31 (More) Days of Fright: Night of the Lepus

Here comes Peter Cottontail … and he’s out for revenge!

This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,500 (which, when matched by my employer, totals $3,000). As a result, I now have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies: one each night. Any donors who contributed over $30 were given the option to choose one of the horror movies I must subject myself to. After each viewing, I will write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers, and many of them will refer to unpleasant and potentially triggering situations. Today’s film was chosen by friend and stalwart printer at Coach House Books, Tony Glensk: the bonkers killer-rabbit tale, Night of the Lepus, directed by William F. Claxton (Half Past Midnight, Fangs of the Wild). All the pleasures of Night of the Lepus can be yours to behold on YouTube.

What happens:

Trigger warnings: (fictional) animal cruelty.

Cinematic history’s greatest killer rabbit film, Night of the Lepus, opens with an informative newscast that works to establish the fact behind the fiction: population explosion is a real thing, both among humans and in the animal world. For instance, in 1954, a rabbit plague threatened Australia. And in more recent times, the American Southwest struggled with an exploding rabbit population that severely damaged food crops. “Rabbits,” the newscaster intones, “which seem so cuddly at first, become a menace.” So begins our film, which is allegedly based on a real novel by Russell Braddon, The Year of the Angry Rabbit.

“It’s 11 PM. Do you know where your bunnies are?”

A rider’s horse collapses when it steps into a rabbit hole. The rider, rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) realizing the horse has broken its leg, takes his rifle and ends its misery. Cole returns to his ranch and immediately calls Elgin Clark, the president of a local university, to set up a meeting as to how he might humanely rid himself of his rabbit infestation. They meet near campus the next day and Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley) suggests Cole meet with an animal researcher couple who have been trying to reduce insect populations in a humane manner.

Roy Bennett (Stuart Whitman) and his wife, Gerry (Janet Leigh), are busy studying bat populations in a nearby cave, and they’ve brought their daughter, Amanda (Melanie Fullerton), with them. “Uncle Elgin” shows up and Gerry and Amanda greet him and his guest, Cole Hillman, while Roy attempts to record some bat sounds. Using the bats’ sonic expression of fear, he hopes to be able to divert bat flight patterns without the use of chemical sprays. Elgin explains to Roy and Gerry that Hillman is an important university donor, and the university would appreciate their help in solving his rabbit problem. After all, Cole is trying to do the right thing and avoid using poison, as he’s aware of the larger effects pesticides can have on the ecosystem.

The Bennetts take a drive to the Hillman Ranch, and see the rabbit population boom first-hand. (Amanda, for her part, is horrified by the cattle hands shooting and bagging various rabbits.) Roy offers a solution: they may be able to use hormones to disrupt the rabbits’ breeding cycle. They capture a dozen rabbits to run some tests on back at the lab. The hormone experiment proves inconclusive. Roy figures he should try out a new, untested serum sent by another researcher, Professor Dirkson. “Let’s hope it works,” Roy shouts, in a real scientific Hail Mary toss. However, their daughter, Amanda, insists she should be able to take one of the test rabbits home; the bunnies are just too cute. The parents relent and allow her to have a rabbit from the control group. But they’re unaware of the switcheroo Amanda has played on them: she secretly took one of the experimental rabbits! (I can’t imagine that could ever come back to bite them.)

Amanda, performing the less-impressive “rabbit out of a steel cage” trick.

The Bennetts return to scoop up some more rascally rabbits from the Hillman Ranch, and Amanda takes her new pet with her. But Jackie Hillman (Chris Morrell), Cole’s son, who is a bit older than Amanda, is so incensed by rabbits in general, he rashly grabs Amanda’s pet and tosses it to the ground. The insulted rabbit hops off to join its brethren. Back in the lab, Roy and Gerry notice the new serum is causing the rabbits to increase in size, but doesn’t seem to be curtailing their reproduction. But time is running out for Cole Hillman. He needs to do something soon or the rabbits will spread to other nearby ranches. In an act of self-sacrifice, Hillman opts to set fire to his pastures in order to starve the rabbits and, he hopes, save his neighbours’ land.

