As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m very fond of illustrating the reviews I post on here with original posters from the movies in question. Apart from hopefully stirring feelings of nostalgia in those old enough to remember when such works of art graced cinema billboards (or the grubby bit of wall just outside the bus station if you lived in Abergavenny), I like to think that the way in which these films were sold is also a little bit of cinematic history itself, particularly in the realm of the genre picture, where breathless hyperbole and ludicrous artwork were often the norm. However, there is another reason for reproducing a couple of the posters for NIGHT OF THE LEPUS here, namely to evoke some sympathy for those who, in the days before imdb and other resources, went to see movies simply on the basis of their advertising. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be lured in to your local picture house on the basis of what you can see here, and then to realise what the film was actually about? What if you’d brought a date? Or friends who up until this point had respected your artistic judgement? Would such a picture have inspired camaraderie among an audience who must have quickly realised they had been suckered into one of the daftest ideas for a monster movie ever? Or would everyone have made their individual excuses for needing an ice cream or the lavatory and then slipped quietly out of the cinema, hoping no-one they knew had spotted them?
The whole point of House of Mortal Cinema is to celebrate my enduring love for the horror movie genre, a love that has enabled me to find something good to say about almost every horror film I’ve ever seen. Certainly every film you read about on here will have its good points emphasised over the bad, whether they be of artistic merit, technical skill, or just sheer entertainment value. The only thing NIGHT OF THE LEPUS does exceedingly well is “Silly”. It is without a doubt one of the silliest films I have ever seen. Competently directed by William F Claxton, competently (if unexcitedly) acted by Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh and DeForrest Kelley, even the special effects aren’t too bad in quite a few shots. It’s what the special effects are of that’s the problem.
I have read Russell F Braddon’s novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit. It’s actually not at all bad – a humorous satire on nationalism and capitalism which uses giant mutant rabbits as its MacGuffin to allow its lead characters to engage in all kinds of political scheming, backstabbing and blackmail. NIGHT OF THE LEPUS dispenses with everything in that book except the bit that’s really, really silly. It is possible to make rabbits scary – at least to other rabbits. WATERSHIP DOWN, both book and film, actually manages to give rabbits a whole range of believable personalities, from the terrifyingly violent General Woundwort to the sinisterly suicidal Cowslip. Unfortunately, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS takes the giant monster movie route, with the result that Stuart and Janet’s formula to treat the local rabbit problem misfires when their rather strange-looking daughter (blonde hair and very black eyebrows) allows one of their test subjects to escape down a hole and infect the population, creating a thousand bunnies the size of horses in the space of what seems like a couple of hours. It also makes them carnivores, too, as well as endowing them with an unnatural ability to not go to the toilet as much as rabbits are well known to do. In fact not a single dropping the size of a bowling ball is seen throughout the entire film, nor are any of their human victims seen drowning in the vast pools of rabbit urine one would also expect to have to deal with were such a problem to actually transpire. Quite where these monsters get all their energy from is a mystery as well as the only thing the rampaging horde eats in the entire film is a shop full of tomatoes and a couple of people. In fact they end up so full after the tomatoes they have a little rest leading to the delightfully endearing shot of a model shop packed with pet shop bunnies having a lovely sit down.
As I have said, the model shots actually aren’t at all bad – but the rabbits just aren’t frightening in the slightest. For close up rabbit attacks they actually use a man in a suit which takes the film into another realm of silliness altogether. It all ends on an electrified railway line with a lot of loud squealing which in cinemas of the time probably still wouldn’t have been loud enough to drown out the laughter of those hardy shameless veterans who had stayed to enjoy a quite unique movie experience.