Night of the Lepus stands out in film history for many reasons. Many fluffy, furry reasons. Few other horror movies have dared to explore the frightful menace of… bunnies. Monty Python and the Holy Grail explored the idea of a killer rabbit for comedic effect, but three years prior, Night of the Lepus approached the concept seriously. Deadly serious. Well, audiences have chuckled at the unintentional humor in the cult classic for years now.
A spin on the giant, mutant monster films of the Fifties, Night of the Lepus originally went under the title Rabbits. The studio, MGM, changed the name in an attempt to keep the nature of the killer monsters mysterious. Apparently, they assumed nobody in the audience knew Latin. This was the decade that gave horror fans Frogs, Piranha, The Savage Bees, Empire of the Ants, Grizzly, Squirm (killer worms), The Pack (killer dogs) and Orca. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would get around to bunnies.
Considering its hare-brained premise, Lepus attracted an impressive cast of well-known stars. Golden Globe winner Janet Leigh of Psycho and Bye Bye Birdie brought gravitas to the lead role. Her male costars would have been familiar to any fan of Fifties and Sixties television.
Stuart Whitman of Highway Patrol and Cimarron Strip took the hero role. Rory Calhoun of The Texan played the rancher with the rabbit problem.
And then you had two — yes, two — Enterprise chief medical officers from Star Trek: The Original Series.
Everyone knows Bones. DeForest Kelley played Dr. Leonard McCoy in three seasons of Star Trek and six motion pictures. But he was not the first chief medical officer working under Captain Kirk.
In "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the second pilot episode of the Original Series, the elder Dr. Mark Piper served aboard the starship. He was played by Paul Fix, who is better known as Marshal Micah Torrance from The Rifleman. No wonder that Lepus cast him as the lawman, too, Sheriff Cody.
While they both appeared on some of the same series in different episodes— not just Star Trek, but Perry Mason, Have Gun - Will Travel, The Lone Ranger, Rawhide — but Night of the Lepus gave Trekkies a rare chance of seeing the two doctors working side by side. Battling bunnies.
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