Roy, Gerry, and Cole go for a horseback ride and discover an unusually large footprint – like a rodent, but way too big. Meanwhile, Jackie convinces Amanda to accompany him to see his friend, old prospector Captain Billy, who owns an unsuccessful gold mine. (Sounds like a real winner.) When they arrive, Billy’s residence looks abandoned. Jackie searches the home and instructs Amanda to look for the Captain inside the mine. She is alarmed by what she finds in the dark tunnel: rabbits the size of bears and Captain Billy’s bloodied corpse. Jackie hears her scream and races into the tunnel to find her.

Amanda is safely reunited with her family. When the Bennetts ask Jackie to confirm their daughter’s story about giant rabbits, he can’t affirmatively say he saw anything, but Captain Billy has gone missing. Across town, the driver of a refrigerated truck pulls over to check his load. He hears the sounds of a nearing stampede in the dark, then we see a close-up of rabbit faces and the driver shrieks. The next day, a state trooper driving along the highway finds the abandoned truck. When he takes a closer look, he finds the driver’s body, cut into segments and drenched in blood. He radios Sheriff Cody (Paul Fix), who arrives to assess the gruesome scene. While investigating, the authorities receive another call: the body of Captain Billy has been found in a similar state, deep in the mine shaft.

This is pre-A Most Dangerous Year, so truckers weren’t even carrying pistols.

The forensics expert Dr. Leopold (William Elliott) studies the cans and crates retrieved from the truck’s trailer and determines they’ve been gnawed and are covered with saliva. When the Sheriff asks his expert opinion on what caused the driver’s death, he says, “a sabre-toothed tiger.” While they discuss this preposterous notion, Officer Hightower (no relation to the Police Academy character, I assume) calls the station to report a family of four has been found hacked to pieces. Some monstrous animal is on the loose.

The Bennetts and Elgin Clark present Amanda’s idea of giant rabbits to the inventor of the serum, Prof. Dirkson (Bob Hardy). As a specialist in birth abnormalities, he doesn’t think it’s that far-fetched. The Bennetts plan to search the mine for evidence of these mutant rabbits. When they broach the subject of notifying the Sheriff’s Department, Elgin Clark quashes the idea: it would be bad publicity for the university. Dirkson makes a humble request that they bring back a large rabbit alive – for scientific purposes.

Roy and Gerry return to the Hillman Ranch with Elgin Clark and conscript a few ranch hands to blow up the old gold mine. Elgin scales the mine with cattle hand Frank (Henry Wills) to plant dynamite, while the others set TNT along the ground. Before they detonate the explosives. Roy wants to investigate the mine to see if he can get some good photographs of the massive creatures. Cole, unwilling to let Roy into the mine alone, accompanies him with his rifle. The two men find many bats, but neither hide nor hare (get it?) of a giant rabbit. Then, they see them: giant rabbits, gnashing their buckteeth. Roy snaps some photos, but the rabbits stir and begin to rush toward them.

Earth’s last best hope against the rabbit menace, or the stunt crew from Bonanza?

Roy and Cole race for their lives through the twisty corridors of the mine, pursued by massive rabbits. One leaps upon Roy, but Cole handily pistol-whips the rabbit off him. The rest of the crew wait for the men to exit before they detonate the explosives. They’re so focused, they don’t notice as one of the rabbit monsters burrows out of the ground behind them. The rabbit sneaks up on cattle hand Jud (Chuck Hayward) and attacks him. But Gerry is quick with a rifle and shoots the bunny twice before it runs away. Jud is bloodied and very shaken, but escapes with his life. Finally, Roy and Cole emerge from the old mine and the dynamite is blown. The rabbits are crushed by a massive cave-in.

Roy and Gerry develop the photos for Dirkson to study. They decide they need to take the story public; they’ll bring the sheriff to the mine and tell him the unbelievable news. They can also make sure the cave-in did the job of killing the rabbits. Roy, concerned about the media circus that will inevitably follow mention of giant rabbits, suggests Gerry and Amanda take the camper van and drive to Woodale, to avoid journalists. But it’s not just the press they have to worry about. For that very night, the rabbits free themselves from the rockslide. The rabbits – angrier than ever – escape into the night. First they terrorize Cole Hillman’s stable of horses. Cole comes across the horses going wild; Jud and Frank struggle to keep control of them. But it’s futile; the horses smash through the fence and run away. Before long, they are ambushed by the giant rabbits, who leap upon them from a higher ridge.

