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The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog is a fictional beast in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It is the antagonist in a major setpiece battle, and makes a similar appearance in Spamalot, a musical inspired by the movie. The iconic status of this skit was important in establishing the viability of the musical.
In the film, King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table are led to the Cave of Caerbannog by Tim the Enchanter, and find that they must face down both the Rabbit and the Black Beast. The Cave of Caerbannog ("caer bannog" being Welsh for "turreted castle") is the home of the Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh. This is guarded by a monster which is initially unknown. King Arthur and his knights are led to the cave by Tim the Enchanter and find that they must face down its guardian beast. Tim verbally paints a picture of a terrible monster with "nasty, big, pointy teeth!" so terrifying that Sir Robin soils his armour. When the guardian appears to be an innocuous white rabbit, surrounded by the bones of the fallen, Arthur and his knights no longer take it seriously. Ignoring Tim's warnings ("a vicious streak a mile wide!"), King Arthur orders Bors (the only appearance of this character in the film, who is played by Terry Gilliam) to chop its head off. Bors confidently approaches it, sword drawn, and is immediately decapitated by the rabbit biting clean through his neck, to the sound of a can opener. Despite their initial shock, Sir Robin soiling his armor (again), and Tim's loud scoffing, the knights attack in force, but are driven into flight as the rabbit leaps and attacks, killing Gawain and Ector with ease. This causes Arthur to panic and shout for the knights to retreat. The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is then used instead to kill the beast and allow the quest to proceed.
The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is a visual satire of a type of royal regalia known as a globus cruciger, specifically the Sovereign's Orb of the United Kingdom. The Sovereign's Orb similarly has a band of jewels running along the centre, and a half-band on the top hemisphere, with a cruciform at the crest. The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is a reference to the mythical Holy Spear of Antioch. The supposed Holy Spear was unearthed from the floor of a Church during the Siege of Antioch (1098) by crusaders on the First Crusade, found by a poor and otherwise unknown monk named Peter Bartholomew.
Although unusually ornate in design, the Holy Hand Grenade functions like any other hand grenade. Particularly important is the part of counting to three after the pulling of the triggering pin (the surmounted cross), complicated by King Arthur's mental block on counting. The instructions for its use can be found in the fictitious Book of Armaments, Chapter 2, verses 9–21, parodying the King James Bible and the Athanasian Creed
...And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O LORD, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." And the LORD did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large chu... [At this point, the friar is urged by Brother Maynard to "skip a bit, brother"]... And the LORD spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it."
Arthur then holds up the Holy Hand Grenade and cries out "ONE! TWO! FIVE!" Sir Galahad corrects him, shouting "Three, sir!". Arthur then yells "THREE!" and hurls the grenade at the killer rabbit. The Grenade soars through the air, accompanied by a short bit of choral music, then bounces once and explodes. The killer rabbit dies in the explosion, and the Knights subsequently enter the cave that it had been guarding. The noise attracts the policemen who were investigating the dead historian's body.
The rabbit scene was shot outside the Tomnadashan Mine cave 4 miles from the Perthshire village of Killin. For the 25th anniversary DVD, Michael Palin and Terry Jones returned to be interviewed in front of the cave but they could not remember the location. They wandered up and down the hills for hours and, in desperation, asked the locals, saying that they couldn't miss it as it had a killer rabbit in it. This prompt was insufficient and so the couple performed a comic turn in front of the nearby loch to general amusement: "It was priceless stuff, and some of the looks they were getting were unbelievable."
The rabbit was portrayed in the movie by a real rabbit and also a prop. The woman who owned the real rabbit was unhappy with the amount of fake blood in which it had been doused by the Python crew.
The rabbit has been reproduced in the form of merchandise associated with the movie or musical. Such items include plush toys, slippers and staplers. The plush killer rabbit was rated the second geekiest plush toy of all time by Matt Blum of the GeekDad blog on Wired.com, coming second to the plush Cthulhu.
The rabbit was declared the top movie bunny by David Cheal in The Daily Telegraph. It also ranked high in an Easter 2008 poll to establish Britain's best movie rabbit, coming third to Roger Rabbit and Frank from Donnie Darko.
The rabbit is now used as a metaphor for something ostensibly harmless which is, in fact, deadly. Such hidden but real risks may even arise from similarly cuddly animals. The humour of the skit comes from this inversion of the usual framework by which safety and danger is judged. Four years after the release of the movie, Killer Rabbit was the term used widely by the press to describe the swamp rabbit that "attacked" the U.S. President Jimmy Carter while he was fishing on a farm pond. This reference to the Monty Python sketch symbolized the failings of a president who, to many, was seen as incapable, inept, and weak.
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