Here’s what happened. In 1965, an Australian author named Russell Braddon wrote a political satire called The Year of the Angry Rabbit. The book is set in the future (that is, the late 1990s, which was the future in the mid-1960s) and details what happens when a myxomatosis-resistant strain of rabbit appears and becomes the scourge of Australian farmers. The government develops a chemical weapon that is supposed to kill off the rabbits, but instead proves fatal to humans, not rabbits. The Australian government decides to use this weapon to try to take over the world. As I said, it’s political satire, and is supposed to be pretty funny in a deeply cynical way (I have not read it and, since even Amazon can’t get it for less than $70, I suspect I will continue to not read it).
Somehow, someone in Hollywood got the bright idea to option the book, but take out all the satire, change the setting to the southwest United States, and make the rabbit-killing drug instead turn the rabbits into giant man-eaters. And thus we ended up with the 1972 “horror” movie Night of the Lepus, one of the classic bad movies of all time.
It stars Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun (not the UConn basketball coach, but the actor who stood on his hind legs), and DeForest Kelley (“Bones” from Star Trek). Actually, what many people don’t realize is that Janet Leigh has been down this road before. In the original draft of Psycho, Norman Bates attacks her in the shower dressed not as his mother, but instead as a giant rabbit. Hitchcock wisely made some script changes.
Other entries in this Mis-Treatment series of silly sci-fi movie recaps include:
Gammera the InvincibleNight of the Lepus (1972)
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet
The Wasp Woman
The Horrors of Spider Island
The Atomic Brain
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World
Auteur/Perpetrator: William F. Claxton (he directed this shortly after installing the first printing press in England—oh, wait, that was William Caxton; never mind)
Star(s) of Shame: Take your pick
Monster: Giant flesh-eating bunnies
“Plot”: Um, well, giant flesh-eating bunnies...what more need be said?
By the way, here’s a bit of nerdiana for you (OK, us) Trekkies out there: the movie co-stars, along with DeForest Kelley, Paul Fix, who played the U.S.S. Enterprise’s chief medical officer in the second Star Trek pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Too bad they couldn’t get John Hoyt, who was the ship’s doctor in the first Star Trek pilot. Then it would have been a hat trek. Ahem.
Also, let’s get this out of the way right at the outset:
That’s no ordinary rabbit! That’s the most foul, bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on....That rabbit’s got a vicious streak a mile wide! He’s a killer! He’ll do you up a treat, mate. He’s got huge, sharp... He can leap about... Look at the bones!Anyway, moving right along. I hit Play, and oh, no, a lion! Oh, wait, that’s just the MGM logo. We open on a newsreader, discussing the population explosion. “We think of it in terms of human beings.” Well, yes, what else would we think of it as? Table lamps? “Will they have enough clean air to breathe?” In all the discussions of overpopulation, I have never heard “not having enough air” coming up. Is there a danger of running out? “Will there be enough food to feed an increasing number of mouths?” Maybe we need to breed people without mouths. That would solve the problem, right? “Nature, up to now, has maintained a carefully controlled balance.” It has?
He then cues up a film. Uh oh. Whenever these types of movies open with a pseudodocumentary explaining the premise, you know it’s going to be a tough one to swallow. In this case, the documentary is called “Rabbits Threaten Pastoral Lands of Australia.” How does this tie in with overpopulation? “This imbalance occasionally happens in the animal world.” I would say it almost entirely happens in the animal world. We then zoom into the grainy black-and-white footage of a plague of rabbits Down Under, “rabbits so numerous they threaten man’s existence by devouring crops, killing animals, and destroying property.” What about delivering colored eggs. That’s never good. Wait...rabbits kill animals? How does that happen? “Does man have a right to defend himself against an enemy that threatens his life and property?” Oh, but I kid the health insurance industry...
On the screen, we see herds of rabbits scrambling here and there. Looks kind of fun, actually, especially when they bounce against the rabbit-proof fence. Boing! Hee hee. Boing! That looks like fun. Can we watch this for 88 minutes? Please? (There is no truth to the rumor, by the way, that the 2002 movie Rabbit-Proof Fence was a remake of Night of the Lepus.) So how did the rabbits get there? Apparently, they were imported to Australia as a food source, and their reproduction got out of control. You have to admit, you wouldn’t have had the same problem with, say, potato chips or Snickers bars, although that would make for an interesting movie—chocolate bars running rampant across the landscape, hurling themselves against candy bar-proof fences, killing animals, devouring crops. It would be no more ridiculous than this movie.
We then cut to an on-screen graphic you don’t see very often: “Rabbit War”! Not many people realize this but in the original draft of the Star Wars saga, Lucas originally had, in lieu of the Clone Wars, the Rabbit Wars, where the Jedi Knights fought against wave after wave of killer rabbits. Come to think of it, it might have been a better movie than Attack of the Clones. But wait, about that rabbit war: “U.S. Battles Pests to Save New Trees.” How did we get from protecting man from threats to his very existence to saving trees? Apparently, all over the American west “the same battle lines have been drawn.” Isn’t it mostly desert? Wouldn’t the problem sort itself out before too long? We are told that “Science is doing everything it can to control this population explosion.” Not scientists, but science. I would have thought a few ranchers with shotguns would pretty much take care of the problem—hell, that pretty much took care of the passenger pigeon.
Okay, newsman, bring us on home: “Right now, a new plague of rabbits has broken out in the Southwest, as seen in these color films just received from our news team in Arizona.” I’ve been to Arizona; it’s mostly desert. How does a plague of anything break out?
We are then told that the rabbit is “scientifically known as Lepus.” Actually, that’s not true. Hares—of which there are 30 different species—are biologically distinct from rabbits (hares have longer ears, longer hind feet, and longer tails than rabbits) and are classified under the genus Lepus. Rabbits—28 species of them—are classified into 10 different genera (Sylvilagus, Pronolagus, Nesolagus, Brachylagus, Bunolagus, Caprolagus, Oryctolagus, Pentalagus, Poelagus, and Romerolagus; I suppose Night of the Sylvilagus doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). Both rabbits and hares belong to the family Leporidae. But, well, I suppose that’s just splitting ha— oh, let’s not go there. It’s a good thing this is only the night of the Lepus. If it was the year of the Lepus, could we call it a Lepus year? Anyway, moving right along...
The newsreader ends on an ominous note: “Can this population explosion be contained?” Cue titles...
Okay, so, there is a plague of rabbits in the Southwest, and science is being called on to stop them. Got the premise? Good. Let the carnage begin...
But first, the tender “Love Theme from Night of the Lepus.” This is interesting: the director of photography was Ted Voigtlander who, as it happens, was the director of photography for the TV series Wild Wild West, each episode of which was titled “The Night of...” something. Not many people know this, but there is actually a union rule in Hollywood that stipulates if you title a production “The Night of” something, you are contractually required to call Ted.
The movie also co-stars I. Stanford Jolley. There’s not much else he will stand for; I stand for even less.
All right, that done, we see rancher Cole Hillman (Rory, not John C., Calhoun) riding his horse across the prairie. There are a number of mounds, which contain rabbit holes. They’re pretty clear to see and maneuver around, but Hillman rides his horse directly into one, and the horse trips in a hole, and goes down. The horse’s leg is presumably broken, as Hillman then shoots the horse. Don’t blame the rabbits for that one, buddy; you could easily have ridden around the rabbit mound. I hope this guy doesn’t own a car.
Hillman walks back to his ranch, and sends a ranchhand out to retrieve his saddle from the dead horse. He couldn’t have carried it? He gets on the phone and calls Mildred, presumably the telephone operator. Ah, those were the days, when telephone operators ran the world. “Get me president Elgin Clark at the college in A-hole.” In what? Oh, Ajo; I get it. He was a trifle brusque and we get the sense that Mildred is reading him the riot act, because he apologizes. You didn’t mess with telephone operators back then; it would be like dissing the Pope.
Cut to the college and Hillman is walking briskly across the campus with said president Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley). “These rabbits are eating me out of house and home,” says Hillman. “Dammit, Jim, what the hell do you want me to do about it?” No, wait... Bones, I mean president Clark, has set up a meeting with Professor Taylor. “Not that guy,” says Hillman. Taylor had gotten rid of Hillman’s coyote problem. “He’s just a little bit too good.” Huh? “I haven’t heard a coyote yapping around there in over a year.” Is that bad? “That’s terrific news for the rabbits, but lousy for me.” There’s no pleasing this guy, is there? Clark then offers Hillman Plan B: a young couple from the east named Bennett. They are there on an exchange program. Exchange program? Anyway, they are working on “new ways to control insects without killing everything else at the same time.” That is a noble cause. Did they phrase it that way in their grant proposal? Naturally, Hillman is a grouch. “I got rabbits, not bugs. There’s nothing left for the bugs to live on.” Then what are the rabbits living on? Are they having pizzas delivered? “Trust me, Cole,” says Clark. “They won’t go around killing everything in sight.” Who, the Bennetts? Do they put that on their resumes?
Cut to said Bennetts, Roy (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry (Janet Leigh, who is starting to bear a slight resemblance to Norman Bates’ mother by this time). The sky is thick with bats (kind of like my old apartment) and the Bennetts are standing outside a cave, picking bats off a mesh fence they had set up across mouth of the cave. It’s about noon. Aren’t bats nocturnal? Why are they flying around at this hour? Are they insomniac bats? Gerry smiles lovingly at Roy as he cuts a bat loose from the mesh. I’m guessing these two get Halloween and Valentine’s Day confused. They are joined in this endeavor by their eight-or-so-year-old daughter Amanda, whom I will henceforth refer to as The Cause, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
Roy is carrying the bats in a wooden box and starts shaking it vigorously. Is that really the best way to handle live bats? Why not pitch the box off a cliff, or throw it in front of a truck. Jeepers. He then holds a microphone up to the box. Is he interviewing the bats? he says he is “trying to record their sound.” Yeah, man, the bat sound was all the rage in 1972. He shoos the womenfolk away, and Gerry makes some joke to Amanda about how “bats like hair.” No, that’s actually a myth. I think this movie needed a science advisor because so far it has gotten just about everything wrong.
President Clark arrives and is greeted by Gerry, and Roy is trying to keep them quiet so he can record his bat sounds. He keeps banging on the box to get them to squeak. “That’s the cry of fear,” he says smugly. Yeah, wait for Act III, pal. Heh. So what the heck is this guy working on? “If we can drive them away with that sound of fear, we can control their entire flight,” he explains. Huh? “By introducing them into areas infested with mosquitoes, we can get them to do the same job that DDT does.” So...he’s trying to figure out ways of persuading bats to eat the things they normally eat already. Are these bats on a hunger strike as well as being insomniac? I think president Clark should ask for the grant money back. Clark then asks a favor, involving Cole Hillman. “He’s got a rabbit explosion.” “Rabbits aren’t exactly Roy’s bag,” says Gerry. She’s right; the rabbit-skin handbag doesn’t go with his shoes. Bones, I mean Clark, is persistent. “Cole Hillman’s on your side. He’s trying to avoid poison.” Roy is nonplused. Clark continues, “Once those rabbits spread out, ranchers will bomb the whole countryside with cyanide.” Uh, really? Is that a good idea? That gets Roy’s attention, as well it should, and they head on up to Hilman’s ranch.
They drive past ranchers shooting rabbits, and The Cause is upset. “I like rabbits, mommy,” she says. Yeah, wait a couple of acts, kid. Heh.
Roy examines a rabbit. “Out here in the southwest, they’re called Silver Lagers.” What? How many silver lagers has this guy had? Hillman explains where the rabbits came from. Someone was raising domesticated rabbits, he had a fire, and a couple hundred got away. “Oh, so these are mongrels,” says Gerry. Mongrel rabbits? (I stand corrected; according to the Microsoft Encarta, the term “mongrel” can be used to refer to any animal or plant that is a mixture of different breeds or strains.” Okay, movie, I’ll give you that one.)
Hillman then asks how the rabbit plagues were take care of in Australia and New Zealand. “Poison,” says Roy. No, that’s not what they used (they introduced the disease myxomatosis, caused by the Myxoma virus, and which is only lethal to rabbits). “But the poison killed the birds which caused a plague of grasshoppers just as bad as the rabbits.” No, it didn’t; now he’s just making stuff up. Maybe that college town was called A-hole, since that seems to be where he’s pulling all his facts from.
Roy then come up with a hare-brained idea: “Hormones.” Isn’t that kind of what caused the problem in the first place? The idea is to “disturb their breeding cycle.” Or, he also suggests, “a disease that would affect only the rabbits.” Oh, like, um, myxomatosis? Roy then asks to borrow a few rabbits to make some tests. A rabbit test? Gerry had said that rabbits were not Roy’s bag, and truer words have never been spoken.
I think for Roy’s edification, we should cue up Radiohead’s “Myxomatosis” (actually the best track on their Hail to the Thief album...well, okay, “2+2=5” is pretty good, too).
As Roy is filling up a galvanized trash can with rabbits (!) one bites Hillman. Roys says, “You should have that looked at. the bite of the Lepus—that’s a Latin word for rabbit—can be dangerous.” Come on, Roy, you know you want to add, “Thousands of people are killed each year by rabbit bites. See, rabbits are poisonous and their venom is 100 times deadlier than that of the black widow spider. In fact, rabbits have been known to spin silk webs and trap their prey in it.” I mean, if he’s gonna make stuff up, he may as well go all out. Anyway, it bears pointing out that any bite or cut can be dangerous if it gets infected.
Some time later, we are at the college which, if it hired Roy, can’t possibly be accredited. The Cause is examining a row of rabbit cages—I guess this is Roy’s rabbit test. Gerry explains hormone experiments to an eight-year-old: “Well, we were trying to make Jack a little more like Jill and Jill a little more like Jack.” Just show her Dame Edna’s show. Adds Roy, “We can’t shoot them full of hormones without sending their nervous system into shock.” They’re rabbits; what doesn’t send their nervous system into shock? “We could spend months developing the correct lab procedure. Well, nothing seems to work.” He the takes out a test tube and fills a hypodermic needle with its contents. “On the other hand, here’s something they’ve never been exposed to before.” Raspberry preserves—but why? “Dr. Dirkson from the Public Health Department sent it over this morning.” Is he a member of the Mysterious Vial of Fluid of the Month Club? Gerry grabs a rabbit, which I suspect is affectionately named Keith Richards. “I wish I knew what the effects of this serum would be.” Is this guy just injecting random liquids into rabbits? Forget whether that’s ethical; is it even sensible? “I’m going to try some windshield wiper fluid next. And then get me a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth syrup.”
As Keith Richards the rabbit is removed from the cage, The Cause cries out, “Not that one, mommy. It’s my favorite.” They’re all the same, you little— As he injects the rabbit, Roy says, “This is a villain in certain birth defects.” The rabbit, the serum, or the kid? Oh, must be the serum. He continues, “It causes hereditary changes.” Gerry asks, “Will it transfer to other rabbits?” “I should hope so. It’s difficult to inject 10–15,000 wild rabbits.” So...birth defects are contagious? What? This guy doesn’t really have a degree in anything, does he? Okay, so, the serum causes some kind of genetic mutation which can somehow be transferred to other rabbits. Okay movie, if that’s your premise, let’s move along...
At that point, Hillman calls, and after Gerry puts the “infected” rabbit back in its cage, she conveniently joins Roy on a teleconference...why they need to have a lengthy teleconference with that guy is anyone’s guess. But it does give Amanda the opportunity to surreptitiously switch the infected rabbit with one from the control group. Good one, kid.
But wait a minute: after they hang up—and, by the way, they have this conversation conveniently out of view of the rabbit cages—Roy says, “Cole says the rabbits are getting meaner and hungrier.” Why then do you need to muck about with hormones or sera? If they’re hungry, that means their food supply is dwindling, which in turn means that the population will soon correct itself . This is what you guys are actually talking about when you rabbit on about “nature’s balance.” Any animal population grows or shrinks based on the available food. Although it occurs to me that the real question is: why am I going on about this in a recap of a dumb killer rabbit movie? Oy...
Anyway, as The Cause is busy switching the rabbits, Roy says, “Heaven help us if any of these rabbits get away before we know the effects of the serum.” Dum dum dum!
The Cause then pleads with her parents to let her have one of the rabbits as a pet. They agree. “One from the Control Group?” asks Gerry. They’re not real clear on the whole science thing are they?
Naturally, The Cause chooses the one she had switched—which is to say, the infected one. Let the fun begin.
To make matters worse, The Cause shows off her rabbit to Jackie, Hillman’s son, who, quite understandably, hates rabbits. “They killed my chickens!” And you know what they say about a boy and his chickens. So he grabs the rabbit and lets it run away. Now we’re off to the races! Jackie apologizes; The Cause is oddly forgiving.
Back in the lab, the “scientists” have noticed that rabbits injected with the serum are getting bigger. “One more week and these won’t be babies anymore.” Wait a minute—they’re experimenting on juvenile rabbits? Then of course they’re getting bigger! If was a bold choice of president Bones to let Ph.D.’s in business administration run the Biology Department. “If Cole’s gonna use poison, he’d better do it soon.” Then what are they doing there?
Out here in the fields, where the rabbits fight for their meals...ahem. Out in the fields, Hillman is pouring gasoline in the ground. Apparently his plan is to...uh...burn the rabbits? Can that be right? His neighbor confronts him and says that poison would be a preferable alternative.
