DirectorWilliam F. Claxton
Release Date(s)1972 (June 19, 2018)
Studio(s)A.C. Lyles Productions/MGM/Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
There’s no way to classify something like Night of the Lepus. The gut reaction of most people who see it for the first time (myself included) is to lambaste it outright. A science fiction film about giant killer rabbits running amok in an Arizona town? Let’s face it, this wasn’t going to be some kind of misunderstood masterpiece. And the studio behind it, MGM, were definitely skittish about promoting it. Watching the film’s trailer, you can clearly see their attempt at hiding any references to the rabbits, much less showing them. All of that being said, Night of the Lepus still holds a special place in the hearts of many who saw it at their local drive-ins when it was paired up with the film Stanley, or (the more likely viewing option) seeing it repeated on late night TV.
Night of the Lepus is also an interesting film in several other ways. First of all, its makers, director William F. Claxton and producer A.C. Lyles, were more adept at making westerns, which is reflected in the film’s style and location work. It’s almost like a modern-day western with a kooky, sci-fi twist (which is not that unusual). Second is its cast, which includes the likes of Janet Leigh, Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun, and DeForest Kelley. It’s an odd mix of western and TV actors, but in Janet Leigh’s case, it’s one of those latter career movies that I’m sure she dismissed later on. It’s also fascinating that the film was released by a major studio, at a time when other minor studio entities like A.I.P. were dominating the “nature fights back” subgenre.
Despite MGM’s attempts at fooling people into seeing Night of the Lepus (originally titled simply Rabbits), once the word was out about what the monsters actually were in the film, it was quickly laughed off of movie screens. In today’s world of even the smallest bit of development news regurgitated ad infinitum on social media, I doubt it would have even made it to the scripting stage. The film itself is what it is. You know what you’re getting yourself into with it. It’s impossible to take seriously but difficult to hate. It has one major thing going for it and that is its camp factor, which you can either celebrate or reject.
According to the reverse side of the artwork in Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release of the film, it contains a “new 2018 2K transfer that was created in 2K resolution at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging on the Lasergraphics Director scanner from an archival interpositive.” It’s a beautifully organic presentation with mostly solid grain fields, outside of opticals and the use of newsreel footage. The optical effects are now more obvious than ever, which only adds to the charm, in my opinion. Colors are lush and warm and reflect the desert setting well. Other hues such as reds, blues, and greens pop off the screen. Detail is high, although it’s a tad soft, particularly in occasional stock footage, but it’s bright, stable, and clean with only mild speckling leftover. Blacks are also inky deep. It’s definitely a major step up from its 2005 DVD counterpart, even including the vintage MGM logo for good measure. The audio is presented in an English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s an extremely clean and clear soundtrack with good separation when it comes to the sound effects, particularly the sounds of the rabbits themselves, and even occasional ambience. Dialogue is clear and discernible at all times. The only real issue worthy of note is some mild hiss, which is completely negligible.
Extras include an audio commentary by author Lee Gambin, which is extremely lively as he’s a huge fan of the film and of the genre, holding it in high regard and hardly taking a breath as he hands over some great, entertaining anecdotes; another audio commentary by pop culture historian Russell Dyball, a little more low key by comparison, but still offering up plenty of useful information; the film’s theatrical trailer, presented in HD; a vintage TV spot; a vintage radio spot; and an animated image gallery with 64 promotional stills.
Offering up the film with a presentation that it never has had on home video until now, Night of the Lepus is likely to be a bit of a revelation for both fans of B movies and for those who wish to lampoon them. With an attractive set of extras to boot, it’s definitely a top tier release of one of these types of titles. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons