Night of the Lepus Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by William F. Claxton
Written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney
1972, 88 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on June 19th, 2018
Stuart Whitman as Roy Bennett
Janet Leigh as Gerry Bennett
Rory Calhoun as Cole Hillman
DeForest Kelly as Elgin Clark
Paul Fix as Sheriff Cody
Melanie Fullerton as Amanda Bennett
Chris Morrell as Jackie Hillman
Chuck Hayward as Jud
Henry Wills as Frank
An overpopulation of rabbits in the Arizona farmland leads a pair of zoologists to experiment with injecting hormones into the animals to interrupt their breeding cycle. One treated rabbit is accidentally reintroduced to the population and soon there are hundreds of animals the size of wolves attacking the area. A prospector, a truck driver and an unfortunate family of four are all killed and mutilated by bunnies. The zoologists blow up the mine where the rabbits live, but soon the adorable devils are back and bigger than ever. They attack a local farm and a general store before setting their sights on the center of town. Working with the local authorities, the zoologists must devise a plan to stop the mutant menace before it destroys the entire community.
Roy and Gerry Bennett are the scientists called in to help ranch owner Cole Hillman with his rabbit problem. They take a dozen subjects back to their lab and begin experimenting. Their young daughter wants a bunny for a pet and sneaks a test subject out and promptly loses it. I don’t know what they put in that shot, but these animals suddenly outnumber everyone in the town within a matter of days. I understand that they can grow quickly, but there’s a full regiment within days of reintroduction. Nobody wants to see things in real time, but the suspension of disbelief is stretched a bit thin here. That isn’t my only problem with this killer bunny flick, but it’s the first thing that came to mind.
Night of the Lepus is an ecological horror film that focuses on the problems of overpopulation and mutation due to scientific experiments. Man vs. Nature films became really popular throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s with titles like Food of the Gods, Frogs, Day of the Animals, Kingdom of the Spiders, Willard and Deadly Eyes to name only a few. This one arrives early in the cycle of animals-attacking-people movies and it is not a very good entry, due largely to the fact that bunnies aren’t typically viewed as anything less than adorable. Photographed in slow motion close-ups, stomping over miniature sets or shown as giants opposite people in split screen are some of the techniques used to up the scare factor, but the end result is just silly.
The cast has seen better career days than this one and yet everyone plays the material straight without a hint of embarrassment. Janet Leigh (Psycho) usually picks better projects, but does a fine job as zoologist Gerry Bennett. She holds her own in this boys club picture as the sole adult female in the cast. Stuart Whitman (Eaten Alive) is our rugged hero Roy Bennett, Gerry’s husband and father to the little girl responsible for this mess. Rory Calhoun (Motel Hell) adds a western flavor to the movie as ranch owner Cole Hillman. He looks the part and contributes a sort of believability to the whole thing while DeForest Kelly (Star Trek) is the sole actor who just feels out of place. He doesn’t do anything wrong, but his character Elgin Clark, head of the university, is just kind of there.
Directed by William F. Claxton (Half Past Midnight) and written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney, the film moves at a moderate pace and feels very much like the 1950s monster movie throwback that it is. Looking at the picture from that perspective grants it a lot more credibility as drive-in schlock. There is a bit more gore than I expected from a 1970s PG-rated title, but we get glimpses of mutilated corpses on more than one occasion. Claxton does a fine job with the material provided but really should have known better. He succeeded in delivering a camp classic that has earned a large fan base over the past few decades and these fans will be rejoicing with the arrival of this movie on Blu-ray with an all-new 2K picture restoration.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and featuring a spiffy new high-definition transfer, it is safe to say that even with occasionally heavy grain, the movie has never looked better.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track does a fine job preserving the original mono recordings. Dialogue is well balanced with music and effects tracks.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
There are two audio commentaries on this disc, the first with author Lee Gambin, who has written extensively on eco-horror cinema. His discussion is highly informative and very detailed in his history of rabbit cinema and Night of the Lepus in particular.
The second commentary comes courtesy of pop cultural historian Russell Dyball, who is well-versed in cinema of the 1970s. Like the other track, the material is taken seriously and never made fun of. He presents a lot of facts about rabbits and offers the idea of this film as an allegory of the Vietnam War among other things.
The theatrical trailer is joined by a TV ad and a radio spot.
A still gallery plays as a silent slideshow of images both black and white and color. There are numerous production photos and lobby cards as well as several examples of poster artwork.