Jud gets thoroughly spooked and takes the truck to skip town. But the highway is blocked by more massive rabbits! Cole hides his family in the storm cellar and calls Mildred (Francesca Jarvis) at the General Store to warn her of the approaching menace. But just as their phone lines connect, Jud comes careening back to the ranch, smashing the phone box and totalling the truck. He escapes the wreck but is swarmed by a pack of rabbits and killed. With the telephone line (and Jud) dead, Cole flees into the storm cellar with his wife, Jackie, and Frank. When the rabbits begin to scratch at the cellar door, he fires through the cracks. Frank and Cole shoot their rifles through the ceiling at the rabbits running wild in the kitchen, causing grievous, bloody injury to some.

Back at the General Store, Mildred bids adieu to her last two customers. But it isn’t long before a herd of rabbits thunder down the street. Mildred walks to the store’s front window to see what the commotion is, and is killed by a rabbit smashing though the glass. One of her customers is likewise killed, though he tries to fight back against the bunnies with a wooden chair.

Somebody made a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Morning comes and Cole emerges from the storm cellar. He tells Frank to stay with his family as he travels into town for help. Gerry and Amanda, meanwhile, pack their caravan and head to Woodale. And Roy and Elgin meet with Sheriff Cody at the airport. The sheriff is very willing to accept the idea of giant rabbits, as the crime lab has already identified rabbits as the culprits behind two heinous murders. They take a helicopter to investigate Captain Billy’s mine.

With the truck totalled and his horses gone, Cole Hillman tries to hitchhike his way into town, but there are few takers – probably because he’s carrying a shotgun with him. Cole finally reaches the General Store and finds Meredith and her husband dead, and dozens of giant rabbits just chilling out for the day. He sneaks away and continues into town. Gerry, meanwhile, drives the camper van into a rut on the way to Woodale and is forced to dig the van out. And the Sheriff, Elgin, and Roy visit the mine and somehow determine (a) the rabbits have all fled, and (b) the rabbits are nocturnal. (Are rabbits nocturnal?) Realizing the gravity of the situation, the Sheriff calls the Governor and requests use of the National Guard. Permission is immediately granted. Literally no questions are asked.

A priest finally picks Cole up and takes him into town. He calls Sheriff Cody from a pay phone and warns him that rabbits have killed Mildred and her husband, and are currently sequestered in a General Store in Golanas. The Sheriff feels they need to evacuate the area and then hit it with explosives, but they probably don’t have time before night falls. The sun disappears and the rabbit pack exits the store, hurtling toward more populated areas. Emergency services and the National Guard spring into action and begin a very unusual evacuation procedure.

The horrors of sales during Bunny Black Friday.

With the rabbits just 40 minutes from downtown and the National Guard unable to combat all the rabbits, they devise an ingenious solution: lead the rabbits toward the train tracks, then run power through the tracks to turn it into a massive electrical fence. They contact the railroad to explain the plan, but there’s a problem: a slow-moving freight train that must clear the track first!

A police officer screeches into the local drive-in and barks orders over a megaphone (in what is probably supposed to be a clever meta-textual moment). The National Guard and police direct the evacuees to set up their cars in a certain way and turn on their headlights. The lights will, in theory, guide the rabbits right into their trap. As he waits for the freight train to clear the track, Roy Bennett frets about his wife and kids. He still hasn’t heard from Gerry or Amanda that they reached Woodale. He requests use of the helicopter to check on them, and the Sheriff grants it.

Gerry and Amanda are, somehow, still attempting to dig out their van from the rut (though it’s been several hours). They do their best to remain quiet as a couple of rabbits approach, though they seem to be calm. Gerry locks her daughter inside the caravan and takes some flares from the glove box. As the rabbits creep nearer, she lights the flares and begins to set bunnies on fire as necessary. Luckily, she only has to use a couple flares before the chopper arrives and scares the rabbits away. Roy emerges to cheers of “Daddy’s here,” and the family escapes with the pilot in the helicopter.

