The irrepressible Brick Wahl joins our hardy band of commentators just in time for a Halloween look back at one of the oddest horror films of the ’70s.
By Brick Wahl
I stayed up way late last night to watch the epic Night of the Lepus once again. Janet Leigh, Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun, Bones and a whole bunch of huge, crazed, carnivorous rabbits. We’re talking late night early 70’s eco-horror at it’s finest. Or to quote the sheriff:
“Ladies and Gentleman, there’s a herd of giant killer rabbits coming this way and we desperately need your help.” Delivered straight. High beams flash and horns blow in appreciation.
I have to say that it’s been 35 years since I first heard that line and it still packs a punch. I was young then, a smarmy teen, and laughed in hysterics when I first heard it… Last night I listened in admiration at the hapless little fuck of a nothing actor forced to utter it (through a megaphone no less), and wondering about who the talentless hack was who wrote it, and how could he have ever written it, and was he drunk at the time, or suicidal, knowing full well that this was his one shot at the big time, any kind of big time, and all he could come up was a line about giant rabbits. Audiences must have laughed themselves silly. No one blamed the actor…who was far enough from the camera to maintain a degree of anonymity, thank god…but only the youngest children in those seats, popcorn all over their laps and ssssshing their giggling older brothers, could not fail to see just how pathetic that sentence was.
Now, though, I’m older, lots older. I’m not a rock star, or President, or a world famous writer or world famous anything. I don’t live in one of those big houses on the hill. So I can feel the pain of the actor with that megaphone. He needed the bread. He had bills to pay, mouths to feed (and not rabbit mouths). We all do humiliating things. We have all uttered warnings about metaphorical herds of killer rabbits. Or something to that effect. Just not so incredibly stupid.
The wife and I drove across the lonely stretches of the Colorado Plateau this past summer. It’s that highland, arid, dry grasses, sparse, so lonely, that stretches from the northern third of Arizona to the Rockies, and north into Utah and Colorado. There’s nothing there. Cattle, lean and weather beaten. Some small towns, abandoned farms. Nights are vast and black and full UFO’s and other scary things. Days are haunted by long vanished Indian civilizations. I love it there. This was the setting for the movie. Way out there. At some point on a trek, when we get off the interstate and head off on some state highway or county road and things get really empty out there, I think of Night of the Lepus. To me, the high Arizona desert and those goddamn rabbits are permanently enmeshed. And at some point on the trek, I find myself saying aloud that there’s a herd of giant killer rabbits heading this way.
Which kinda wrecks the whole mood, since it’s the stupidest line from the stupidest critters-gone-wild flick ever. Dumber even than Frogs, where the vicious racist wheelchair-bound Ray Milland gets his karmic comeuppance from a house full of just regular sized frogs who apparently will kill him in some unexplained way (I swear, they’re just regular ol’ frogs), or dumber even than a terrified Marjoe Gortner asking Ida Lupino where’s she’d gotten that big chicken (it was a big chicken).
But there is nothing so profoundly dumb as killer bunnies. Huge fluffy killer bunnies. Not even DeForrest Kelly can make it believable. And he dealt with Lizard Men, salt creatures, and hortas. He just looked sad in that little mustache. I hope Janet Leigh was nice to him.
But I digress.