Kill the wabbits...kill the wabbits...
They light up the field, and we watch as tons of rabbits scamper away...presumably the infected one, too.
Some time later (that same day? A week later? A month?) Hillman, Roy, and Gerry are out riding in the field, and Gerry spots a strange animal track. They all muse about what it could be. Hillman estimates that the animal that made it is about 100–150 pounds. Big Rabbit Foot?
Meanwhile, The Cause and Jackie are hanging out and Jackie wants to introduce her to a friend of his—Captain Billy (?), who owns a gold mine. A gold mine? “Well, he hasn’t found much yet, but he says he’s going to.” Ah, so in the same way that I’m a millionaire, but I just haven’t made a million dollars yet. Got it.
Over at the “gold mine,” Captain Billy is nowhere to be found, but the house (well, shack) is a shambles. Jackie notices some large animal tracks in some flour that had spilled on the floor. The Cause wanders into the mine and finds Captain Billy...on the ground, being eaten by giant rabbits. He’s dead, Jim. Take a good look kid...this is all your fault! We then get the first of many many closeups of rabbits’ faces smeared with red paint; apparently the best way to convey their huge size is to shoot them in extreme closeup. The Cause screams. As well she should.
At Roy’s house, the doctor pronounces The Cause’s problem as “mild shock.” She should be given a mild shock. Jackie is asked if he saw anything. “I can’t be sure. It all happened so fast.” No it didn’t; it took forever. Glaciers move faster. Gerry says, “Something must have happened. She didn’t just imagine it. Amanda’s too sensible.” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Only a mother... Then again, Janet Leigh has the same reaction to showers, I would imagine.
Roy says he’s going to talk to Dr. Dirkson...for some reason.
That night, a truck is driving in the middle of nowhere, and pulls off the side of the road. The truck says “Refrigerated Lines” on the side. Hm. Someone is delivering the movie’s dialogue. Why does it need to be refrigerated? God knows it’s already turned.
For some reason, the driver opens the back of the truck seemingly for no other reason than to attract creatures. Which he does. We then get a montage of rabbit faces and low growling. Something leaps, and the truck driver screams. He’s dead, Jim.
Jump cut to he next morning and a police car pulls over to where the truck has been left. Interesting police car. There are no markings on it, but it does have two red lights on the roof. I guess the county wasn’t too clear on the concept of unmarked police cars. Deputy Jason (not wearing a hockey mask) looks inside the cab of the truck, then in the back of the truck, then notices all the empty boxes on the ground directly behind the truck—and, finally, the horribly bloody and dismembered driver. I’ve had mornings like that. I guess he is under strict orders to make sure the truck was all right first because the body would have been completely visible from his car as he pulled up.
The deputy must have made a call when we weren’t looking, because another police car pulls up—Sheriff Cody (Paul Fix). “What’s so urgent?” growls the sheriff. Now the deputy is in a fix. The deputy points out the body. “What’d they use on him, an axe?” Why the rabbits didn’t eat the guy is a good question. And if they weren’t going to eat him, why just randomly sever his limbs? For sport? The sheriff then gets a call. “What?!” he barks. “Get the body into town. Get Doc Wilson to do a post on him immediately.” What? They’re going to put a post on him? Oh, I get it, the sheriff’s department has a blog and they’re going to do a blog post about the dead body. Okay. “Looks like we got another one.” That is, Captain Billy’s body had been found, “hacked to pieces.” Maybe it was Steve Hackett.
At the lab, or, more precisely, from what it looks like, a dentist’s waiting room, Dr. Leopold is examining...something through a microscope and waxing poetic about how much you can uncover by looking at things through a microscope. He holds up a damaged aluminum can. “This can was not opened with an axe.” What about a can opener? “Something punctured the metal.” Wow, Quincy’s got nothing on this guy. (I guess I should say the CSI people have nothing on this guy; why dwell in the past...except for the fact that I liked Quincy a lot more than I like CSI.) “The crates on the truck weren’t broken either. They were gnawed.” He then rattles off an entire thesaurus entry for “gnawed.” He also found traces of dried saliva on the cans, the boxes, and the victim. Sheriff Cody then looks through the microscope, sees some red and yellow wriggling ooze, and is satisfied. Was that dried saliva? “What have we got here—vampires?” he growls. “Possibly,” says the medical examiner with a straight face. “The only thing that could have caused this sort of destruction is a saber-toothed tiger. As a matter of fact, a lot of them.” Does he have a lot of data on saber-toothed tiger attacks on delivery trucks? If so, that’s quite a feat, since they’ve been extinct for a few thousand years. Is there some other medical examiner they can consult?
Meanwhile, another cop radios in from some picnic grounds, where a family of four has been “horribly mutilated.” They’re dead, Jim. We’ve all had family outings like that. We then pan slowly over the bloody corpses—and again the bodies are simply smeared with red paint. Why didn’t the rabbits eat them? Did they prefer the potato salad?
Back at the Ajo State College and Delicatessen, The Bennetts and president Clark are conferring with Dr. Dirkson, who has been studying abnormalities and birth defects all his life—“which comes pretty close to home for me,” he says. That explains the hair. Says Roy, “Rabbits as big and as ferocious as wolves? That’s inconceivable.” This explanation should be good. Says Dr. Dirkson, “The genetic code for every living thing is contained in each cell of that organism.” No, it’s not. What about red blood cells, which lack nuclei? “Assuming we introduced defective cells into that one rabbit, it’s conceivable that we could have created the seeds for a mutated species.” Roy finds this inconceivable. Now wait a minute—wasn’t this his entire plan for getting rid of the rabbits in the first place, introducing genetic mutations that could then be passed along to other rabbits? And wasn’t he remarking earlier that he noticed the rabbits getting bigger? “It’s just too hard to believe and I won’t until I see one.” Heh. Wait a few minutes. “All we have to go on is what Amanda had to say.” Maybe she sees Harvey. It is suggested that the sheriff be notified, but Bones, I mean Clark, thinks a cover up would be a better idea. “Can you imagine the kind of sensational publicity that would bring down on the university if it became generally known?” Dammit, Jim, I’m a college president, not a scientist! (You knew that was coming.) I think your college’s reputation is far more endangered by hiring professors who don’t actually know anything about their field of study.