The rabbits, meanwhile, have attacked an innocent herd of cattle, but the headlight scheme appears to be working. They’re slowly being drawn toward the train tracks. The helicopter drops Roy off with the Sheriff and others, who have set up a barricade just beyond the train tracks. The interminably slow freight train finally clears the track and the power company throws on the juice. As soon as the rabbits thunder toward the barricade, the National Guard opens fire on them, assailing the rabbits with machine guns and flamethrowers. The assault kills some of them, but most of them continue on toward the train tracks and are electrocuted.

The rabbits leap backward in sparks! It’s complete lagomorphic mayhem. Before long, the smoking corpses of giant rabbits begin to pile up. By the end of the night, they’ve all been killed.

Once again, our old friend direct current saves the day.

Some time later, Cole Hillman interrupts a pick-up game of football to chat with Roy Bennett. Roy asks how the ranch is, and Cole reports that everything seems to be returning to normal. He invites Roy, Gerry, and Amanda to visit the ranch for dinner some day, and Roy agrees that would be a swell idea. The final shot features Amanda and Jackie, the two children of the families, riding on horseback through fields. The camera lingers on a hole in the earth, and zooms in on the creature that made it: a regularly sized rabbit.

The Bennetts, back when they were “batting” a thousand.

Takeaway points:

  • Night of the Lepus takes the genre of monster-animal attacks or invasion to its logical, but ludicrous end. What makes rabbits any less plausible or scary than ants or Gila monsters or worms? Make something large enough, and it becomes pretty intimidating. Think of Hitchcock’s The Birds. There are few animals less intimidating than ones that regularly kill themselves by flying into glass windows. But in the right hands (whether that’s Daphne Du Maurier or Alfred Hitchcock), the ridiculous concept becomes sublime – and genuinely unsettling. Unfortunately, Night of the Lepus was not in the right hands. But it looks like the filmmakers probably had a lot of fun smashing ketchup on domesticated rabbits.
  • Though the film is hard to take seriously, there is some fact behind this fiction, as its intro takes great pains to emphasize. Namely: that animal overpopulation is a concern, and oftentimes, scientific solutions – no matter how well-intentioned – can make the problem even worse. Take, for instance, Asian carp, which were introduced into North American streams to eat pond scum, but soon destroyed the habitats of countless species throughout America’s waterways. As many characters warn, over and over, nature is a delicate balance. In Night of the Lepus, the Bennetts foolishly just inject a mysterious, untested serum into some rabbits to see what might happen. (Though one could argue this is more a cautionary tale about the undue influence of university donors.) But even that error in judgment would have been harmless if they had not let their daughter take one of the lab rabbits as a pet. The real moral of Night of the Lepus is to never let children interfere with your important biological research. Scientists should just forbid Take Your Kid to Work Day.

Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: If you like slow-motion shots of rabbits leaping about obvious miniatures of towns, you will find a lot to love in Night of the Lepus. This is not a scary film, but it’s entertainingly horrid.

“I wish I could provide an answer, Gerry, but your top has made me go temporarily blind.”

Best outfit: Janet Leigh’s Gerry should win some sort of fashion award for that moiré-patterned top she wears in one scene.

Best line: “Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way, and we desperately need your help!” – lines you don’t expect to hear over the Emergency Broadcast System

Best kill: Mildred’s sudden bloody death when a giant rabbit comes crashing through the front window of her General Store is certainly memorable.

Unexpected cameo: It’s so much more than a cameo, but it was nice to see ‘Bones’ himself, DeForest Kelley, in a principal non-Star Trek role. Additionally, Paul Fix, who plays Sheriff Cody, was also Judge Taylor in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Unexpected lesson learned: After looking it up, I learned that rabbits are not nocturnal, but “crepuscular,” meaning they’re active during twilight hours, like sunrise and sunset. That’s because it’s safest for them (as prey for so many predators) when the light is dim and weird. Zoology!

Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Captain Billy.

Next up: Tales from the Hood (1995).

31 (More) Days of Fright: The House at the End of Time

More like House in Need of a Power Wash, am I right?

This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,500 (which, when matched by my employer, totals $3,000). As a result, I now have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies: one each night. Any donors who contributed over $30 were given the option to choose one of the horror movies I must subject myself to. After each viewing, I will write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers, and many of them will refer to unpleasant and potentially triggering situations. Today’s film was chosen by friend and generous donor Kat Meyer: The House at the End of Time (or La casa del fin de los tiempos), directed by Alejandro Hidalgo. The 2014 film has the honour of being the first ever supernatural horror film from Venezuela! You can find it on the Shudder streaming service.

What happens:

Trigger warnings: suicide, domestic violence.

The House at the End of Time begins, as the Latin-speaking kids like to say, in medias res. After an establishing shot of the titular house, we see a woman rouse from where she’s sprawled on the floor. There’s a nasty cut across her cheek and mirror shards sprinkled around her. She arms herself with a large mirror shard and finds the house in total disarray. Taking a lantern, she follows the sound of a loud groan and heads into the dark basement, calling for “Leopaldo.” Instead of Leopaldo, she finds the body of someone named Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero), who has been stabbed to death. In a shock scare, the prone man clutches her, but after a short struggle, he falls back dead. Then our protagonist sees Leopaldo (Rosmel Bustamante), a young child standing in a darkened doorway. Our heroine calls to him. He begins to move toward her, then is sucked back into the dark room and the door slams behind him. The woman continues past the closed door, down into the depths beneath the house, where there are some sort of catacombs. The lights fade.

The film cuts to our protagonist, Dulce (Ruddy Rodriguez), receiving a life sentence for the murder of her husband Juan José and son Leopaldo. Thirty years later, Dulce – now an elderly woman – has been released into a sort of house arrest. She returns to her home where the murders took place, but the house will be monitored by two police officers at all times. Returning to her home, she flashes back to happier times: 1981. Her sons Leopaldo and the younger Rodrigo (Héctor Mercado) wolf down a breakfast as fast as possible before they run out to play. Her memories are interrupted by the arrival of the Parish Father (Guillermo Garcia), a young man who wants to have a chat.

Dulce and Juan José in their totally ’80s wear.

Dulce notes that she stopped believing in God a long time ago, but the priest says he doesn’t believe she was responsible for her family members’ deaths. After all, he runs an orphanage, and knows that once you see the smile of a child, you simply cannot murder him. (Seems like a really naïve priest.) Dulce guides the priest to the catacombs underneath the house. When he asks her what they are for, she says she doesn’t know; the catacombs have always been under the house since she moved in. This is the spot where she last saw one of her children. The priest notes her fingerprints were all over the knife, and she was covered in her husband and child’s blood. If she didn’t kill them, who did? Dulce says the house itself did it.

Back in the past, Leopaldo and Rodrigo join their Venezuelan Little Rascals crew and get up to various shenanigans: playing baseball, filling water balloons with urine and tossing them at stuffy businessmen – kids’ stuff. Both Leo and Rodrigo are in love with the same girl, Sarai (Yucemar Morales), a conflict that leads Leopaldo to hurl a piss bomb at Rodrigo and the two to scrap. After a day of Sandlot-esque fun, they return home well after dark. They do their best to act cute to avoid their mother’s wrath, but it doesn’t work out so well for Leopaldo, who is older and supposed to be a role model.

While Rodrigo is free to go to bed, Leopaldo must stay up as punishment. Leo is a bit spooked by the old house, so Dulce gives him a pearl, saying it’s a little moon and will protect him. Juan José arrives home and apologizes for being late, saying he was helping a friend with his truck. Dulce, however, is not sympathetic: Juan José has been out of work for a while, and she has no food to feed their children. Juan José pleads for Dulce to give him time: it’s hard for an old man to find a job. Frustrated by his wife’s disappointment, he then abruptly leaves for the bar. Dulce locks and chains the door behind him.

