Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Satanic Panic: THE INCUBUS (1982)

There are some movies that I can watch now and think "damn, I actually liked that back in the day" or "damn, this is great, I can't believe I didn't like this back in the day", but every now and then a movie comes along that makes us say "holy shit! I can't believe I watched that back in the day and never batted an eyelash!" INCUBUS was a staple of the early days of HBO and home video and I had seen it plenty of times, but twenty years later, good christ this movie is fucking twisted! If Steinem didn't keel over from COUNTRY CUTIES, this would definitely do it.

A small New England town suddenly finds themselves in the middle of a rash of brutal rape-murders. The victims are mostly young girls, one of whom is attacked while taking care of business in the ladies room, and all of them are violated by such a large phallus that it rips them apart and leaves massive amounts of semen in the victim (no, seriously, that is the plot). John Cassavetes, apparently weary of winning awards, plays a local surgeon, Dr. Sam Cordell, who helps the police investigate the murders and worries about his teenage daughter... with whom he has relationship so awkward that it seems like he married a much younger woman until later in the movie when it is made clear. Awkward as in the opening scene where his daughter Jenny (Erin Flannery) leaves the bathroom door open and steps out of the shower, buck nekkid, and he must take a moment to compose himself. What the hell? There are other weird scenes which are definitely not father-daughter relationship stuff, and perhaps this was originally intended to be a red-herring to make the audience think that perhaps he is the rapist. Perhaps.

You see, the composition of the shot implies the distance between father and daughter and
the previously obscured realization of Cordell's daughter blossoming into womanhood.
ummmm... anyone buyin' that?

Complications arise when Jenny's boyfriend Tim (Duncan McIntosh), starts freaking out, claiming to have dreams about the murdered girls concurrent with their brutal demises. Of course, being a learned man of science, Dr. Cordell jumps right on this and damn near busts out the torches and the pitchforks himself, while the villagers think him a bit nutty and go about their business. Yes, for some reason, in spite of a string of brutal murders of innocent women in a small town, as from a few people, for some reason the town doesn't seem terribly bothered by it. The local library/torture museum (I didn't stutter, you heard me) still stays open late, providing a perfect opportunity for an attack, as does the strangest rock gig I've ever seen. For some reason one of the attacks is cross-cut with a rather flamboyant performance of the band Samson, who old-school rockers will recognize as Bruce Dickinson's pre-Iron Maiden outfit. I never had the chance to see Samson play a club gig, but I'm pretty damn sure they didn't do laser-light performance art complete with a dry-humping couple in front of what appears to be a high-school auditorium of slightly bored pubescent teens! What the hell? This leads me to wonder just who they were trying to market this film to. Graphic sexual violence that makes even leathery trash movie veterans like me a bit uncomfortable, a cast that appeals to guys in tweed jackets, and a band aimed at '80s teenagers. I suspect even the producers had no idea where they were going with this.

Attempting to be a slasher flick, a supernatural horror outing and a gritty crime drama outing all rolled into a far slicker-than-it-has-any-right-to-be package, the rapes are violent and bloody and are followed by graphic discussions of how the victims had their uteri torn apart and were filled with an extraordinary amount of red semen. In addition to this, once great director John Hough, who gave us classics like DIRTY MARY AND CRAZY LARRY (1974) and LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) (and went on to help Clive Turner clog video stores everywhere with HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE), shows a genuinely creepy obsession with vaginal bloodletting. Hough has either has got a gallon of blood in the crotch area of the tape outline at the crime scene, or he’s zooming into bleeding crotches that are pumping blood everywhere. Even Jess Franco would draw the line there. Based on Ray Russell's 1976 novel of the same name, the lead character was changed from an anthropologist turned supernatural investigator (Indiana Bones?), but for the most part the core of the story is still the same. A rampaging demon with a huge dick attacking young girls. Ray must have been working through some relationship issues at this point in his life.

There are so many bizarre things in this movie, but one of my favorites is Cassavettes insisting on delivering serious, graphic dialogue with a weird Mona-Lisa-esque smile. Not to mention the scenes in which he tries to question a surviving victim in the hospital and repeatedly calls her “tough guy” in a really creepy, patronizing sort of way. And then there is the ending... phew! They definitely don't make 'em like this anymore.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Popular opinion casts Ed Wood’s sci-fi non-epic PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) as the worst movie ever made, but it is actually far from it.  Sure, the film is inept and hokey, but it also has an endearing quality to it.  Plus, Vampira is hot.  I could whip out 50 movies in a second that I’ve seen that are worse than it.  And first on the tip of my tongue would be a film that tries to forge a close kinship with PLAN 9.  Behold BRAIN ROBBERS FROM OUTER SPACE (2004), a shot-on-video unofficial sequel to cinema’s most recognized turkey.  Not only does it attempt to be a 45-years-too-late follow-up, but the filmmakers managed to snag one of the co-stars of the original PLAN 9 to be star in this pseudo-sequel.  Yup, my good buddy Conrad Brooks is in this.  Even though my doctor told me to space out my Brooks viewings to once every six months, I’m breaking the rules and jumping on this cinematic grenade.

BRAIN ROBBERS opens with Detective Gustavo Perez in a hospital bed and telling a woman his wild story.  He rambles on about lizard-men Illuminati from the Dog Star Sirius before settling into our main story that takes place in Hillsborough, Florida.  A group of men out fishing spot a UFO and decide the best thing to do is contact Officer Jamey (Brooks) about it because he has some history with extraterrestrials.  This really shakes up Jamey’s world as he is living with his daughter and granddaughter and the highlight of his day is having kids leave flaming bags of dog crap on his porch.  Jamey and the men return to the area where they saw the UFO and they discover a black circle burnt into the ground and a small cylinder in the middle of it.  Naturally, they bag this strange piece of machinery in order to take it to some scientist friends for examination.

We then meet Evelyn (Lara Stewart) and her goth twin sister Lilith (Stewart again). Evelyn goes to visit a professor about her tarot card term paper, but all they get is the teacher telling Lilith about the mythical origin of her name.  Meanwhile, Jamey and Ted (Raymond Couto) take the strange cylinder to a neurosurgeon friend, who analyzes it in his Sheldrich Morphogenic Matrix Scanner. Hey, is that a STAR TREK joke?  Anyway, they find out that inside the container are brains.  Jamey then takes it down to the police department, but the cop he takes it to isn’t interested in it.  While at the station, Jamey sees Domino (Jose Ortega), a guy who was busted for smoking a joint.  With some smooth talking (that we never hear), Jamey gets him released.  Once outside, they part ways but not before they meet Officer Mary (Raye Ramsey), an old flame of Domino’s.  She asks if he is still seeing Lilith (alright, things are connecting) and he is.  Lilith and Evelyn return to Evelyn’s home where her drunken husband Russo Romero (Duran Anderson) gets so fed up that he goes to his job as a gravedigger in the cemetery.

Are you still with me?  Okay, we finally meet some aliens that are living in an abandoned house.  They are led by Morphia (Alex Michaels; yes, a dude in drag), who orders her top man-in-black Criswell (Joseph Miller) to get the cylinder back.  This proves troublesome as Criswell and an underling visit Ted, but it just breaks down into a shouting match with old man Criswell threatening to “blow his fuckin’ balls off.”  Okay, now Lilith has pissed Domino off because she won’t go to a concert with him and instead decides to hang out in the cemetery with two stoner friends (one of whom is named Butt Wipe).  This is the wrong move as they are abducted by the aliens and Lilith is transformed into a zombie via a hallucinogenic serpentine ritual (do what?).  Upset at her underlings’ failings, Morphia decides to take matters into her own hands.  She seduces/kills Ted and also turns him into a zombie.  Then she visits Jamey by pretending to be “an FBI agent from the X-Files.”  She finds the cylinder under the couch and splits.  Fade out, the end.  Oh damn, that is just the end of disc 1?  That’s right, this sumbitch runs 210 minutes.  I’m in so much trouble.

Disc 2 opens with a redneck family getting attacked and turned into zombies. Obviously Domino is worried his goth girlfriend hasn’t come home and he recruits her sister Evelyn to go looking for her.  They look where everyone looks for a missing person – by going to an office building that has a Virgin Mary reflection in its glass (true life story from Clearwater, Florida) and then hitting a carnival at Chaos Park where the tarot reader Evelyn’s professor mentioned is at. Naturally the psychic has bad news for them and then we get a random scene of Lobster Boy (real life Lobster Boy Grady Stiles) attacking some woman.  Damn it, my fingers hurt. Anyway, Det. Perez finally enters the picture as he is outside Domino’s place looking for drug connections (after all, he was busted smoking a joint).  Domino and the detective are both hypnotized by the men in black and Domino is taken back to a torture chamber in the house.  Also there is Butt Wipe, who Domino recognizes by his voice, and Morphia enters to torture them.  This results in my favorite exchange of the movie.

Butt Wipe: Why can’t I see?
Morphia: Because you don’t have any eyes.
Butt Wipe: Don’t have any eyes?
Morphia: No.
Butt Wipe (pauses): Why?

It is here that Morphia spells out the film's tenuous PLAN 9 connection.  Seems the invaders back in the 1950s were her grandparents and she wants to not only continue their mission, but also get even with Officer Jamey.  Oh yeah, Officer Jamey, remember him?  He teams up with Officer Mary and they battle a bunch of zombies in the park.  Morphia tries to seduce Domino, but Lilith snaps out of it because ain’t nobody touching her man, girlfriend.  Domino escapes and meets Evelyn in the woods, but she has become a zombie because she was killed by Ted.  Domino finally reunites with Officers Jamey and Mary and they look up into the sky to cheer the bombers (cue stock footage) attacking the UFO.  This lively trio then celebrates by going to a hotel and sipping drinks by the pool.  Our story ends with two fat kids dumping buckets of water on Conrad Brooks’ head.  Back in “real time,” Det. Perez has wrapped up his story and the audience sees the interviewer is Lilith. *cue “dah, dah, dahhhhh” music* He is then taken to the loony bin in the world’s longest dragging down the hallway sequence every put on film, er, video.

Normally I’m not a fan of reviews that just summarize the movie’s plot but, damn it, I’ve got to show something for the three and a half hours I spent watching this (over four hours if you include the “making of” stuff).  And, honestly, there isn’t much else going on in this labor of misguided love.  Director Garland Hewlett spent ten years (!) making this bomb and, no joke, the film’s opening logo for his Subatomic Productions reads, “No, we don’t make bombs!”  Are you serious? You’re just making this too easy for me. You make bombs bigger than Timothy McVeigh and friends.  Hewlett bypasses such industry standards as sound, set design, camera work and lighting.  Screw that, we spent all our money on Conrad Brooks. I guess I should always be wary of movies that tell me I need to adjust my brainwaves before viewing.  No doubt Hewlett would hide behind that claim that the overall badness was intentional, like hero Ed Wood, Jr. (to whom the film is dedicated), but I’m calling BS on that one.

And even if true, at least Wood had the common courtesy to get us in and out in 80 minutes. This miniseries of pain is three and a half hours long.  This thing is so bad that at times it became strangely hypnotic to me.  Take this scene where Criswell visits Ted (who I’m pretty sure is legit drunk in this clip):

That Criswell guy actually cracks me up and it is sad to note that the film opening with a dedication in his memory. Even funnier than a cursing grandpa are the film’s incredible continuity gaffes.  No joke, Domino goes from having long hair in the police station to short hair outside of it.  And there is a bit where Lara Stewart is obviously several months pregnant, which inexplicably leads to both characters she is playing being pregnant in a few scenes but no one mentions it. Again, I suspect director Hewlett probably says these errors are intentional in keeping with the terrible Ed Wood tradition, but I wouldn’t believe him as far as I could throw Conrad Brooks.  And speaking of Connie, I know I give him a hard time for his films, but he is actually the best actor on display here.  I’d also say Stewart gives a commendable performance since she had to essay two completely different roles.  She also supplies the film’s lone nudity. Well, if you don’t count the number of times Brooks is topless.

