Archive for the ‘When Nature Attacks!!!’ Category

Night of the Lepus

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

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    Ah, what a wonderful piece of trash this film is! It’s ridiculous, preposterous, astoundingly awful and wonderful all at the same time. The casting director for this film must have been an evil genius, the film stars Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh (!), Rory Calhoun and, wait for it, DeForest Kelley (!!). I mean, c’mon, only an evil genius could transport us to an alternate dimension, which is where this film must’ve been made to get that cast. To put them all together in a drive-in classic about the American Southwest being invaded by giant angry rabbits is just too good to be true.

Night of the Lepus is the kind of film that bad movie lovers like myself wait ages for. Believe it or not, it’s based on a novel called “The Year of The Angry Rabbit,” by Russell Braddon. Yeah, I’d never heard of it, either. Rory Calhoun plays Cole Hillman, a rough and tough cowboy whose land has become infested by thousands of rabbits. Desperate, Hillman turns to Elgin Clark (played by Kelley), who works at the local university (it’s never clear if Elgin is a professor or a dean or what, but, whatever position he holds, he definitely has clout).

Elgin suggests the husband-wife zoologist team of Roy and Gerry Bennett (Played by Whitman and Leigh, respectively). Roy is one of the well-meaning, know-it-all idiots who fucks everything up royally, as he inadvertently injects the rabbits with a serum with unknown properties (he’s trying to curb their mating habits, to get them to stop breeding for a while). Of course, their obnoxious daughter (played by Melanie Fullterton in one of the most annoying performances of all time) steals a cute rabbit who has been injected with the serum, looses it and, pretty soon every rabbit within 50 miles is a huge, carnivorous creature.

I can’t tell you honestly how much I enjoyed this trash classic. Janet Leigh was a huge star of the 50s and 60s, but, by 1972 she just couldn’t get the same level of work as in the old days, so she’s stuck in the token role of the loving wife and mother. Still, Night of the Lepus (much like Leigh’s performance in Psycho) contains one of the great movie screams. No, it’s not Leigh’s, but the truck driver played by Walter Kelley. As the first victim of the giant rabbits’ fury, Kelley unleashes a freakish, effeminate scream that likes of which you’ve never heard (I was laughing so hysterically the first time I heard it, that we had to rewind it and watch again.)

Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun both fit right at home in this kind of movie, and Whitman’s voice belongs in the drive-in movie hall of fame, probably. DeForrest Kelley is hilarious, for two reasons: his mustache, and his wardrobe, which really has to be seen to be believed. Something must be said of the performance by William Elliott as Dr. Leopold, which is such bad acting that I don’t even really think you can call it ‘acting’ anymore, I think you actually have to make up a new word.

Night of the Lepus is a monster film for people who are tired of movies that are scary or well-made.  It’s a hoot.

The Happening

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

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There are few big name directors currently working in Hollywood who polarize audiences as thoroughly and frequently as M. Night Shyamalan does. Some view him as a genius, a master of the fantasy and suspense genres and a true original. Others think he’s a hack who relies on twist endings to cover his shabby stories and silly dialogue. My feelings on Shyamalan tend to be somewhere towards the middle of these two sides. While I by no means think he’s a genius or superb director, I am also not convinced that he’s a hack.True, I’ve only really liked two of his films (Unbreakable and Signs), and even those weren’t perfect films, but they were interesting, told a good story and were anchored by good performances. His other films have good ideas at the core, I think, but something along the way gets lost in translation and the finished product is kind of a mess. The Sixth Sense I just didn’t like, I’ll admit it. It was goofy and if you take away “the twist,” you have an incredibly boring drama. The Village was a disaster, I think, and Lady in the Water was a failure, yeah, but man, it had some great pieces to it, I thought.This is all buildup, I guess, to talking about his latest interesting idea turned into mediocre movie: The Happening. The Happening, more than any of Shyamalan’s films, I think shows his struggles as an actor’s director. Mark Wahlberg is the kind of performer who needs a good actor’s director to give a good lead performance. Look at Scorsese’s The Departed or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, these are directors who can help guide and steer performances. Of course, the script to The Happening doesn’t really give Wahlberg a chance to shine (Zooey Deschanel, who is usually such a fine actress, is especially hindered by the weak script).The Happening has an intriguing concept, but just doesn’t pull it off. Imagine that all of the sudden, a bunch of people (and I mean lots of people) start killing themselves, and nobody knows why. Imagine it spreads, like wildfire. Imagine there’s no way to get away from it. Then, imagine a movie that takes this plot and does next to nothing with it. Of course, it’s kind of ironic, I guess, for a film called The Happening not have much happen in it (a more accurate title, I think, would be “The Crappening.”)I appreciate that Shyamalan takes his time with the thrills and chills, relying on subtleties to show the threats the characters face (the breeze in the wind, for example), but he just doesn’t pull it off. He also creates subplots and sidetrips that don’t really have a point. The only actor who really made an impression on me was Frank Collison as the hot dog obsessed nursery owner who has his own crack-pot reason why the epidemic is “happening.” His wacky, burned out hippie type is the only character that stands out in this film. Everybody else (including a criminally misused John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley, ridiculously cast as a mean ol’ hermit lady, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Alan Ruck) fades into the background.M. Night Shyamalan may someday make another movie that is worth watching, but it might be a while.