Ah, what a wonderful piece of trash this film is! It’s ridiculous, preposterous, astoundingly awful and fantastic all at the same time. The casting director for this film must have been an evil genius; the film stars Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh (!), Rory Calhoun and, wait for it, DeForest Kelley (!!). To put them all together in a drive-in classic about the American Southwest being invaded by giant angry rabbits is just too good to be true.
Night of the Lepus is the kind of film that bad movie lovers like myself wait ages for. Believe it or not, it’s based on a novel called “The Year of The Angry Rabbit,” by Russell Braddon. Yeah, I’d never heard of it, either. Rory Calhoun plays Cole Hillman, a rough and tough cowboy whose land has become infested by thousands of rabbits. Desperate, Hillman turns to Elgin Clark (played by Kelley), who works at the local university (it’s never clear if Elgin is a professor or a dean or what, but, whatever position he holds, he definitely has clout).
Elgin suggests the husband-wife zoologist team of Roy and Gerry Bennett (Played by Whitman and Leigh, respectively). Roy is one of the well-meaning, know-it-all idiots who mucks everything up royally, as he inadvertently injects the rabbits with a serum with unknown properties (he’s trying to curb their mating habits, to get them to stop breeding for a while). Of course, their obnoxious daughter (played by Melanie Fullterton in one of the most annoying performances of all time) steals a cute rabbit who has been injected with the serum, looses it and, pretty soon every rabbit within 50 miles is a huge, carnivorous creature.
I can’t tell you honestly how much I enjoyed this trash classic. Janet Leigh was a huge star of the 50s and 60s, but, by 1972 she just couldn’t get the same level of work as in the old days, so she’s stuck in the token role of the loving wife and mother. Still, Night of the Lepus (much like Leigh’s performance in Psycho) contains one of the great movie screams. No, it’s not Leigh’s, but the truck driver played by Walter Kelley. As the first victim of the giant rabbits’ fury, Kelley unleashes a freakish, effeminate scream that likes of which you’ve never heard (I was laughing so hysterically the first time I heard it, that we had to rewind it and watch again.)
Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun both fit right at home in this kind of movie, and Whitman’s voice belongs in the drive-in movie hall of fame, probably. DeForrest Kelley is hilarious, for two reasons: his mustache, and his wardrobe, which really has to be seen to be believed. Something must be said of the performance by William Elliott as Dr. Leopold, which is such bad acting that I don’t even really think you can call it ‘acting’ anymore, I think you actually have to make up a new word.
Night of the Lepus is a monster film for people who are tired of movies that are scary or well-made. It’s a hoot.
Night of the Lepus. 1972. Dir. William F. Claxton. With Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley, Paul Fix, Melanie Fullterton, William Elliott. Written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney; based upon the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Braddon. Cinematography by Ted Voigtlander. United States.