Good nudity :-)
Bad nudity :-(

I will admit there is one legit moment where I laughed out loud (intentionally) during this cavalcade of cinematic cheese. When the woman is being attacked by Lobster Boy, she runs to a house and pleads for help.  A woman inside leaps up off the couch and yells out the window, “Go away! Don’t bother us, we’re watching The Simpsons.”  D’oh!  While I never want to disparage indie filmmakers, this is some seriously rough stuff here.  I think it may have even cracked the top ten worst films I’ve ever seen.  But can I really hold it against Hewlett when one of the extras on the DVD is his 9 minute discourse on the positive effects of psychedelics helping one free themselves from the confines of our media masters?  I suspected there were some brain dead folks behind the camera and that proves it.  There were some brain robbers loose in Florida alright and I think they stole a bit from me after watching this.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Listomania!: Thomas' October 2011 Viewings

FELONY (1995): Pheewwwww! Bad by even our humble standards, but not for a lack of casting. A truly amazing cast in a truly braindead DTV actioner. A group of rogue CIA agents are caught on tape shooting down a dozen DEA agents during a drug bust and now everyone is after that tape. Directed by David A. Prior and stars (*deep breath*) Jeffrey Combs, David Warner, Lance Henriksen, Ashley Lawrence, Joe Don Baker, Leo Rossi and Charles Napier! This is probably the best part of the movie which has to be THE most implausible escape from a bunch of badguys EVER committed to celluloid. Well, temporary escape anyway. The driver looks like one of the hitmen from 15 minutes earlier in the film, so conceivably, he could have been shot because he was recognized and the escape was just happy happenstance. The only problem is… the shooter never encountered that hitman before and even worse, the hitman was already killed by Joe Don Baker that same 15 minutes earlier! Some hilariously braindead moments aren't enough to make up for the lack of everything else, including (sadly) stuntwork. The lack of financing (and maybe the cast's combined wages) meant that the one stunt included is simply stock footage and even worse, the cast is somewhat misused as well. Why did someone think it was a good idea to have David Warner play Lance Henriksen's monosylabic, gum-chewing henchman? I'm pretty sure that is the source of the film's title.

MAN FROM MAJORCA (1984): Bo Widerberg's second police thriller following the classic MAN ON THE ROOF (1976) and it is quite the corker. Loosely based on a story ripped from the headlines and written by someone who was close to the scandal, the film starts with the robbery of a Stockholm post office, evolves into murder and suspicions of corruption at a high level. In addition to all of the normal elements of a taught thriller crafted abnormally well, we get some great character moments with the two detectives, including a sudden decision to only eat Swedish food. Based on Leif G.W. Persson's novel of the same name, this will either infuriate you or captivate you, as Widerberg presents the story almost as a slice of life and doesn't go out of his way to really explain anything to the audience. The viewer is left to puzzle over all the clues while following the detectives and even in the end you will probably have to watch the film again to figure it all out. Gritty and realistic without resorting to cheap tricks, such as excessive hand-held camerawork, I’m saddened by the fact that Widerberg didn’t make a trilogy of police films.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1978): Smut-free Radley Metzger! Who would have thunk it? Opinions are deeply divided on this fourth film version of the 1922 play by John Willard. Yes, some of the cast deliver their lines as if they are in their first high-school play, but when do you ever have Honor Blackman, Olivia Hussey and Wilfrid Hyde-White in the same movie? A group of estranged family members meet for a will reading at an eccentric relative's mansion. The will reading is unusual, not only for the fact that the deceased reads the will himself, via film and synched wax recordings, but for the fact that the benefactor will change the next morning, if the heir proves to be mentally unsound or stops living. During a violent thunderstorm a doctor (Edward Fox) from the local asylum stops in to warn them that a psychotic killer who thinks he is a cat is on the loose and could visit this very house! Of course, he does. Wouldn't be much of a movie if he didn't, would it? The film feels a bit stagey, and that may be intentionally so, but while I usually find that sort of thing off-putting, here I rather enjoyed it for some reason. The dialogue (of which there is a lot) moves along at a brisk pace and there are plenty of effective moments. For what it's worth, I thought it was a lot of fun and a perfect antidote to some of brutally braindead stuff I suffered through in October... though you'd never know it from this trailer:

GRIEVOUS BODILY HARM (1988): Slick, twisted thriller that separates itself from the standard '80s Cinemax fodder by being stylish, well acted and Australian. A school-teacher (John Waters in another well-controlled performance) mourning the death of his wife, begins to suspect that she may not actually be dead and that their mutual friends with benefits might be trying to hide him from her, causing his grief to turn to homicidal rage. A crime reporter (Colin Friels) stumbles across the mileu after borrowing some stolen money from a crime scene, while a detective (Bruno Lawrence) tries to figure it all out. There's a lot more to it than that, but telling would ruin the fun. Bits of the plot are uncovered slowly as a the story progresses, but it moves at a fast pace and like many Aussie thrillers allows the audience to piece things together. Drawing inspiration from Italian giallos, the film injects style, atmosphere and characters whose motives and agendas shift as the plot rolls out. Great stuff that would never be made the same way in Hollywood.

HAMMERSMITH IS OUT (1972): Amazing, even in it's cut form, that this ever got made at all. The power of Liz n' Dick, I guess. Peter Ustinov's notorious and notoriously obscure retooling of the "Faust" legend into a black comedy with of the era social satire. Small-minded slob Billy Breedlove (Beau Bridges) does the one thing everybody in the asylum tells him never to do, he listens to Hammersmith (Richard Burton, flawlessly cast). Hammersmith is an inmate who promises anyone who will listen that if they get him out, he will make them "rich and strong, strong and rich". Breedlove, not being the brightest bulb in the pack, sets him free and with an equally deficient waitress (Elizabeth Taylor) they set off to achieve Billy's dreams of richness and strength, without realizing that Hammersmith is a homicidal psychopath with his own agenda. That description doesn't even scratch the surface of the bizarre, twisted insanity that is this film. One great scene has the now wealthy Breedlove's poolside while Hammersmith, in ridiculously giant chef toque, is roasting "baby pigs" with a subtle malicious glee that only an accomplished actor like Burton could pull off.
Independently financed and distributed by John Cornelius Crean, a Fleetwood trailer mogul who decided he wanted to get into the motion picture business, it was critically well received, but a financial flop. Crean only released one other film (the 1971 Bill Cosby drama MAN AND BOY) before folding his tent. Originally released with a 120 minute running time, in spite of the good notices, it was undoubtedly considered too damn strange for the general public and was subsequently cut down to 117 minutes and finally edited to the 108 minute version that can be found on long out of print VHS tapes. According to those who recall seeing the full version in theaters at the time, the deleted footage was some even more bizarre comedy bits, and it seems that those deletions may be permanently lost. There was a rumor that the original pre-cert UK VHS release had a longer cut of the film, but after years of hunting and finally shelling out a fair chunk of change, I can tell you that is definitely not true. Even so, if you like Ustinov's cracked sense of humor, or just enjoy movies that would never be made the same way these days, this is well worth tracking down. It will make you rich and strong... strong and rich...

SHERLOCK - Season 1 (2010): Both gratingly hipsterish and occasionally clever, this BBC updating of classic stories and all new ones manages to be a roller-coaster of cringing youth pandering and occasional moments of quality entertainment. On the plus side, you have Stephen Moffat & Mark Gatiss' years of experience and abilities to craft plots and snappy dialogue, on the other hand you have these two talented men shovelling on the obligatory youth market crap including constant use of cellphones, laptops and that new fangled thing called "blogging" (whatever that is). Not to mention the rampant (and apparently successful) attempts at appealing to the gay demographic (I'd recommend not Googling this show lest you see a lot of fan art depicting things you really don't want to see - unless you're into that sort of thing, not that there is anything wrong with that). The acting is relatively decent, I actually kind of like Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, and Martin Freeman is fine as Watson, though it's hard to shake his "Office" persona. Then there is Moriarity, who with a master-stroke of self-aggrandizing idiocy is played by Mr. Gattis himself who flamboyantly camps it up to levels that would make Lady Gaga blush.
Director Paul McGuigan (responsible for 2006s LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, if anyone remembers that mess), desperately tries, like all of the other modern filmmaking fourtysomethings, to suck up to the skinny-jeans crowd with rapid edits, slick visuals and text graphics across the screen instead of cutting to a shot of a note or (groan) another freakin' text message. There is some good stuff to be found, like Moffat's penchant for fast-paced, punchy patter, but the constant jokes about Holmes and Watson's questionable ummmm... "orientation" (thank you Mr. Gatiss) and obsession with cell-phones makes this series reek of the desperation of men desperate to retain their youth(market). There is potential for greatness here, and I have no qualms with doing a modern day adaptation, more with the fact that Holmes uses his cell phone more than his brain to solve crimes. That would be like a world-class surgeon checking Web MD before every operation. Some of this is tolerable, but the first episode in particular is total overkill. And speaking of overkill, seriously Gattis needs to be banned from ever appearing on television or film after this ludicrously self-indulgent, over-the-top, cartoon-inspired performance. Dude, this is not a claymation comedy, that behavior is not ok and yes, you are gayer than Christmas (not that there's anything wrong with that).

