Sunday, October 19, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies - Night of the Lepus/Day of the Animals

70's Creature Feature - Night of the Lepus, Day of the Animals

I'm bundling these two films together for my traditional 70's Creature Feature weekend. In the past I've watched films like Frogs, Piranha, Kingdom of the Spiders and Prophecy. I was originally thinking of watching Squirm as part of this, but the synergy of the two titles for Night of the Lepus and Day of the Animals won me over. (Only watching one per day this weekend, though - raking and bagging 20 bags of leaves ate into my movie time.)

I've actually seen DotA before - it was a staple of late 70's/early 80's late night TV. NotL is new to me, though it's been on my 'must watch' list for a while. Any movie that has giant rabbits as the antagonist has got to have something going for it, right? Right?

The Medium
I actually paid for Night of the Lepus (in more ways than one). I rented it on Amazon streaming and that's three bucks I'll never get back. Day of the Animals was recently released on Blu-ray, but I'm never going to pay $20 for a William Girdler film. I would have rented it on streaming, but it's not available there either. I ended up watching it on YouTube in a pan-and-scan version. As it approximates how I saw it on TV way back when, I didn't mind. I'm sure the picture quality is fantastic on Blu-ray, but if I want to watch dodgy bird attacks in high-def I'll watch The Birds.

The Movies

Night of the Lepus
Night of the Lepus is terrible, really. It's poorly shot, written, acted and edited. The special effects are, well, decidedly not special. Other than a few moments - distinguished primarily by a guy in a bunny suit - it's not even in 'so bad it's good' territory. I had a hard time not falling asleep during the film, and was primarily sustained by the occasional bunny attack and those aforementioned 'guy in a suit' moments.

Also, scenes of bunnies having a night out at a nice restaurant are fun.

The setup involves a rabbit being dosed with hormones to try and control overpopulation on a desert ranch. It gets released accidentally and soon - giant rabbits! They kill an old prospector - maybe he was dressed as a carrot - which leads to the rancher and some officials dynamiting their burrow. Of course they're rabbits, so they dig their way out and go on a slow motion rampage across indifferently constructed miniature sets before finally being massacred by guns and an electrified train track.

It's possible that this film could be fun with the right group of people. It's completely ridiculous, but played absolutely straight by the actors and director. The rabbits themselves are the most un-menacing group of lethargic bunnies you could think of and even when covered in blood or foaming at the mouth just look cute. Some of the interior sets are okay - and it's fun to see a herd of rabbits hopping in slow motion down the miniature streets of a small town - but in general not a lot of consistency has gone into the effects. Sometimes the rabbits are 'as big as wolves' and sometimes they're as big as elephants.

The terror!

The 'best' parts are those in which a rabbit attacks an individual, because it's obviously a guy in a bunny suit. It's not even hidden particularly well.

I say that the acting is bad, but it's not really atrocious - at least from the leads. They just seem tone-deaf to the kind of movie they're in. It's not a western, despite appearances. Rory Calhoun in particular seems a little lost dealing with giant bunnies. As for DeForest Kelley, you would think after the first few times he appears I'd stop thinking "Hey, it's Dr. McCoy from Star Trek!" You would be wrong.

"Okay, now look like you're all contemplating your career choices.... perfect!"

Day of the Animals
"God sent down a plague down on us because we're just a bunch of no-good fellas."

Day of the Animals is a lot better film. Not to say that it's a 'good' film in any traditional sense, but it's more fun and interesting than NotL - for particular values of 'fun' and 'interesting.'

DotA follows a group of back-country hikers as they head out to enjoy a week in the woods. Unfortunately for them, the ozone layer has been depleted to such a significant degree that ultraviolet radiation is turning the animals crazy. Within a couple of days some of them are dead and anyplace about five thousand feet is under assault be animals - bears, mountain lions, snakes, dogs and a whole lot of birds.

Actually, the birds seem to be in charge in this movie. Nominally the animals going crazy should result in a frenzy of animals attacking each other, but they all seem to know that it's Man that needs to be attacked. The birds always seem to be present and coordinating things.

The characters are extremely broadly drawn and thin. There's the out-of-place single mother and her son, the young couple, the older couple having marital troubles, the jackass ad-exec, a professor, a news woman, an ill ex-football player, and the obligatory Native American Who Senses Something Is Wrong. They're led by Steve Buckner (Christopher George), a man's-man who knows the back country well and runs these excursions for city folks who want to get away from it all. That's pretty much all you get, and all you need to know.

After the folks head up the mountain there's a scene in the local town diner where we get some exposition about the ozone layer. Things are pretty relaxed in this town. Relaxed enough that the sheriff and his deputies can indulge in a beer, some chili fries and a game of poker during the work day. Menacing music plays when the sheriff orders dessert. "Damn, the sheriff ordered pineapple pie - with ICE CREAM. Shit is getting real."

That night, a wolf attacks the camp. Even with the buildup, the wolf attack is startling and effective. Don't get used to it, though. The next day Buckner decides to send the woman who was attacked and her estranged husband up the mountain to a ranger station. While it's actually refreshing for there to be no "We should all head back." "Hell No! I paid good money for this trip!" scene, it still seems a little irresponsible. I mean, we're talking days of travel for an injured woman.

This movie should be called Leslie Nielsen - Super-Asshole. His character is pretty much a jackass all the time.

"Has it been five minutes yet? I want to know if I can say something sexist or racist again."

The husband and wife are attacked almost immediately. "MAN-DEEE!!!!" There's a pretty awesome bird attack, but the blue screen fall of the cliff, not so much.

I was just going to do screencaps of Leslie Nielsen, but I had to do at least one other. For balance.

Back down in the town the sheriff is awoken by a deputy telling him that the military is taking over and evacuating the town, as animals are attacking all over. The sheriff responds by getting a snack. "I'll get in to the office to deal with martial law - right after I have myself a piece o' this here chicken..." He's attacked by rats, but eventually makes it into town to help with the evacuation. Evacuation looks a lot more realistic than in Night of the Lepus.

Up on the mountain the group is attacked by mountain lions and separates into reasonable people and jackass followers. Those following Nielsen's character, Jensen, head up the mountain - further into the danger zone - to try and reach the same ranger station that the married couple tried earlier. Jensen, affected by the same radiation, makes the leap from 'asshole' to 'psychopath' really fast - murdering the young husband and trying to rape his wife. Then he decides he's gonna wrestle a bear. Things go well. For the bear.

Soon the bear will have him in a half-Nielsen!
I'm sorry. I'll get my coat.

Girdler tries to cover up how lame the animal attacks are with lots of noise and quick cuts, but it doesn't really help. And if the sun is what's causing the animals to go crazy, why do they almost always attack at night?

The estranged husband from the older couple somehow makes it down to town with a little girl he's rescued earlier. They're set upon by snakes and dogs. When the first truck they get into doesn't start he tries to get to his own car, which is jammed full of rattlesnakes. The lesson is, "Never try."

Get the Blu-ray and you could see those nipples in HD.

After that it's all dog attacks down the line, as if they'd run out of money for the other animal trainers. There are a lot of German Shepherds. And dog punching. I've never seen so much dog punching in my life.

And then it's over, just like that. All the affected animals die. The sun returns to normal. It's a bit anti-climactic, but still better than the ending of Night of the Lepus.

The Bottom Line
Night of the Lepus was excruciating to watch, but I kind of enjoyed Day of the Animals. I'm not sure if it's the gleeful level of cheese or if it was just so much better in comparison to NotL.  If you can only watch one, make sure it's Leslie Nielsen, Super Asshole - you'll  be happier for it.

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