Not long after, the door knob begins to shake and there’s a pounding at the door, but when Dulce looks out the window, Juan José is already well down the road. Someone else is trying to get in! Rodrigo, in his bedroom, becomes frightened when he notices his door knob shake and a pounding against the door. In the main room, Dulce watches in horror as the door opens as far as the chain will allow. She peers out the opening, but sees nothing. Yet, as soon as she turns her back, an arm grabs her and holds her back. She breaks free and stabs the door with scissors (shades of Inside), but the intruder has departed. Back in Rodrigo’s bedroom, whoever was outside enters. Rodrigo hides himself under his blanket. Through the scrim of the blanket, we can see a child approaching. As soon as the figure pulls off the blanket, the film cuts to Dulce, who hears a child scream.

The budget shows a bit in the ghost special effects.

Dulce runs downstairs, but trips and smashes her toenail. She continues on, retrieving a large knife from the kitchen, then heading back up another set of stairs. She runs into Leopaldo and asks why he screamed. Leopaldo says it wasn’t him; it was Rodrigo. She continues on to Rodirgo’s room, but Rodrigo says everything is fine. He was just a little startled by Leopaldo, who was messing around.

The next morning, the Inspector (Miguel Flores) interviews the family about the attempted break-in. Dulce and her family have been living in the house for five years, and this is the first weirdness they’ve experienced. When they moved in, the house had been abandoned for a while. The government was selling it at an unusually good price. Dulce’s story doesn’t add up, but the Inspector isn’t sure what to make of it. After he leaves, Leopaldo approaches his mother in private. He says he saw the intruder, but she didn’t hurt him. Instead, the intruder told him he shouldn’t play with his brother Rodrigo. Furthermore, she gave him a note that Dulce is supposed to read. Dulce unfolds it, but won’t tell Leopaldo what it says. (But she looks troubled by the message.)

In the present day (2011), the priest visits the Archivo Historico and researches Dulce’s case. Strangely, in 1921, there was another family disappearance – the Eckharts – at the same house. And again, more mysterious family deaths in 1951. Old Dulce washes up in her bathroom and is shocked when the mirror reveals an old man wielding a knife behind her. She slams the door shut on the old man. When she feels it’s safe, she sneaks out and calls for the police from the top of the stairs. She then continues to her bedroom and sees it’s been ransacked and the number “11” is written (seemingly in blood) several times across the mirror. A ghostly hand grabs at her again as she leaves, so she locks herself in. The thing bangs incessantly at the door and finally barges in – but it’s revealed as the police from outside. False alarm!

Old Dulce pursues her dream of singing for the opera.

The priest visits Dulce to tell her what he’s learned from his research and is informed by her police guards that Dulce claims to be seeing ghosts. She probably needs psychological help. The priest asks Dulce what happened and she tells him about the ghost of an old man holding a knife. When Dulce sees the priest doubts her, she bitterly jokes that it’s odd for a man of God to have no interest in ghost stories. Changing the subject, the priest tells her the house was built by an English Mason, Irahim Eckhart, who was obsessed with building on this very spot. He said it would show the truth of creation.

Back in the 1980s, Juan José, ignorant of the mysterious intruder’s warning, allows Leopaldo and Rodrigo out to play. Dulce is outraged, saying the kids are forbidden from playing together. When Juan José is confused by this restriction, Dulce confides in him and shows him the note Leopaldo handed her. It reads: “Juan José will kill your son.” Feeling accused, Juan José begins to tear up. Dulce decides she needs to leave, she wants a divorce. Juan José looks more disheartened. Dulce says it’s not just the note. Things have been bad for a while. However, when Juan José realizes she intends to take the kids, too, he grabs her angrily and begins to squeeze her in a disturbing bear hug. He threatens Dulce that she should not try to take his boys from him.

Victoria, hard at work, mediuming.

