Night of the Lepus (1972) (part 2 of 10)
After the credits, we find rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) riding across the plain on horseback. And wow, there’s a lot of grain on this DVD. It’s like I’m watching the movie during a sandstorm.
Cole’s horse suddenly rears up and falls on its side, sending Cole tumbling to the ground. There’s a quick cut to a rabbit scurrying away (actually, one of the rabbits seen behind the opening credits), and lots of other rabbits are seen running around in the background, so the poorly established implication is that a rabbit hole caused the horse to stumble.
Cole examines the motionless horse, and after a moment, he pulls a shotgun out of his saddlebags. Kids, you might want to leave the recap for a minute or two.
Sure enough, Cole shoots the horse. What kind of sick horsey snuff film is this? He then walks off as mischievous rabbits look on in smug satisfaction. Damn bunnies. It turns out they’ve been evil all along.
Cole gets back to his ranch, and his young son wants to know where “Ranger” is. In a deadpan voice that would make Jack Webb sound expressive, Cole tells him, “Stepped in a rabbit hole, son. Broke his leg. I had to shoot him.” Ah, there’s nothing quite like breaking it to the kids gently.
He then yells at one of his ranch hands to go drive out there and get his saddle, all while still within earshot of his devastated son. It’s really quite touching. Cole then gets on the phone with an operator named Mildred, and yells at her to get him in touch with Elgin Clark, president of the local university.
Cut to Cole walking across a rather empty college campus, side by side with Elgin Clark, who’s played by DeForest “Bones” Kelley, sporting a natty Rhett Butler-style moustache and big Elvis sideburns. Cole complains that the rabbits are “eating me out of house and home!” So Elgin recommends he get an exterminator. Okay, thanks for that protip, Elgin.
But Cole is hesitant. It seems he called the very same exterminator before, to help him with a coyote problem, but apparently the absence of coyotes is what caused the rabbit problem. So, needless to say, Elgin looks kind of like a dick for suggesting Cole go to that same exterminator again.
Cole reminds him, “There’s a balance to these things, Elgin, it’s tricky!” This is for the benefit of those who weren’t paying attention to the “special report” that basically said the same thing two minutes ago.
So Elgin tells Cole about the Bennetts, a husband and wife team of scientists. And despite the fact that they’re being played by Stuart Whitman (b: 1928) and Janet Leigh (b: 1927), he refers to them as a “young couple” with no trace of sarcasm in his voice. He explains that the Bennetts have come “out from the east” to look for ways to kill insects without destroying any of the surrounding wildlife.
Cole is understandably skeptical, because his problem is “rabbits, not insects!” But Elgin assures him that the Bennetts are his ticket to bunny-free nirvana. Their conversation ends with Elgin promising to go up and see the couple right away.
Cut to a shot of bats flapping around, which can only mean it’s time to get acquainted with our friendly neighborhood Movie Scientists, Roy and Gerry Bennett. Roy is doing some very science-y stuff in front of a cave, while Gerry just sort of stands there watching. Prepare for more of this sort of behavior from Gerry as the movie progresses.
Roy loads up a cage full of bats and takes them over to a rock, and standing there is their young daughter Amanda, who has to be about the creepiest child seen in movies since Village of the Damned. Roy pulls out a microphone and holds it up to the cage, so the girl demands to know what Dad is doing. Roy tells her to hush up, because he’s “trying to record their sound”. It’s the new, hip, happening sound, right from the streets!
Just then, Elgin Clark pulls up in a hideous brown Town and Country station wagon, bringing back all sorts of horrible memories of the 1970s I thought I had suppressed. Roy spots him, and tells his wife to go down and greet him. Gerry’s a little ticked that Roy just told their daughter to shut up, but she does her womanly duty just the same and goes to greet Elgin.
And as she descends, I am completely horrified by Janet Leigh’s ensemble: a bright red shirt with zebra striped bell-bottoms. And that’s not all: For those of you who always wanted to see Dr. McCoy with a ‘stache in an orange turtleneck, well, your prayers have just been answered.
Elgin calls up to say hello to Roy, but Roy just shushes him, still wrapped up in recording bat sounds. Oh, those kooky scientists!
“Hear that?” Roy asks him, to some badly overdubbed bat noises. “That’s the cry of fear!” No, the cry of fear is what you heard when I popped this movie into my DVD player. Roy explains they can use this sound to control the bats’ flight, and if they can “put bats in the same areas as mosquitoes, they’ll be able to do what DDT does!” Heyyyyy, it looks like somebody’s been reading Silent Spring!
Now that it’s been amply demonstrated that Roy is, in fact, a scientist, and an environmentally conscious scientist at that, Elgin mentions what brought him here in the first place: Namely, the onslaught of rabbits at Cole Hillman’s ranch.
Gerry scoffs at this, and since this is 1972, she says, “Rabbits aren’t exactly Roy’s bag!” No, from the sound of things, Roy’s “bag” is lighting up a doobie and toking with a spaced-out sister who won’t bogart all the Mary Jane, man.
Elgin is persistent, however, and tells Roy that Cole Hillman is one of the few ranchers in the area who wants to solve the rabbit problem without the use of poisons. Being the eco-friendly Movie Scientist that he is, Roy is instantly persuaded to help out.
And I just gotta say, Stuart Whitman’s eyebrows are out of control here. They look positively evil. Just watch this scene and tell me they don’t look like they’re about to leap off his face and maul DeForest Kelley to death.
Roy says he’ll go down to Cole’s ranch that weekend, but Elgin urges him to go down there today, and also, to take the whole family with him. Hey, why waste time? With all the victims cast members in one place, it’ll be that much easier to get the plot going!
Soon, Roy and Gerry and their young daughter are driving down the highway. As they get closer to Cole’s ranch, they pass a fence where rabbits are being rounded up and shot at, looking suspiciously like the same (color) stock footage we saw in the opening news report. I guess they really wanted to emphasize the cruelty factor here; That way, we’ve at least got some flimsy motivation for why rabbits attack humans later.
“Mommy!” Amanda cries, burying her head in Gerry’s lap. “I like rabbits, Mommy!” And rabbits like you, Amanda. But I’ll bet they’d like you better with some steamed carrots on the side.