little do they realize that their hormone therapy modified rabbits are about to create an even bigger problem than anyone could imagine. Mutilated corpses start turning up in all the worst possible places leaving law enforcement wondering if this is the work of a wild animal or some deranged psychopath hungry and on the prowl.

Only after our heroes’ daughter stumbles onto the den of giant augmented bunnies do they discover that what they’re up against is the cuddliest series of murder machines known to man. With their cold, black, lifeless eyes, these fluffy bundles of death soon start to wreck up the place in search of fresh humans to feast upon. The writing itself leaves a lot to be desired and, if you follow along with the plot and dialogue it almost feels like someone had an idea for a much longer, much more in-depth story that was poorly edited and hacked down so that it could be condensed for the screen. Or, you know, it could just be that it was a really rushed, poorly written script. I choose to believe that there was an entire series planned around this idea of giant, carnivorous rabbits that just never saw the light of day.

The special effects in Night of the Lepus are straight out of the Golden Age of B movies with close-up shots of animals being superimposed over wider shots of actors to make it look like something ten inches long is two stories tall. Other scenes have scaled down mockups of ranches, cars, and diners set up so that the life-sized bunnies could stampede through the tiny town and look like giants in the process. Add to this, copious amounts of bright red fake blood and some dramatic shots of rabbits pawing their way through balsa wood floors as if trying to hungrily devour the terrified family hiding in the basement and you’ve got something truly spectacular to behold. I love old black and white films where the monsters are literally just an ant colony or a tarantula devastating a tiny model. It was a relatively simple, cost effective way to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary.

Now, take an animal that is so completely docile and unassuming as a rabbit and you’re working your way towards genius. Who thinks about a rabbit being dangerous in and of itself? Yes, in large numbers like what’s described in the beginning of the movie, they become a furry little plague. But a rabbit as a human-hunting monster? I would love to know what the pitch meeting was like for this one. But it worked. After almost fifty years, Night of the Lepus is still a B movie classic and it’s thanks entirely to the otherwise ludicrous proposal that, if given the chance, your kid’s pet bunny would murder you and everyone you love.

Night of the Lepus is genuinely a science-fiction/horror in name only. There was nothing terrifying about this movie when I saw it for the first time at eight years old and there’s nothing scary about it now. But, as entertainment, the value of this movie cannot and should not be underestimated. Where else will you see science run amok, school bus-sized killer rabbits, and DeForest “Stop Calling Me Bones!” Kelley with a 70s porn ‘stache? Nowhere.

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