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Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace

2004, Starring Phil Caracas, Nancy Riehle, Emma Maloney, Josh Grace, Jeff Moffat. Directed by Lee Demarbre.

Guest Review by Dave Alexander

In case you couldn't tell from the title of their first feature, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001), Ottawa filmmaker Lee Demarbre and screenwriter Ian Driscoll worship at the altar of exploitation. That wonderfully grotty, no-budget, Steenbeck-cut 16mm paean to all things grindhouse pits the Lord against legions of the undead, with a cartoony dose of kung-fu, ass-kicking lesbians, musical numbers and Mexican wrestlers. Drawing from a character seen in some earlier short films, the duo's second feature, Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace, turns the drive-in movie delirium up well past eleven, but unfortunately blows the speakers in the process.

Don " Maxwell Smart" Adams look-alike Phil Caracas stars as the ornery, banana-loving French-Canadian super spy title character on a quest to recover a stolen pearl necklace from his evil twin. In a plot that consists of essentially a series of kung-fu fights and chases, broken up by the odd--strictly PG--love scene, Harry and sidekick Santos (the same Santos from Vampire Hunter) take on a bionic sasquatch, metal-head thugs, and a wide variety of sexy female assassins, including Amazonian spies, a ninja, a blaxploitation babe and even a virtual reality James Bond-style bikini girl.

With homage to everything from Say Anything to Bugs Bunny cartoons, and a cameo by Troma Films' Lloyd Kaufman mugging his face off, "zany" does not begin to describe the tone. Although the slapstick often slips into caustically silly Three Stooges-style schtick, there are a lot of great gags here, notably nunchucks made from real fish, a flashback to Santos' mom wearing an apron and a wrestling mask, and an anatomically-correct Bigfoot (the film boasts one of the coolest looking sasquatches ever).

The jokes come almost as fast and furious as the punches, and it's obvious Demarbre loves crafting kung-fu dust-ups. His camera ducks, spins, dodges and shakes to the beat of some rather inventive smack-downs, notably the aforementioned fishchukas. Overall, his direction is stylish and assured, and--best of all--he makes the most of guerilla-shooting techniques--hiding the camera and sending his actors out into the public parks, crowded streets and parliament grounds in Ottawa.

Much more so than Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter , Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace boasts its Canadianness, with several mentions that it's set in Ottawa, Canuck flags on display and jokes about Canadian currency. The filmmakers may be riffing on chiefly American genre cinema, but it has an identifiably hoser vibe to it, right down to its short, easily frustrated Franco parody of the action star prototype.

By most accounts Demarbre and Driscoll prove themselves masterful at the art of canuxploitation, except for one deadly flaw--exploitation movies are generally 75-85 minutes long, but Harry Knuckles clocks in at a whopping 120 minutes. According to Demarbre, in one of the DVD featurettes, the original cut of the movie was almost three hours long(!). Driscoll also admits he was continually coming up with new scenes that would be added in, and Demarbre explains that instead of cutting out existing scenes entirely, he cut them shorter.

The result is a case of the filmmakers being unable to divorce themselves from the film when need be, or in other words: Harry Knuckles needs an editor. There are simply too many chase scenes and fight scenes and they go on for too long. The real momentum killers, though, are extraneous subplots and needless one-off gag scenes. These big rusty anchors to the main storyline include a tedious wrestling showdown where Santos is left at the altar and an unnecessary paddle-boat chase right before the climax--a gag that would've made a great outtake or perhaps short film of its own. As if to prove this point, the DVD includes the 1999 short-film Harry Knuckles and the Treasure of the Aztec Mummy, a gory, zombie-filled adventure that works perfectly at its 25-minute running time. This short alone makes the disc worth owning.

Almost indignantly indie and proudly Canadian, Demarbre is an inspiring canuxploitation rebel. He just needs an editor to rein in his running times. The world may need Harry Knuckles, but it doesn't need Harry Knuckles and the Fellowship of the Ring.

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