Rewind: What’s So Funny About Scary Bunnies?

As Wallace and Gromit tackle the 'Were-Rabbit,' we look back at other troubling onscreen cottontails.

When one’s mind turns to movie monsters, the beasts in question are usually giant lizards, werewolves or bloodsucking monkeys from West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. (Look it up, people.) One creature we don’t often envision as an unholy cinematic terror, however? The bunny rabbit — but perhaps we should. As Nick Park’s dynamic stop-motion duo of Wallace and his faithful pooch Gromit prepare to tackle the curse of the “were-rabbit,” we take this opportunity to look back at 10 other films featuring terrifying bunnies.

No. Seriously.

“Hyde and Hare” (1955)

In this classic Friz Freleng Warner Bros. cartoon, Bugs Bunny convinces a friendly carrot-wielding fellow to adopt him as a pet — all the while unaware that he’s moving in with none other than Dr. Jekyll. When he samples the good doctor’s infamous formula, Bugs becomes a rabbity Mr. Hyde, with green fur, red eyes and long claws. OK, so he’s not exactly terrifying. But we had to start somewhere …

“Night of the Lepus” (1972)

Yes, it’s true — an actual horror movie about a pack of murderous, giant mutant rabbits terrorizing the American Southwest! Among the humans battling the bunnies are DeForest Kelley (“Star Trek”) and Janet Leigh (“Psycho”). Still don’t believe this flick exists? Check out “The Matrix”; you’ll see a clip of it playing on the TV set in the Oracle’s waiting room. “Night of the Lepus” features lots of slow-motion scenes of 150-pound rampaging rabbits and — look, we’re not fooling, this flick does exist — it’s even coming out on DVD, adding weight to the long-circulating theory that eventually every movie ever made will be released to home video.

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)

In the British comedy troupe’s classic film, Tim the Enchanter leads King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to the Cave of Caerbannog, which is guarded by a creature so evil, so vicious that it is Death personified. As the knights approach the cave, out comes the creature — the foulest, cruelest, worst-tempered, um, bunny one would ever want to meet. The knights are laughingly skeptical, of course — until the rabbit chews Bors’ head off, causing the not-quite-so-brave-as-Sir-Galahad Sir Robin to soil his armor. Again.

“Twilight Zone: the Movie” (1983)

In “It’s a Good Life,” the Joe Dante-directed segment of this four-part adaptation of the legendary TV show, Kathleen Quinlan plays a stranded teacher who meets a boy named Anthony (Jeremy Licht) with incredible powers and a freaked-out family. Able to warp reality with his mind, Anthony’s unchecked adolescent id delights in tormenting his terrified family with tricks, like making his uncle perform a magic act. Unsurprisingly, Anthony alters the old bunny-in-the-hat trick so that the rabbit not only resembles H.R. Giger’s creature from “Alien” more closely than it favors Peter Cottontail — it also eats Uncle Walt.

“A Christmas Story” (1983)

For years, Aunt Clara had labored under the delusion that Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl. And so, for Christmas, she sends the Red-Ryder-coveting lad some pajamas: specifically, a fuzzy, pink one-piece bunny suit complete with floppy ears and two bunny heads for feet. Mom thinks it’s adorable and Ralph’s brother, Randy, can’t stop laughing, but the old man (the great Darren McGavin) is horrified, likening his distraught son to both a “deranged Easter Bunny” and a “pink nightmare.”

“Fatal Attraction” (1987)

Adrian Lyne’s seminal parable about the perils of infidelity contains plenty of “Oh, no!” moments, but none hit home quite as hard as when the fate of innocent little daughter Ellen’s pet bunny is revealed. The scene of the rabbit stew cooked up by jilted lover Glenn Close bubbling away on the stovetop has assumed its place as one of those iconic fright moments in movie history, right up there with the horse-head wake-up call from “The Godfather.” If “Fatal Attraction” curtailed cheating (at least briefly), it probably also hurt the rate of rabbit adoptions, as well.

“Roger & Me” (1989)

Those of us who eat meat usually prefer not to think of how that burger got on our plate. Being at the top of the food chain means we humans sometimes do some pretty nasty things to sate our appetites. We accept it; we just don’t wanna see it. So, in Michael Moore’s documentary “Roger & Me,” when a poor Michigan woman bonks one of her “pets or meat” bunnies on the head with a lead pipe and then skins it for dinner, it’s pretty shocking. We’re just glad she wasn’t making her famous kitten casserole that night.

“Donnie Darko” (2001)

In Richard Kelly’s cult classic, tormented teen Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is plagued by visions of a giant, malevolent doomsaying rabbit named Frank (James Duval). This Lynchian nightmare is a hyper-metaphor for the alienation of those horrid high school years … or is it? There are dozens of theories as to the motives and the reasons behind the manifestation of “Manipulated Dead Frank,” but one thing remains pretty much unarguable: that is one freaky bunny.

“Sexy Beast” (2001)

The same year that Frank was tormenting Donnie, another monstrous bunny-man haunted the dreams of retired gangster Gal (Ray Winstone) in Jonathan Glazer’s smart and stylish “Sexy Beast.” Riding a horse and toting a big gun, this snarling evil cowboy bunny is without question the most frightening of the mutant rabbits on this list (with the possible exception of Ralphie).

“Gangs of New York” (2002)

In Martin Scorsese’s tale of lawlessness in mid-19th-century New York, Liam Neeson plays (briefly) the leader of the Dead Rabbits, a gang of Irish hoods fighting in the Five Points section of lower Manhattan. The phrase “Dead Rabbits” meant, in a vaguely phonetic repurposing of Gaelic, “Really Tough Guys,” and to both prove it and symbolize it, the gang’s members would spear a dead rabbit’s head on the end of a lance. Not quite as dandy as a gold-tipped walking stick, but it got the message across.

While the “dogs vs. cats” debate eternally rages among animal lovers, fans of the rabbit remain a silent minority, sequestered in their hutches, their passion for the cottontail, the American Fuzzy Lop and the Jersey Wooly building along with resentment at their second-class status in the pet world. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the bunnies and their benefactors rise up and seek to supplant the Snoopys and the Garfields by any means necessary.

It’s a scary thought, no? OK, maybe not. But we swear — “Night of the Lepus” is a real movie!

Check out everything we’ve got on “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”

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