Roy agrees. He tells Gerry to call Hillman and have him join him. “Tell him to bring poison feed, cyanide, dynamite, and anything else he can think of.” Soup? Baking powder? Mini marshmallows? Plastic tubing? Swim fins? A snorkel? I mean, someone can easly think of a lot of things. But he still doubts that there are any giant rabbits. Says Dr. Dirkson, “I don’t suppose there’s a chance you could bring back one of those rabbits alive.” Roy just wanders way. So, the answer is “no.”
They drive out to the mineshaft. Inside, we see closeups of bunny faces. Outside, Roy orders Bones and another guy, Frank, to go to the top of the hill and see if there are any other openings...to allow the things he doesn’t think exist to escape. Hillman goes into the mine to set the charges to blow up the things that Roy doesn’t think exist. Up top, Bones, I mean Clark, radios down and tells Roy that he has found additional holes, created presumably by the things that Roy doesn’t think exist. Bones then has an idea; he drops a tiny rock into the hole, and we hear a mad scramble of giant rabbits. Bones holds the radio up to the hole and lets Roy listen.
Roy abruptly decides that he wants to go in and investigate whatever is in the mine that was making the weird noises. “Whatever’s back in there is a mystery. If we cave it in, we’ll never know.” Oh, come on, pal; you’ve proven at all turns up to this point that you’re really a high school gym teacher, so don’t start pretending you’re an actual scientist now. He says that he is going to try to pull one of them out. “Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my...cave?” He says he wants to analyze its cells and blood, “Or if I can’t do that, I’ll take a picture of it.” Or, if he can’t do that, an amusing caricature. Hillman decides to go in with him. Gerry takes her own sweet time to call Bones and tell him to hold off on setting off the dynamite. Not that I can blame her.
Inside the mine, Hillman says, “We must be in about half a mile by now.” No, you’re not, you’ve gone about six feet. More closeups of bunny faces. The insomniac bats are up and active. Hillman believes the rabbits are right around the corner. He lifts his gun. “Don’t shoot,” says Roy. “The whole place’ll come down on us.” Really? They round the corner and lo and behold: the rabbits! Roy takes out his Kodak Instamatic and starts snapping pictures. “There must be thousands of them. This must be their breeding ground.” I think a rabbit’s breeding ground is pretty much wherever rabbits happen to be at any given time. We are then treated to another means of conveying the huge size of the rabbits: having proper sized rabbits hop about a miniature set. Hillman and Roy decide to run. However, Roy is attacked by one, and we are treated to the third, and to my mind best, way of conveying the rabbit’s size: quick cuts to a guy in a bunny suit. Hillman smacks the bunny-suited guy in the head with the butt of his rifle. He (that is, Hillman, not the guy in the bunny suit) and Roy run.
Meanwhile, a short distance away, a giant rabbit emerges from a brand new hole and charges into the wooden shack, where one of the guys—Jud—is eating something. Immediately, the guy in the bunny suit jumps on him. Peter Cottontail, no! Gerry hears him screaming and runs in with the rifle. Closeups of the guy being strangled by bloody, hairy paws are intercut with closeups of a proper rabbit covered in red paint, and the effect doesn’t quite work. Gerry starts shooting, and the guy in the bunny suit jumps out the window. Jud is horribly mauled and covered in blood and is in shock. Gerry consoles him as if he just got a paper cut. “We gotta get out of here,” says Jud. “They ain’t coming out of the mine alive.” Meaning, I guess, Hillman and Roy. “Yes, they are,” says Gerry. “And we’re not going anywhere.” Shouldn’t they get this guy to a hospital or something? He’s lost rather a lot of blood by the looks of it.
The rabbits in hot pursuit, Hillman and Roy barely make it out of the mine. As they run through the adit (hey, I get to use a crossword puzzle word) they shout to blow the mine. Which they do. Is that the end of the rabbits? Well, the movie is only half over so, no.
Some time later (that same day? Next week? A month?) Roy, Gerry, and Bones are looking at the photograph Roy had taken of the rabbits. How come no one has asked how an infected rabbit got loose? The Cause should get her effect, if there’s any justice. They finally decide to tell Sheriff Cody. Everyone is afraid to broach the subject with him, aren’t they? It’s only Paul Fix. Don’t they call him The Fixer? Roy is suddenly afraid that after the picture hits the newspapers, the press will be all over the place, and he suggests that Gerry and The Cause should flee. Funny, he was cool with them being around the giant rabbits, but the press? Gasp! Anything but that! Says Gerry, “I suppose we’ll drive up to Wooddale and stay at the lodge.” Yep: “I know this little motel away from the interstate. Run by a Norman Something-or-other.”
As they share a tender moment, the rabbits stir inside the mine, and find a way out. Now they’re on the move and hop through a Lionel model train set on their way toward the Hillman ranch. They spook the horses, which start freaking out, even though the rabbits are about a mile away. Sensitive creatures, they. Suddenly, the rabbits are on a ridge overlooking the horses (this is so the director can use his favorite shot in the movie, which is to have rabbits jump over the camera). Anyway, the guy in the bunny suit decides to go horseback riding and jumps on a horse. It goes down, awash in red paint. More horses get attacked. Meanwhile, Jud steals a truck and gets the heck out of there. Since he was the one who had been attacked earlier, he’s understandably skittish around giant rabbits. Unfortunately, he drives right into the herd of them, and they swarm the truck. He spins around and goes back to the ranch, the rabbits in hot pursuit.
