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Film / Night of the Lepus

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"How often have you seen an awful movie and said to yourself, 'What were they thinking?!' Well, after watching Night of the Lepus, the question you'll be asking instead is, 'Were' they thinking?!'"

Another legendary bad movie. This 1972 effort, directed by William F. Claxton, is the story of how Doctor McCoy (OK, OK, DeForest Kelley, but in a really orange turtleneck) helped Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh and Rory Calhoun save the world from a herd of Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits.

No, really. The idea is that experimental hormone injections, intended to stop the rabbits breeding as an environmentally-friendly form of pest control, actually cause them to become Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits. One dosed-up bunny escapes into the wild and starts breeding with the local population. Suddenly there are hordes of Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits running around, and it's all very ironic. Or something.

In the interests of total fairness, wild rabbits can be surprisingly vicious when pushed to it (ask anyone who's ever read Watership Down, or talk to Jimmy Carter). It's also worth noting that the movie's based on a novel, Russell Braddon's The Year of the Angry Rabbit, which is a sci-fi satire of Australian Politics and the Cold War using that country's perennial efforts to cull its non-native rabbit population as a plot hook. The filmmakers, however, play the story absolutely straight, dropping the novel's Australian setting and comedy elements, resulting in...well, a horror movie about giant, killer bunny rabbits.


And let's face it, casting rabbits as menacing monsters with a lust for human flesh is... proof that when this idea was greenlit the studio execs had just emerged from a decade spent under a rock, being whacked with a stupid stick. The clearly miniscule SFX budget doesn't help.

Eventually, Our Heroes drive the 'shambling hordes' over some electrified train tracks, and the viewer is left to imagine them spending the rest of their lives trying to convince people of how brave they were, saving the world from Thumper.

Interestingly, this movie was famously not featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, despite the show having mentioned it a couple of times, indicating that its creators were aware of it. One can only assume they could not resolve the licensing issues (with a much more prominent studio than is usual among their targets)... or else they thought it would be just too easy. Although it did get the RiffTrax treatment. Best of the Worst also reviewed it.


Not to be confused with The Nasty Rabbit starring Arch Hall, Jr. and written by Arch Hall, Sr., which revolves around a Communist plot to release rabbits infected with a deadly bacteria into the United States.


  • AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: The trailer narration pronounces "mutant" as "Mute-Ant".
  • Adaptation Distillation: Basically, all it has in common with the book are the killer rabbits..
  • Artistic License – Biology: A giant rabbit claws a gap in a wooden floor in an apparent attempt to get at the humans in the cellar. Rabbits, like their distant rodent cousins, could far more easily gnaw their way through wood.
  • Ascended to Carnivorism: The formerly strictly-herbivorous bunnies lust for flesh after becoming giant-sized, and though they do attack some horses and cattle, man is the main dish on their menu. In later scenes, they are shown stampeding to hurl themselves at humans right past edible trees and bushes. There's even a scene where the rabbits raid a produce barn and happily munch on vegetables for a few minutes, then resume their rampage.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Well, they're not quite that big, but they are giant bunny rabbits, and they are attacking.
  • B-Movie: It's hard to believe a major studio (MGM) paid for this movie, let alone ponied up for a decent cast... but they did.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The film calls their threat by their Latin genus, because Night of the Bunnies wouldn't sound threatening.
  • Casting Gag: Paul Fix, who plays Sheriff Cody, was Dr. Piper in the second Star Trek pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before", before being replaced by DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy for the rest of the series.
  • Chroma Key: Very badly done.
  • Covers Always Lie: Or at least misdirect.
    • Likewise for the title. The studio was obviously counting on moviegoers not knowing what "Lepus" means.note 
  • Disaster Movie: Explicitly falls into the ecological 'My God what have we done' subsection.
  • Film of the Book: According to the credits anyway, this is an adaptation of Year of the Angry Rabbit, by Russell Braddon. The book was actually a satire on corrupt politicians and the nuclear arms race, with the addition of killer rabbits as a Diabolus ex Machina. Since they used a different title and completely different plot it isn't clear why they bothered.
  • Hair-Raising Hare. Well. It's what they were gunning for.
  • Hollywood Science: Hey, let's see what this totally unknown serum does to rabbits! Meanwhile, we can leave a young child alone with them!
  • Hot Scientist: It is Janet Leigh, after all...
  • Idiot Houdini: The little girl who switches out the bunnies in the first place, aided and abetted by the little boy who subsequently allows the dosed-up one to escape. Her father, who's running the experiment, is similarly never punished or so much as scolded for the clearly lax security measures that allowed this to happen.
  • Kent Brockman News: The movie begins with a report delivered by Jerry Dunphy, who was the inspiration for the Trope Namer.
  • Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits: And not a Holy Hand Grenade in sight.
  • Kill It with Fire: How the main characters try to deal with the rabbits.
  • Lab Pet: The movie's set-up. The scientist's daughter has grown attached to one of the test rabbits, so when told she can have one from the control group for a pet, she swaps it out for the test bunny. When said test rabbit escapes, it leads directly to the invasion of giant rabbits.
  • Monochrome Casting: There's only one black (minor) character in the entire movie, Dr. Leopold.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer goes out of its way to avoid showing any Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits, which of course raises the question: if you realize your monsters aren't scary, why would you still make a movie about them?
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Throughout the movie Lepus is pronounced as alternately "Leap-Us" or "Leh-Pus." And both are wrong (it's pronounced the same as 'leper').
  • Our Monsters Are Different: Which in this case mostly means 'amazingly stupid.'
  • Overcrank: The film tries to make the rabbits scary by shooting them in slow-motion. It doesn't work.
  • People in Rubber Suits: The monster rabbits actually required to attack? Those are guys in bunny suits.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • If you told a local sheriff that there are Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits heading towards town, they'd automatically assume you're either drunk or hiding a candid camera. The authorities in the movie, by contrast, seem perfectly OK with this concept.
    • One police officer interrupts a showing at a Drive-In Theater to ask for assistance in dealing with a herd of Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits. Literally, all he says is "There is a herd of giant killer bunnies coming this way, and we need your help!" Not ONE person in the entire drive-in so much as raises an eyebrow at this before fully complying (and they all bring their kids along!).
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Lampshaded in the RiffTrax. "Now THAT'S how you scream like a little girl!"
  • The '70s: Ooh yeah.
  • Shout-Out: If you look carefully, you can see a few seconds of this movie on the TV in The Matrix when Neo walks into the Oracle's apartment. Bits of footage also appear in the movie Natural Born Killers.
  • Slow Motion: Used to make bunnies on miniature sets look menacing. This fails spectacularly.
  • Slurpasaur: A non-reptilian example when the giant bunnies are played by actual bunnies.
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: For wild animals supposedly driven to turn predatory due to the exhaustion of their usual food sources, the killer bunnies all look really well-fed and groomed. They also exhibit a variety of domestic coat patterns, which is inconsistent with a single domestic ancestor's genes having blended with those of a large wild-type rabbit population.
  • The Watson: The actual reason Amanda, Roy and Gerry's daughter, is allowed to hang around the lab asking questions while the experiments are ongoing is clearly to give her parents a chance to lay out the scientific exposition for the viewer.


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