Sunday, April 24, 2011

Night of the Lepus (1972)


          Viewed with the right attitude, the kitschy creature feature Night of the Lepus is fabulous. The right attitude, however, is a combination of irony and masochism, because by any rational appraisal, Night of the Lepus is one of the worst movies of the ’70s. Therein lies its appeal, because if you’re the sort of viewer who enjoys watching hapless actors and filmmakers trying to play a ludicrous idea absolutely straight, then you will experience transcendent joy during Night of the Lepus, a horror picture about giant bunny rabbits laying siege to a town in the American Southwest. As if the idea weren’t sufficiently preposterous on its own merits, the homicidal hares are simply normal-sized bunnies photographed on miniature sets. For good measure, the picture occasionally cuts to tricked-out shots of rabbits with liquid on their lips, ostensibly to create the illusion that the critters are either foaming at the mouth or reveling in a recent bloody kill. Ridiculous? Of course. Ridiculously awesome? You betcha.
          Stolid leading man Stuart Whitman and Psycho veteran Janet Leigh play scientists called in to help when frenzied (but initially normal-sized) rabbits overrun a private ranch. The scientists accidentally introduce a toxin that causes the rabbits to increase in size, so before long everybody is facing off with hares as large as bears. DeForest Kelley, better known as Dr. “Bones” McCoy on the original Star Trek series, appears somewhat ineffectually as Whitman’s boss, and his presence is another indication of the picture’s sky-high camp factor.
          It’s impossible to take a single frame of Night of the Lepus seriously, and most of the picture is so over-the-top absurd that it’s unintentionally entertaining. The slo-mo shots of bunnies stampeding through underground mines are as goofy as the scenes of actors pretending to be savaged by giant hares, and it’s all topped off nicely with a showdown outside a drive-in theater. “Lepus,” in case you’re wondering, is a scientific name for rabbits—apparently the title Night of the Bunnies was rejected. No matter what this cinematic disaster is called, though, the flick exemplifies so-bad-it’s-good filmmaking of the most sublime sort.

Night of the Lepus: LAME

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