With Easter upon us and supermarkets over-stuffed with small armies of foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies, many of which are destined for the bargain bin, we take the opportunity to guide you through some of the freakiest, funniest and most perplexing representations of rabbits on the big screen.
1. Donnie Darko, 2001
Writer/director Richard Kelly’s dimension-bending feature debut delivered one of cinema’s most memorable bunnies in the towering, dead-eyed frame of Frank, who may or may not be an evil time-travelling demon intent on destroying the planet. Or possibly saving it. We’re still not entirely sure, and that’s the genius of it. With Jake Gyllenhaal the only person able to see Frank, and the only one aware of impending doom, it’s a refreshingly bizarre take on the end of the world that set up Jake and his sister Maggie for big things, but it’s Frank who haunts our fevered dreams.
2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, 1998
Voiced by Charles Fleischer, the eponymous zany toon of Robert Zemeckis’ inspired live-action/animation hybrid is another instant classic character. Set up by a crazed Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) to take the fall for a murder, the love-hate relationship between this barmy bunny and the grouchy private dick Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), in a 1940s Hollywood where cartoons are kept in the ghetto, is priceless. Roger’s bombshell ‘toon-human wife Jessica, voiced by an uncredited Kathleen Turner, is just about as sexy as animation gets.
3. Fatal Attraction, 1987
Speaking of lust and murder, while Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction technically scrapes a pass on the Bechdel test (where a film has to have at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man), the sexual politics are whiffy as all hell in this pot-boiler thriller that spawned the term ‘bunny boiler’. Glenn Close’s Alex has an affair with and becomes obsessed by Michael Douglas’ Dan, who goes on to reject her in favour of his good wife. Alex isn’t best pleased, leading to the unfortunate end of his family’s pet bunny. Vengeance is meted when Close ends up both drowned and shot in the bath in the film’s seriously dodgy, if ludicrously entertaining, finale.
4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975
The bunnies bite back in Terry Gilliam’s and Terry Jones’ riotously funny Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his knights of the round table get more than they bargained for from a seemingly innocuous, fluffy white scamp. “That’s no ordinary rabbit, that’s the most foul, cruel and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on… it’s got a vicious streak a mile wide,” warns their Scottish guide. Unconvinced, the ensuing carnage is hysterical. “Run away, run away!”
5. Watership Down, 1978
The humans got revenge three years later in quite possibly the most evilly terrifying film ever inflicted upon unsuspecting children, Martin Rosen’s animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ classic novel, Watership Down. Responsible for scarring the psyche of an entire generation, it’s a sort of rabbit-led Game of Thrones, where woe first befalls the bunnies (voiced by John Hurt and Richard Briers, amongst others) when heavy duty digging machines destroy their warren, forcing them to go on the run. It’s all downhill from there, with paws trapped in snares, insane rabbit dictators, nasty cats, dangerous dogs and eye-bleeding death by myxomatosis.
6. Akira, 1988
Sticking with scary animated rabbits, Japanese dystopian classic Akira, by writer/director Katsuhiro Ohtomo, features a disturbingly oversized example during psychic patient Tetsuo’s (Nozomu Sasaki) fevered nightmare scene. What starts off with a teensy cutesy red car riding bunny and his teddy bear mate is soon replaced by hulking monstrosities that destroy all before them, Godzilla-style, before being scared off by the blood gushing from Tetsuo’s feet after he steps on broken glass in his bid to escape. If ever you needed a reason not to eat cheese (or carrots) before bed, this is it.
7. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, 2005
Cheese lover Wallace and his faithful pooch Gromit returned in DreamWorks Animation’s second Oscar-winning feature to date, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, written and directed by Steve Box and Nick Park and featuring the vocal talents of Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter. In this gorgeously pun-tastic affair, the stop-animated clay duo take on a mentally enhanced bunny following an invention mishap, but it’s not the enormous beastie with a penchant for demolishing oversized veggies that’s terrorising the village – it’s actually a mutated Wallace.
8. Harvey, 1950
Long before Jake Gyllenhall cornered the market in giant invisible bunny besties, James Stewart (It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo) starred as eccentric boozehound Elwood P. Dowd in Henry Koster’s Harvey (adapted from the play by Mary Chase by herself and Oscar Brodney). The rabbit in question shares Frank’s ability to stop time in Donnie Darko, though this is less creepy sci-fi and more silly whimsy with a comedy of errors, like when Elwood’s sister gets locked up in a sanatorium in his stead. Just like It’s a Wonderful Life, events are far from bleak; it’ll leave you with a fuzzy glow.
9. Jean de Florette, 1986
Starring Gérard Depardieu as the eponymous city slicker-turned-farmer in 1920s Provence, writer/director Claude Berri’s adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s novel of the same name also starred French big hitters Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil as a mean duo of landowners determined to crush the competition. What they can’t seem to stem is the outpouring of floppy eared ones that run riot on Depardieu’s land, and a mightily cute bunch they are too. Emmanuelle Béart played Depardieu’s daughter in the second instalment, Manon des sources, but it has less bunnies.
10. Celia, 1988
Set in suburban Melbourne in the 1950s, Celia, from South Australian writer/director Ann Turner (Irresistible), relays an intriguing rite of passage focused on the imaginative nine-year-old of the title (Rebecca Smart). Dispensing with cutesy rabbits in favour of the psychotic, slimey and frankly terrifying humanoid ones that plague her dreams, it handles parental neglect, death and politics with aplomb. Mental note: never take a pet rabbit from a kid, even if there’s a plague on.
11. Inland Empire, 2006
Never one for a straightforward narrative, rarely bothering himself with one at all, auteur extraordinaire David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet) got regular collaborator Laura Dern in a disturbing bunny suit alongside co-stars Jeremy Irons and Justin Theroux. Shot in a set built in his backyard, Lynch teased media outlets with hints as to what it could all mean, with Dern’s actress character falling deeper down the rabbit hole of art imitating life gone wrong, but we suspect you’re not really meant to know. Check out his crazy short film collection Rabbits from 2002, too.
12. Belenggu, 2012
Men in rabbit suits are rarely good, kids. Indonesian writer/director Upi Avianto’s highly stylised thriller/horror flick Belenggu hammers home the message with a knife-wielding dude in a white and pink get up in this enthralling slice of nutty noir. Elang (Abimana Aryasatya) thinks he’s met the love of his life in Jingga (Imelda Therinne) but the course certainly doesn’t run smooth any more than the narrative does here.
13. Night of the Lepus, 1972
Janet Leigh (Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate) stars alongside Stuart Whitman (The Mark, The Comancheros) in this schlocky horror B-movie directed by William F. Claxton of Little House on the Prairie and Bonanza fame. Based on the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbits by Sydneysider Russell Braddon, Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney handle the hokey screenplay about enormous killer rabbits running amuck in small town US. Firmly in the so bad it’s good territory, most of the ‘giant’ critters are obviously household pets romping around in miniature sets.
14. Gummo, 1997
Harmony Korine announced himself directorially with this surreal slice of hicksville America back in 1997, instantly dividing critics over his visionary genius or lack thereof, with that debate still raging today. Starring a young Chloe Sevigny not long after her debut in Larry Clark’s disturbed Kids (penned by Korine), this wasn’t much more palatable for many, though Gus Van Sant’s a big fan. Jacob Sewell, Gummo’s young protagonist, spends the entire flick wandering around town in dirty shorts, gumboots and bunny ears, generally causing trouble.
15. Con Air, 1997
Last and most likely least, from the same vintage year, we leave you this Easter with a ridiculously cheesy scene from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Expendables 2 director Simon West’s deliciously garbage Con Air, dubiously written by Scott Rosenberg (Gone in 60 Seconds). Warning: do not mess with Nic Cage’s stuffed bunny.