Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter: The Night of the Lepus

In the 70's the Earth turned on us and began attacking us with Grizzlies, Earthquakes, Sasquatch, and bunnies. A few of my favorite movies from childhood were Squirm, Frogs, and Food of the Gods, all pretty awful movies about mundane creatures that become angry, like the crying Indian in the pollution commercial, and turn on us to teach that the Earth is not to wipe our behinds on, like a dog with painful rectal itch.
This was a valid lesson, and we remember Iron Eyes Cody and his commercial 35 years later for good reason, even if we're still a bunch of littering slobs who would drive our SUV over a colony of baby seals to park 5 feet closer in the Walmart parking lot. But we should also remember when giant rabbits slaughtered a Southwest town, for they also taught a valuable lesson:

Even a 150 pound bloodthirsty rabbit is still cute and not scary.
Lepus means cuddly.

The story begins with that favorite tool of the low-budget horror film, the fake news story. A newscaster tells us in his most grave voice, that rabbit overpopulation is a serious problem plaguing the southwest, over footage of dozens of rabbits herded up against a fence, being grabbed and bagged and shot. This then segues to a little Southwestern town undergoing such a plague. It's hinted that an unscrupulous pest control hunter shot too many coyotes, the hares' natural predator, and thus upset the Earth's delicate balance. Also depicted in some of the Wile E. Coyote cartoons with Bugs Bunny subbing for the Road Runner. The Coyote talked in those, and I think he jumped the shark at that point. Thankfully in this movie neither the rabbits nor the coyotes talk. Unfortunately the actors do.

To make us hate the little bunnies, the first scene shows Western veteran Rory Calhoun riding his horse majestically o'er the landscape, only to have it trip in a rabbit hole and break its leg. We all know what happens then. Blam! The damn bunnies made him kill that handsome steed. I hate them already. The local ranchers, appeal to scientists Janet Leigh (how she fell from Psycho and Touch of Evil to this is unknown) and Stuart Whitman to save the day. They're working on a hormonal treatment to give the bunnies the Pill, so their infamous prolificness is all for nought. We all know what happens when someone uses Science in the movies. It always causes problems. Stupid scientists with their logic and labcoats! They think they're so smart. Really, sometimes it seems like Homer Simpson writes these movies.

They have a control group, and a cute little girl they need to explain everything to, so we learn what a control group is. They don't bother explaining what an experimental group is; they just show us a fully grown bunny next to a young one, to show that the hormonal treatment's side effect is extreme growth. "We'd better not let this one get loose, who knows what might happen." So what do they do? They let their little daughter hold it. The first thing she does is bring it outside, where a local hick kid who hates bunnies grabs it and throws it so it runs away. "Oh no. Don't tell my parents, they'll get mad!"
My clever screenshot program involves a camera.

About 30 seconds later a billion rabbits have also gotten the hormone; how it is transmitted is never explained. It doesn't matter. The kids going looking for Pappy the Prospector in his gold mine but he is nowhere to be found. The hick kid sends the little girl into the mine to look for him, and she sees something that makes her scream. A rabbit with red paint on it, making noises like Ernest Borgnine with a sinus infection. Can you blame her? They blow up the mine to seal it, but the clever bunnies dig their way out.
Janet Leigh does some bunny blastin'.

Soon the entire town is under attack, though for some reason the voracious rabbits just kill people and leave them lying around covered in bright red blood instead of leaving cleanly picked bones. That might have been scarier. The film uses miniature towns with rabbits running through them in slow motion, with an excruciatingly annoying sound mix of grunts, squeals and low-bass rumbles to signal the onslaught of the bunnies, who look a lot like a stunt man in a bear suit. They don't even bother to put ears on.

Bunny Attack!

Janet Leigh and her daughter, the one who started the whole thing by letting her infected bunny go, get stuck in their camper trying to flee town, and are set upon by a horde of hungry hares. (How I ldo love my alliteration). She just has some flares to defend herself, so we get a bunny BBQ.
A plush rabbit on fire.

The scientists come up with a plan, since the rabbits are too far spread out for the National Guard to bomb them (in actuality, those effects probably cost too much). They electrify the railroad tracks and get a bunch of people at a drive-in to line up their cars with the headlights on, to herd the bunnies toward it. Seriously.

This movie will make you cheer flamethrower usage on bunnies.

The Guard the the remaining ranchers line up for some bunny blastin', and eventually all the giant bunnies are slaughtered. The film quickly cuts back to idyllic life in a desert town, where everyone's forgotten the families gnawed to death by rabbits. And the camera of course cuts to an Elysian field, where innocently nibbling on the grass there are... some cute cuddly bunnies.

So this Easter as you gnaw the head off your chocolate bunny, remember the lesson of the Lepus- if you inject animals with wacky science juice, do not give it to your little blonde moppet of a child. She'll unleash a rabbit hutch of horror upon your town.

Happy Easter!

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