At the ranch, Hillman is getting everyone into the cellar. Hillman tries to make a phone call to Mildred, but Jud, who is a bigger danger to himself than the rabbits are, loses control of the truck and knocks over the telephone pole (of course he does.), making the phone go out. It’s dead, Jim. He scrambles out of the truck directly into the path of the rabbits. He is soon pounced on. He’s dead, Jim. Hillman tries firing his rifle at a bad process shot of the rabbits in front of the truck. He runs down into the cellar. I’ll bet in the porn version of this movie they used Playboy Bunnies instead.
The rabbits break into his house and raid the kitchen. “Sounds like a cattle stampede,” says Frank. Actually, it sounds more like a popcorn popper, or perhaps a half dozen hamsters in a drier. The kitchen is directly above them, so Hillman and Frank shoot though the ceiling, hoping to hit the rabbits. It’s probably not a good idea to weaken the floor so the rabbits crash down on top of them. Just a suggestion. A paw pokes a hole through the floor, and they continue shooting. They hit the rabbit, and blood drips through the bullet holes. Either that or they hit a bottle of ketchup. It’s hard to tell.
The rabbits hit the bunny trail and head toward the General Store, which is where you go when you don’t want to buy anything specific. The store is run by Mildred, who bears a striking resemblance to a fish. If they ever make Night of the Large-Mouthed Bass, she’d be a natural for the lead. At any rate, the two men who were keeping her company leave just in time—just after they drive off, Mildred hears hippity-hopping in the distance. And, of course, just as she turns her back to the front window, in they charge. The guy in the bunny suit knocks her to the ground and slathers red paint all over her neck. Again, they don’t eat her; just knock her down. I bet she’d taste like seafood. She’s dead, Jim.
Down the road, another rancher is attacked, despite his valiant attempt at self-defense by trying to hit the rabbits with a wooden stool. He’s dead, Jim.
The next morning, Roy bids farewell to Gerry and The Cause (they’re still there? I thought they left days ago.) They climb into their RV (which I bet has no shower) and head off to what will have to be certain doom. Bones, I mean Clark, pulls up in a station wagon that, in true 1970s fashion, is larger than the Starship Enterprise. He says that Sheriff Cody is on his way back from the crime lab in Phoenix and they will meet him at the airport. Yep, Sheriff Cody was bigger than The Beatles and his legions of fans would gather en masse at the airport to greet his arrival. However, for some reason, the sheriff arrives at the airport in a car. What? “Sheriff, we have something horrible to tell you?” says Roy. The movie isn’t over yet? “Your frantic call wouldn’t have anything to do with rabbits, would it?” barks the sheriff. Sheriff Cody says the crime lab people (well, the one guy) discovered that what killed Captain Billy and the truck driver were giant rabbits. I guess he rethought the saber-toothed tiger hypothesis. Well, you know, saber-toothed tigers, giant rabbits. It’s a fine line.
Bones, I mean Clark, and Sheriff Cody commiserate. After all, they’ve both worked with Shatner so they’re used to large creatures that devour scenery. The three of them then go up in a helicopter to head out to the mine.
Meanwhile, Hillman is walking along the highway and tries to hitch a ride. Unfortunately, he is carrying a rifle and tries to “thumb” a ride by waving both his arms, and the gun in the air. Oh, sure, I’d stop and pick him up! Needless to say, the one car that passes him does not. He soon realizes what the problem is and chucks the gun away.
In the car that passed him by is a family of four and, like every other child in the movie, the two kids have blond hair and blue eyes. Was the children’s casting call for this movie conducted at a Hitler Youth meeting? Neither parent has those features, so I guess these are Mr. and Mrs. Recessive Gene. The kids are whining that they want to stop, and the car pulls over at the destroyed General Store. The neglect to see the dead Mildred, or the herd of giant rabbits inside, and instead muse that they found a real “ghost town.” Ba-dum-bum.
Meanwhile Janet Leigh and The Cause are motoring down the highway, the latter quite perky, even though she was responsible for about a dozen deaths and thousands of dollars of destruction so far. Where’s the justice? They approach the turn off the Wooddale, which is a dirt road that leads into the middle of nowhere. Oh, no! The “lodge” they’re going to is the Valley Lodge—this is turning into Manos, The Hands of Fate. Ahhhh!!!! The road they take apparently requires a mountain bike or a Sherman tank to successfully traverse, so their RV immediately gets stuck in the sand. Of course it does. Oh, good: maybe The Cause will get eaten by rabbits, proving that there is some justice in the world.
The helicopter arrives at the mine—oh, that’s right: at this point, only Hillman knows that the rabbits escaped from the mine. I forgot about that. They come across a fresh hole and surmise that some rabbits got out. Bones, I mean Clark, again tries his trick of dropping a rock in the hole. This time, no sound. Roy points out that it gets dark at 5:30, so they have a few hours to find out where the rabbits got to. The sheriff calls his office, and asks that the National Guard be sent out.
Hillman finally arrives at the General Store and sees the carnage—and the rabbits. He quickly dashes away, and tries to hitchhike again—this time, sans gun. A car does stop for him—a Mystery Machine-like van driven by a priest. “What the matter?” the priest asks. “If I told you, you’d think I’d been drinking.” Oh, I don’t know; I’ve been to Catholic mass.
Bones, I mean Clark, Roy and Sheriff Cody arrive back at the airport. Deputy Jason is there to pick them up—and his car now finally has a “Sheriff’s Department” sticker on the side. I guess it was on order and it finally came in the mail. The Deputy tells the Sheriff that the response from Phoenix was that they can use the National Guard however they’d like. Cool; will they cook and do laundry?
At the Sheriff’s office, the military has arrived. Roy asks if there are any other mines in the area, “or any place they could hole up”? The sheriff doesn’t know. Even Jason doesn’t know. So, basically, the only two policemen around have absolutely no knowledge of the area. With his near-handlebar moustache, Deputy Jason is Mr. 1970s; and wasn’t he in the Village People?
