• Night Of The Lepus



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: June 19th, 2018.
    Director: William F. Claxton
    Cast: Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley, Melanie Fullerton, Paul Fix
    Year: 1972
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    The Movie:

    Based on the book by author Russell Braddon, William F. Claxton’s 1972 adaptation of Night Of The Lepus opens with some stock footage of a news report showing how dangerous rabbits can be when their population grows out of control. From here, we cut to the great state of Arizona where the rabbit population is doing just that. Husband and wife scientist team Rou (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry Bennett (Janet Leigh) are asked to see what can be done and take some captured rabbits back to their lab to experiment. It’s then that their daughter, Amanda (Melanie Fullerton), lets loose a rabbit that’s been injected with an experimental serum and, once that rabbit escapes back into the general population…. Well, you know what they say about rabbits and breeding.

    Soon enough, a miner named Captain Billy turns up dead and various other locals are killed. The Bennetts team up with rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) and pal Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley) to stop the now fairly massive rabbits from killing even more innocent bystanders. When the cops, led by Sheriff Cody (Paul Fix) find that this is beyond what they can do alone, the military is called in – but will even they be tough enough to stop a horde of 150lb rabbits from rampaging across the Grand Canyon State?

    Considerably gorier than you might expect it to be (at one point a victim is shown dismembered and at another point the camera scrolls slowly across the aftermath of an attack showing two parents and their four children lying dead and bloody!), Night Of The Lepus is eighty-eight minutes of wonderful nonsense. There are a lot of optical and green screen effects used here to ‘enlarge’ what are clearly just regular ol’ bunnies to supersized proportions – they rarely work well, but they are fun to see. There’s definitely a certain charm to seeing them used as often as they are here, and the sight of a few dozen or so ‘giant’ rabbits running past what are obviously little models built specifically to be tramped on a bunch of fuzzy thumpers is both amusing and endearing in its own strange way. So yeah, not really a particularly good movie, Night Of The Lepus is at least a really fun one. Claxton paces things reasonably well, using the first twenty-minutes or so to setup the plot and deliver enough character development that we can tell the different players apart even if we never feel like we ‘know’ them. There’s a great score here too, really one of the more effective aspects of the movie is Jimmie Haskell’s work in that department.

    A big part of the appeal (aside from the obvious bunny factor), however, is the cast. While it’s tough to call anyone that acted in front of the camera an A-lister at this point in their respective careers, it’s still pretty amazing to see who pops up in a modestly budgeted picture about killer rabbits. Janet Leigh should need no introduction to anyone reading this website, she’d worked with Hitchcock not all that long before this film was made, while Rory Calhoun had been acting for roughly thirty years at the time this picture was made, popping up in a lot of westerns and action films. If Stuart Whitman was never a marquee star, he should have been because he’s great – he appeared in scores of films, all of varying degrees of respectability and of course, DeForest Kelley – immortalized as Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy on Star Trek – had also been acting in film and television for a few decades at this point. Seeing a cast of this caliber going up against giant rabbits is kind of great.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Scream Factory brings Night Of The Lepus to Blu-ray framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a new ‘2K Scan From The Original Film Elements’ and it looks really good. Detail is strong throughout and the elements were clearly in great shape – there’s very little print damage here save for some stock footage insert shots and a couple of optical effects shots. Skin tones look nice and natural and color reproduction looks spot on. Black levels are nice and solid while there’s a good amount of depth and texture to the image. The transfer is nice and film-like, sporting some appropriately natural film grain throughout and appearing devoid of any noise reduction or edge enhancement. The film is also given plenty of breathing room, so there are no compression artifacts to report. All in all, a very nice job on the transfer.

    The only audio option for the feature is the picture’s original English track presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems here – the movie sounds just fine. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow while the levels are properly balanced. There are a few spots where some of the sound effects sound a tad louder than you’d expect, which might cause you to reach for your remote if you’re watching it late at night while your wife is asleep nearby, but that’s just part of the fun – when those rabbits squeal, you hear it! The score sounds good here too. Again, Shout’s done fine work.

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary by author Lee Gambin, the writer of Massacred By Mother Nature: Exploring The Natural Horror Film. Gambin does a nice job of contrasting and comparing the film to other ‘animals attack’ style pictures, pointing out the social commentary in this particular entry in the genre and doing a great job of explaining the enduring appeal of pictures like this. He also talks about the source material that the film was based on and offers up plenty of details on the cast and crew that were involved in the production and some of the effects work featured in the picture (agreeing that it’s pretty strong considering its PG rating). The disc also contains a second exclusive audio commentary by pop culture historian Russell Dyball. While the two tracks do occasionally overlap, surprisingly enough Dyball manages to tread quite a bit of new ground which makes his track just as interesting. He too covers a lot of the cast and crew details, but also provides some insight into what he feels works and doesn’t, Claxton’s directing style, how the film wound up being produced by MGM and quite a bit more. Between the two tracks, there’s a whole lot of Night Of The Lepus information in here to digest!

    Aside from the commentary tracks we get a theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a radio spot, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Night Of The Lepus is a ridiculous movie but it’s got plenty of legitimate cult appeal and it’s easy to see why it remains a fan-favorite. Sure, the concept is bonkers but the effects are a lot of fun and the movie really does have a great cast. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray presents the film in excellent quality and with some nice extras too – it won’t likely win over those who don’t appreciate the film for what it is, but for those who do this disc is easily recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!