Leopaldo, meanwhile, spies on Rodrigo making time with Sarai. Rodrigo gives her a gift of a pearl – a “little moon” – and kisses her on the cheek. She punches him at first, but is about to return the kiss when Leo calls Rodrigo home. Sarai and Rodrigo are now on boyfriend / girlfriend terms. The young Dulce seeks out a fortune teller. She visits Victoria (Simona Chirinos), a blind medium. Victoria’s sister, who acts as a manager, explains that Victoria nearly died years ago. The accident left her paralyzed from the waist down and blind, but she can now lives in the world of the living and the dead. She can see beyond time. They travel to Dulce’s house to conduct a seance. Victoria’s sister tells Dulce to close her eyes and not open them, no matter what she hears: “Sometimes our eyes can be our worst enemies.”

The audience sits in darkness and we hear a ghost enter the room. Victoria channels a conversation between a father and son. The father is angry, shouting that Rodrigo is his only son. Then the ghost of an old man with a knife grabs Dulce’s shoulder. She freaks out and opens her eyes, causing the mystical seance to end. Outside, the gang of kids plays baseball. Rodrigo pitches a ball to Leopaldo, who hits a solid line drive – right into his brother’s forehead, killing him instantly.

The kids got baseball fever. (There were no survivors.)

A funeral follows, as well as a thinking montage featuring the priest. He thinks a lot about the number “11.” After all, Dulce’s youngest child, Rodrigo, was buried on November 11. And November 11, 2011 (11-11-11) is just around the corner. He runs to tell old Dulce this revelation, just as she’s about to cut open her wrist with a knife. The priest’s sudden arrival prevents her from completing the act, though Dulce insists she has no reason to live. She survived prison hoping she could find her missing son, Leopaldo, afterward, but it seems this was a pipe dream. One the police officers guarding the house steps in, realizing the priest has broken in when it’s not visitor day, and kicks the holy father out.

Following Rodrigo’s funeral in 1981, Juan José treats himself to a mourning smoke, but drops his pipe. As he bends down to retrieve it, he discovers a box of keepsakes under the bed. Inside the box is a letter from one of Dulce’s former lovers, Leopaldo Rodriguez, that reveals Leopaldo is not Juan José’s biological child!

At 11:11 PM (plus 11 seconds) on November 11, 2011, all hell breaks loose. What is revealed, obliquely, is that on that date, the house becomes a sort of time nexus. So, the old Dulce, when she tries to get into her room, is the hand that grabs young Dulce in 1981. Likewise, the figure who enters Rodrigo’s room in 1981 is Leopaldo, just as Rodrigo says – but a Leopaldo from the day of Rodrigo’s funeral. Old Dulce, after trying to break in, reveals to Leopaldo that she’s an older version of his mother. She hands him the note about Juan José, as well as the message not to play with his brother. (Though she specifies not to play with him for three days, something that Leo later omits. Never trust a kid.) Leopaldo asks his future mom what he will be when he grows up. Dulce heartbreakingly answers, “the best baseball player ever.”

Post-funeral Leopaldo gives the still-alive Rodrigo his “little moon” pearl. The old man with the knife leaps out at old Dulce and leads her downstairs, into the catacombs. Leopaldo, meanwhile, goes to Juan José and tells him he has seen Rodrigo. They embrace, but Juan José, wrecked by the information Leo is not his child, holds a knife to his neck. He then throws his step-son to the ground and threatens him with the knife, saying he’s not his real son. Leo killed his only son, Rodrigo.

Leopaldo regrets agreeing to learn knife-throwing from his dad.

Young Dulce walks in on this terrifying bit of family drama and tries to calm her husband down. He lashes out at her, slashing Dulce’s face with the knife and smashing her head into the mirror (which is where the film opens). Old Dulce, meanwhile, learns the knife-wielding man is her son, Leopaldo, though much older. He shows her the pearl as evidence. He’s from the year 2071, and explains that time has come to an end in the house. Right now, his younger self is being menaced by Juan José and the only thing that saves him is his mother. He then hands old Dulce the knife: she must kill Juan José and save the young him. Further, she must abduct young him, as he will develop heart disease, which cannot be cured if he continues on from 1981.

Leopaldo hides in the basement, but Juan José pursues him. He corners his step-son and is just about to slide the knife into the child’s gut when old Dulce stabs him in the shoulder and kills him. When she hears her younger self coming, old Dulce hides. But then she remembers old Leopaldo’s words and grabs his twelve-year-old version, dragging him into the catacombs. The opening scene has now been explained, as has how Dulce’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon.