Now get this: The phone rings, and the sheriff picks it up. He listens for a moment, then says, “Put him right on.” We cut to Hillman in a phone booth. “It’s me, Cole Hillman.” The sheriff is surprised. “Cole!” Wasn’t he just told who it was before he said “Put him right on”? Or does he have the worst short-term memory on the planet? “Now listen to this,” says Hillman, “the rabbits attacked the ranch last night and killed Jud. Also Mildred, her husband, and less.” What? Oh, Les. Never mind. “They’ve only been moving at night, and are heading in your direction.” Says the sheriff, “Stay right where you are. I’ll have a car pick you up.” He then hangs up. Since Hillman didn’t say where he was, that will probably take a while. Hillman also might have mentioned where the rabbits were now, especially since, when they were last seen in the General Store, they weren’t moving in anyone’s direction. The sheriff really isn’t very good on the phone, is he? After he hangs up, he tells everyone, “Cole just came from Golanos. He says they’re holed up in a building there.” No, he didn’t! Hillman said none of those things! Don’t tell me the sheriff is now making stuff up? The military guy—whose armband says M.P., so one wonders how much authority he’s got—says “We’ll hit the whole town with rockets. I’ve got two fighter bombers on the runway right now in Tucson.” Fighter bombers? And, uh, what about...
Ah, good, took the words right out of my mouth: the sheriff is worried about survivors—a fair point. “It’ll be dark before I can get there with enough men to handle the situation.” Really? According to my Rand-McNally road atlas of Arizona, it’s less than 100 miles from Tucson to Ajo. It takes a long time to fly a “fighter bomber” that distance? Chips in Roy, “When it gets dark, you won’t be able to handle the situation.” Why? Does he turn into a pumpkin after sundown? “When those rabbits start coming, they could be here in a couple of hours.” They made pretty good time the previous night. And giant rabbits move faster than “fighter bombers”? Asks Roy, “Does that give you enough time to evacuate the town?” Nope; apparently the town is full of trailer parks and ranches all spread around, “many of them without telephones.” Says the sheriff, “What we need is a fence, about 10 miles long and about 20 feet high.” Do you want to put it anywhere in particular, or do you just have a thing for fences?
Roy then muses that he hasn’t heard from Gerry and The Cause. He confesses to Bones, “I didn’t want the girls here when reporters came around.” Says Bones, “Wooddale’s a good 20 miles west of the rabbits.” Non-Sequitur Cinema! He wasn’t worried about the rabbits, he was worried about the reporters. And is 20 miles that big a distance when you’re talking about the rabbits?
Night starts to fall, and a military convoy heads...somewhere. And, likewise, the rabbits start heading...somewhere. It’s kind of like Pamplona, Spain, and the running of the bulls, only weirder (well, on second thought, not that much weirder).
The sheriff is on the phone getting a status report. “The National Guard reports that the rabbits are near Four Corners, killing as they come. Other companies are setting up machine guns outside Ajo.” This makes no sense geographically. Four Corners? How did the rabbits get there? Four Corners is in the very northeast corner of Arizona, and Ajo is down not far from the very southwest corner of Arizona. That’s a good 500 miles. I thought these rabbits started out not far from Ajo. Did they go visit Monument Valley and are now coming back? Even more bizarrely, we see the rabbits hopping down State Route 83, which runs near Tombstone in the southeast corner of the state. These rabbits are taking quite the tour of Arizona. Not that I blame them, of course.
Meanwhile the town—presumably Golanos—is being evacuated. Suddenly, it seems to be quite the little metropolis. The sheriff and Deputy Village Person are overseeing the evacuation. Officer Lopez radios in and says that the rabbits are 15 miles from Golanos. Wow, they do move fast. “At the speed they’re going, I figure you got 40–50 minutes.” So they move about 20 miles an hour. Not bad for rabbits.
The military guy is looking at a map. “If they’re coming across a front that wide, I can’t possibly stop them.” But the line of them was only as wide as a street. You can’t fend that off? The sheriff suggests waiting until they hole up for the night, but Bones grouses, “Dammit, Jim, the town will be a disaster by then.” Which town? Then Roy chimes in. Hoo boy. “Sheriff, you were saying something about a fence.” Uh, he was actually kidding. I think. I hope. “Yeah, about 2 miles long and 20 feet high.” No, you said 10 miles long the last time. I think it might be time for the sheriff to retire. Roy asks Bones, “Doc, how far do you think those rabbits travel with each stride?” Doc? Since when is college president Clark, I mean Bones, the “Doc”? True, he probably has a Ph.D., but how did he suddenly become an expert on anything in this movie? Although, for some reason, Bones has the answer: “Judging from the tracks we’ve seen, I’d say, oh, four, maybe five feet.” Roy asks, “Do you think that railroad dispatcher is still on duty?” What railroad dispatcher? “He should be, unless he’s been evacuated.” Ewww. Says Roy in an odd voiceover that was ineptly dubbed in later, “We’ll funnel them into a five-mile area at the tracks.” Really?
Roy calls the railroad dispatcher and asks if they can isolate a stretch of railroad track about two miles long. I thought it was five miles. Was this entire movie improvised? The dispatcher says something about a siding five miles to the east, and fiddles with some knobs. However, there is a freight train on the track, which they have to wait to clear before they can do anything. Tell me about it; this is just like any Amtrak trip I have been on.
At this point, the military guy quite sensibly asks what Roy is planning to do. (Yep, another case where a kooky scientist who has been wrong about everything the entire movie is put in charge of military strategy. They should call in Dr. Hidaka and the Japanese Orville Redenbacher.)
Roy’s brilliant idea: “A fence between the rabbits and the city. An electrical fence. We’ll electrocute them on the railroad tracks.” Why can’t they just shoot the rabbits?
Here is my favorite moment in the movie. A cop pulls into a drive-in movie theater, which has more patrons than I think live in that town. Anyway, he gets on a bullhorn and announces, with a straight face:
“Attention, attention. Ladies and gentlemen, attention. There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help.”I think everyone would need to stop laughing first. Anyway, everyone is instructed to turn their lights on and follow the cops. Surprisingly, everyone goes along with this!