FROSTBITEN (2010): I'm not sure whether this is proof that the entire planet is in a creative cinematic slump, or just that distributors won't take a chance on anything other than the most obvious wannabe Hollywood films. The opening scene, set during WWII, features a squad of German soldiers taking refuge in a recently abandoned, snowed in cottage. In the middle of the night they realize that if the cottage is snowed in, how did the residents get out? A creepy, atmospheric segment that could have been the springboard for a fantastic film. ...and isn't. All the elements for a great little vampire flick are handed to us and after the set-up it's your standard teens-in-highschool flick that would be right at home in the US (which is probably why it got distribution here). Add a bunch of sit-com set-ups, (how funny is it if you are turning into a vampire and have to meet your girlfriend's parents for the first time? Ummm... not very) and teen comedy and you have a very banal outing punctuated a few glimpses of potential.  What little vampire stuff there is, is either stuff we've seen a million times before (teens with big fangs and glowing contacts growling and snarling like they are pretending to be wild animals on a Mutual of Omaha series), or we've seen it a million times before and it's badly done (cheap CGI, yes!). As we all know, turning into a vampire means animals will talk to you and apparently your enjoyment of this film depends solely on how funny you think foul-mouthed talking dogs are. Damn, that pre-credit sequence was good, though, and this trailer sure makes it look promising, doesn't it?

THE RETURN OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST DETECTIVE (1976): Surprisingly well made TV outing that pretty much rips-off the George C. Scott vehicle THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971). Larry Hagman is Sherman Holmes, a bumbling motorcycle cop who spends more time reading Doyle than catching crooks. After his motorcycle falls on his head, he suddenly believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes and enlists the help of Joan "Doc" Watson (Jenny O'Hara) to help him solve a series of murders. Feather-weight, in tone and budget, it still is still a lot of fun with Hagman turning in a fine performance and even Sid Haig popping up at the end.

COUNTRY CUTIES BARNYARD BASH (1989): We had this at the video store I worked at back in the day and when we got this in, for some reason, the owner decided it should go in the "Special Interest" section along with the 20 or so Jane Fonda work-out videos that we had. Hey, it's got girls who look kinda like they are dressed for some sort of aerobic activity, right? Shot on the cheap in Ft. Lauderdale (of course!), this is basically a series of Southern-inspired team competitions between girls with teased hair and skimpy blue or pink outfits that frequently have trouble covering up the goodies. Sporting an introduction by a talking horse, a biker announcer, some mulleted refs that essentially do nothing more than stand around with (understandably) goofy grins, and a token black girl for those redneck "plantation" fantasies (err, did I just go there?). The "games" include catching a greased pig, sack races, mud-wrestling, tug-o-war and a variety of other dignified events that would be sure to give Gloria Steinem a myoclonic seizure. Think white trash "American Gladiators" without the budget and with lots of jiggling nekkidity. Tasteless and gratuitous in every conceivable way, this even includes an intermission where some of the girls play country songs topless with the live band that is on hand for no apparent reason. Total moronic trash. God, I wish they had made a sequel.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Havoc: Dueling HALLOWEEN porn parodies

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