In 2071, everyone will wear filthy bathrobes and nothing underneath.

Dulce tells the priest this story, and asks if God will forgive her. He doesn’t answer, but Dulce brings him to her room to see the twelve-year-old Leopaldo that she kidnapped from 1981. The priest takes a long look at the child, then does a secret handshake with him. The priest is one of Leo’s childhood gang! Dulce says she cannot take care of a child at her advanced age; rhe priest must take Leo to his orphanage, where (presumably) he will get the futuristic medical care he needs for his heart disease. The priest leaves Dulce’s house with the twelve-year-old child, which leads to some questions from the police officers guarding the house. But the priest explains he’s one of his orphans.

Leopaldo asks the priest if he’ll ever see Rodrigo again, and the priest says he may, after he dies. At the end of time. To conclude the film, the priest introduces young Leopaldo to the now grown Sarai, and says “Amen.” (Whether Leopaldo is adopted by his former crush is left to the viewer’s imagination.)

Our priest, who also serves (apparently) as the film editor.

Takeaway points:

  • I enjoyed The House at the End of Time because, as you might expect from the title, it’s all about time paradoxes. As my wife asked, “Is this a movie about ghosts haunting other ghosts?” And it sort of is. How can old Leopaldo exist if he hasn’t yet instructed old Dulce to kill Juan José? How can Leopaldo have the pearl as an old man if he gave it to past Rodrigo? How does old Dulce know that Juan José will try to kill Leopaldo before she sees him do it? Why is old Leopaldo half-naked? The house in this film is a place where – on certain anniversaries (November 11) – everything has always happened and everything is simultaneously happening. The only curious part is that the previous house owners never came into play, though that perhaps would have been even more confusing. But the thematic effect of the film is that – in all iterations, in all timelines – Dulce loves her son, Leopaldo. After all, she kills for him, knowing it will result in her younger self’s incarceration. But she knows that on November 11 in 2011, they’ll all be alive and together (in multiple iterations). It’s almost romantic. Like a murder-filled Lake House.
  • The House at the End of Time also aptly visualizes the slow but sure transformation from male frustration to (murderous) male rage. Though Juan José is initially a sympathetic character, obviously struggling with his failures, he begins to twist over the course of the film. His frustration with himself becomes menace toward his wife and eventually violence toward her and his child. The character arc is not particularly novel, but I appreciated that Juan José was not portrayed as a villain from the get-go. It was a slow burn from frustrated man to domestic killer, and that slower arc is more accurate to reality and more valuable in depicting how these relationships devolve.
  • I question the accuracy of Dulce’s unusual house arrest. After serving thirty years in prison, would the Venezuelan authorities really return her to her home, but pay two police officers to monitor her 24-7? That seems like a huge, unnecessary expense – especially for a convict who’s already spent decades in prison.
  • Venezuela’s horror industry has started off strong. This isn’t the scariest film, but it’s a great twisty thriller. And, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s a good sign there’s already been a Korean remake called House of the Disappeared.

Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: The scary elements of The House at the End of Time consist almost entirely of jump scares, and after a while, you learn to expect characters will back into frightening things that leap into the frame. But the lack of real chills doesn’t mean it’s not worth your while. The film is a worthwhile thriller, especially if you’re fond of time paradoxes (and I am).

Padre looking proper.

Best outfit: The priest in The House at the End of Time is looking mighty fine. That’s a nicely tailored vestment right there.

Best line: “A mother is God in the eyes of her children.” – the priest, again with that Pollyana attitude toward parent-child relationships.

Best kill: There’s no way a grimly comic death like killing your younger brother with a baseball is not going to top my list.

Unexpected cameo: I’m not an expert in Venezuelan film, but the priest, Guillermo Garcia has had other significant roles, including a star turn in romantic drama My Straight Son.

Unexpected lesson learned: Venezuela is just a few years away from curing heart disease.

Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Archivo Historico.

Next up: Night of the Lepus (1972).