Easter Sunday is upon us, and in the spirit of celebrating zombies and giant bunnies, I decided to share with you one of my favorite horror films of all time. It seems as though I have a cult horror movie for just about every holiday out there. Enough so much that it might just become a recurring segment for us. We could call it Holiday Horrors. And while Night of the Lepus isn’t specifically themed as an Easter movie, it does feature giant killer bunnies. What more could anyone ask for. Except for maybe Beaster Day: Here Comes Peter Cottonhell.
The film opens with scenes and narration about plagues of rabbits ravaging the southwest valley, and parts of Australia. It’s a rabbit war!!
Seems like there is a real epidemic of waskilly wabbits out there. We see shots of several rabbit roundups, and in the first scenes, we know that we are in for quite a treat with the terror that these little fluffy guys can bring. Any cynics out there, just ask Elmer Fudd how twicky and waskilly these darned things can be!
Just a few minutes into the film we encounter the first casualty, which is Cole’s horse. The poor animal breaks its leg in a rabbit hole. The rancher then puts the horse out of its misery with his rifle. What would have been smart is if Cole had dismounted and led his steed through the rabbit infested area. There are literally dozens of the furry critters crouched around big piles of dirt. Damn those rabbits!
After his walk back to the house, Mr. Hillman resolves to call Eglin and see if there is some way to control the rabbits without resorting to poison. Dammit Jim! These are rabbits, not mindless, killing beasts!!
Enter the Bennetts, who are entomologists. Despite the apparent mismatch of specialties, they are enlisted by Eglin to help address the rabbit problem. What do they use? An experimental DNA-altering serum supplied by another scientist. Poison is evil, but a little harmless genetic tampering sure is environmentally friendly. Amanda is distraught when daddy gives her favorite lab bunny an injection. She switches rabbits when the adults are not looking and takes the gene-seeded monster along with her to Hillman’s ranch. There she runs afoul of Jackie, who yells that he hates rabbits. The young boy pulls the bunny away from Amanda, then lightly sets it down so it can dive down a nearby hole. And thus begins a chain of deadly events. It seems as though it would be wise to keep small children out of science labs, but there again, maybe that’s just me.
An indeterminate period of time passes before people start being killed by giant slow motion rabbits. They eat a refrigeration truck driver, along with the contents of his truck, and even a group of people at a picnic ground. Well, “eat” may be a stretch, what we see is people smeared with thick red paste and their clothes ripped, but never anything else.
Despite those large incisors, there are not even chunks missing out of the bodies. Hell, nobody is even scratched. I thought the rabbits were hungry. Did I miss the part where it is explained why the rabbits are suddenly carnivorous? None of the characters are surprised either; once they accept the idea that giant bunnies are loose the change to a meat diet is totally ignored. Why bother with the details.
The rabbits made their den in an abandoned mine. This allows Mr. Hillman and the Bennetts to set dynamite and collapse the mine on them. Before that though, they do something colossally stupid: Roy and Cole venture into the mine to see and photograph exactly what is running loose (the mine exploration is when they discover the true furry face of unspeakable horror). Once they find the rabbits it is time to leave, quickly. A swarm of hopping mammals streams after the two men.
Lucky for them that the rabbits are filmed in slow motion and on scale models, otherwise they would probably have been caught and eaten. The rabbits appear to be very threatening, the concept is quite effective. However, the real movie magic happens when the bunnies attack. Then somebody wearing a dark-furred Easter Bunny suit takes over.
Roy and Cole dash out of the mine and the dynamite is detonated, burying many of the rabbits under tons of rock and soil. The end. Well that’s what they think anyway, but not even close. We are talking about rabbits. What nobody seems to think of is that rabbits can dig. The furry monstrosities dig their way out of the mine and conduct a reprisal raid against the Hillman ranch and a nearby town (population, about six). There is only one casualty (besides the horses) at Cole’s place.
He hikes to the nearby town to find assistance, but discovers the buildings are filled with a black, brooding presence. Inside each darkened edifice lurks a horror that mortal man was not meant to witness. Else, he might claw away the flesh from his skull trying to rid his diseased mind of the horrible image of: giant rabbits, sitting calmly. Cole, for his part, stumbles to a pay phone, calls Roy, and slowly says, “There are more of them damn rabbits.”
With the startling news that the rabbits are out for blood, the humans are slow to organize a counterattack. Soon there are National Guard troops available to stem the furry tide, but the Lepus expeditionary force outmaneuvers the state militia. The town of Ajo is next in line for a butt-kicking as the rabbit Rommel leads his forces over a bridge to outflank the defenders. Gerry and Amanda, who, to avoid the media frenzy that was expected to surround the rabbits, had set out for yet another city in the Bennett’s camper-equipped pickup, are also in harm’s way. The truck gets stuck in deep sand at a remote turnoff.
Roy is temporarily diverted in his quest to save Ajo from giant bunnies by the search and rescue mission for his family. Do not worry, the girls are fine. The plan to save Ajo is, however, of dubious value. Utilizing about a hundred civilian vehicles that were at a drive-in, the authorities plan to channel the rabbits into a narrow approach. With the cars’ headlights on full, the Lepus invaders will be forced to assault directly into interlocking machinegun fire and a final protective line created by an electrified railroad track.
With a roar (well, as much of one as you might expect from bunnies), the Lepus charge.
Those that are not machine-gunned or flamethrowered to death hit the tracks and die in agonizing pain as the electricity arcs and crackles.
When it is over all that remains is acres of burnt bunnies. That must smell AWFUL. In the final scene, Cole tells Roy the normal rabbits have returned to the ranch. And so have the coyotes. That’ll keep those varmints from wreaking a bunny apocalypse ever again!