As the Sheriff, Roy, and Hillman (hey, how did he get there all of a sudden) head out to the train tracks, Roy discovers from Bones that Gerry and The Cause never arrived at Wooddale. He panics, and has the sheriff order the helicopter to meet him at the railroad tracks. “Sure!” chirps the sheriff. The idea is to run the power lines down to the railroad tracks and, as soon as the freight train clears, electrify the rails. Is this really the best idea? After leaving them all with this dopey idea, Roy takes off in the helicopter to look for the womenfolk. Then, the cars from the drive-in arrive, and the military directs them to park in a straight line and leave the lights on. And the rabbits keep on a-comin’.
Meanwhile over in the middle of nowhere, it has been about six hours since Gerry and The Cause got stuck and they are finally now getting around to doing something about it. What have they been doing all day? Watching videos in the RV? They hear something. Three guesses what it is. Yes! The little creep is gonna finally get her comeuppance. Gerry instructs The Cause to lock herself inside the RV. Yeah, kid, go read Watership Down. That’ll take your mind off things. Gerry takes some signal flares out of the glove compartment. she lights one and holds the rabbits off with it. She tosses it and it sets one of the rabbits on fire. Well one down, a few hundred left to go. (On the plus side, this seems like a less daft idea than the whole electrify the train tracks thing.) The rabbits then start swarming on a model RV. And just when things looked bleakest (or most promising, depending on your point of view), Roy arrives in the helicopter and rescues the women. So why didn’t the rabbits swarm the helicopter?
Anyway, the rabbits go on the move again and this time take out a herd of cattle.
Over at the train tracks, Sheriff Cody is getting grouchy. Well, more grouchy. He asks the dispatcher what is taking the train so long; the dispatcher says it’s a slow freight and will take five minutes until it passes the switch it needs to pass before they can electrify the tracks. Yeah, right; that’s what they always say on Amtrak, and then two hours later you’re still sitting there.
One of the military guys then tells the line of cars from the drive-in that the herd of rabbits is nearly there, and that it is the car lights that are going to funnel them onto the train tracks. Oh, and there will also be a lot of rifle and machine gun fire. Um, I question the legality of suddenly drafting civilians and putting them right in the middle of harm’s way. And if all the people get killed, why do they need to care if the town gets destroyed? Are the buildings more important than the people? This is kind of like “if realtors ruled the world.” And the again, why do they need the people to stay in the cars? They just need the lights to stay on. Can’t the drivers get out and go someplace safe?
They take some time connecting the power to the tracks. Roy returns to watch his dippy plan come to fruition. Or fail miserably. Shortly, the freight train passes—curiously, it was only one car long. Yeah, right. I have been stuck at enough railroad crossings to know that freight trains are usually miles long and take forever to pass. The train gone, the turn on the power, just as the rabbits come over the hill. The military opens fire. And we see they are still on Route 83. Nope, one shot later they are on Route 82. That would put them around Sonoita, which is still about 300 miles from Ajo—or where everyone is waiting for them.
The helicopter reports that they are heading right for the tracks. So why are they avoiding the cars? They never seemed especially shy before. (It get the sense that somewhere along the lines in this movie they seemed to have picked up the idea that rabbits were afraid of light. I’m not sure how or why they got that idea.)
The rabbits charge across more of the Lionel model train set they have been using throughout the movie. They hit the rails and start sparking like it’s the Fourth of July. And, after quite the melee (and sea of bad process shots), against all odds, the dippy plan worked. They’re dead, Jim. They all gaze in awe at the pile of singed fur. So, get out all the hasenpfeffer recipes. Still, I get the sense that next Easter is going to be a rather muted affair.
Some time later (the next day? Some weeks later?) Hillman drops by the college, where Roy, Bones, and the rest are playing football. Wow, and I thought Syracuse had a crappy football team. Hillman tells Roy that he heard some new coyotes, but the rabbits are still there—“but not like they used to be.” I guess that means “not huge.” Roy and family are invited out to the ranch, an invitation that they take up. Hillman was only being polite; they weren’t supposed to accept! The Cause runs off to frolic with Jackie, as some normal sized rabbits sit calmly by.
Hey, wait, I have a complaint. Well, okay, several actually, but one in particular. How come The Cause got off scot-free? So that’s the moral lesson I take away from this movie. A creepy kid can be as much of a spoiled brat as she wants, can have free reign of her parents’ science lab, and demand that she be given a pet rabbit, then unleash a wave of death and destruction and not even be punished in any way? No slap on the wrist? Not even a stern talking to? Kids need to be taught that actions have consequences.
You know, just like they pointed out in the prologue: if you introduce foreign species into an environment, very often unintended consequences wreak havoc. Rabbits introduced for pets or meat can become major pest. Or, if you star in one of the best, most popular horror movies of all time, some day you may have fallen on hard times enough that you have to take a role in a crappy giant rabbit movie—and play the role of the mother of a major pest.
Still, I do have to love whatever college it was that Bones was running. It was a bold choice to hire faculty who had absolutely no actual knowledge about their fields of study. I can see the college’s promotional literature now: “Come to Ajo College. Our illustrious and esteemed faculty includes Stephen Jay Gould as dean of the business school, John Kenneth Galbraith heading the mechanical engineering program, Carmelo Anthony is the dean of the medical school, and Doris Kearns Goodwin serving as head coach of the men’s basketball team.”
On the other hand, it kind of sounds like high school, if I remember high school correctly (and I try not to).
“I don’t know why I feel so tongue-tied
don’t know why
I feel so skinned alive.”
My thoughts are misguided &
A little naive
I twitch & salivate
like with myxomatosis
You should put me in a home or you should put me down
I got myxomatosis
I got myxomatosis
Now no one likes a smart-arse”
“But we all like stars”