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The Frighteners – 8

January 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Director – Peter Jackson

Cast – Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace, Jake Busey, Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe, Troy Evans, Julianna McCarthy, R. Lee Ermey, Elizabeth Hawthorne

Release Year – 1996

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Horror consumes my life, but even then I have not seen every major horror film there is. The Frighteners is the most recent notable effort to be remove from such a list, and it was as good as I expected it to be. Michael J. Fox stars as Frank Bannister, a man who attained a unique ability to speak to the dead after the sudden death of his wife. Frank does not use his abilities lightly though, and has since become a con man who employs spirits to haunt unsuspecting / potential “customers” and leave them no choice but to call him to remove the “evil” presence. However, when a real demonic spirit invades the town and starts killing at will, Frank becomes the only hope in saving the living from the dead.

The story kicks off right away and gives you the impression that this is going to be a really scary movie, then you realize you are being fooled just like Frank’s “haunted” customers. It is then that you realize this flick is going to be more “fun” than scary, which I expected because over the years I never heard this film referred to as scary. The first act is highly comedic, with fun characters and consistent jokes for you to enjoy. These jokes come from both Frank Bannister as well as his restless undead companions, each with their own unique personality. Nearly all of the main characters was colorful in their own right, with FBI Special Agent Milton Dammers taking the cake as the most outlandish. He was written superbly awesome, in the weirdest of ways, and left me laughing in my seat on several occassions. During the second act the kills begin to hit the screen, with a Grim Reaper-esque being delivering death via squeezing the life out of his victim’s heart. Frank’s unique abilities allow him to see, in sequential order, who the demon’s next victim will be, but only moments before they are to be taken from this world. This gives him little time to save the person’s life, or even convince them that they are in danger, which of course increases the conflict and tension. A fair amount of kills are written into the film and paced at just the right times, but don’t expect much when it comes to gore. There is ONE kill that will leave gorehounds happy, which was added when the filmmakers realized they were going to be tagged with an R-rating with or without the kill. When the third act hits we are provided a unique development where Frank goes through a drastic measure to make himself closer to the demon. This was done because he was powerless beforehand, but now he can fight. Jackson and his longtime co-writer Fran Walsh include constant developments over what is going on behind the killings, and while not overly shocking I did find the revelations towards the end of the film enjoyable.

Jackson’s direction is as good as his writing, although if you are expecting this to be like his previous horror flicks, Bad Taste and Dead Alive, you are in for a rude surprise. He sets the fun tone early on with great performances from Michael J. Fox and his ghastly companions, however horror legend Jeffrey Combes steals the show as Milton Dammers. It was incredible to see Combes deliver such an odd yet wonderfully executed performance unlike any you have seen in his filmography. Several other notables provide supporting roles, like R. Lee Ermy, Jake Busey, and another horror legend – Dee Wallace. Jackson’s horror was good, and while not scary it definitely kept me entertained. I enjoyed the look of the antagonist and the kill sequences, while tame on the surface (heart attack via a squeezed heart) were executed in strong fashion. Sadly, the antagonist and everything that has to do with him comes via CGI effects, which naturally lessens the severity. The CGI was not terrible, but it was not good either. With Jurassic Park debuting a few years earlier it is obvious that good technology was out there, but it was not in The Frighteners. Thankfully, there is so much more going on in the film that you learn to forgive it for the CGI blasphemy. Just look at Peter Jackson’s works since then, his Hobbit trilogies are nothing without computer-generated imagery.

Overall, The Frighteners is a great 90s film that provides a fun story with great execution from one of the genre’s masters who has sadly refrained from returning. You won’t find many scares here, but this is a flick that you can enjoy with a group of friends.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…

Jeffrey Combs

Alligator II: The Mutation – 5

August 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Director – Jon Hess

Cast – Joseph Bologna, Dee Wallace, Richard Lynch, Woody Brown, Holly Gagnier, Bill Daily, Steve Railsback, Brock Peters, Trevor Eyster

Release Year – 1991

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Alligator is one of my favorite horror films of the 80s and made my Top 10 Horror Films of 1980 post, so naturally I was pretty excited to checkout its sequel, Alligator II: The Mutation. I went into this piece expecting more of the same – giant alligator carnage and plenty of cheese to go with it, and to an extent that is what I received. Unfortunately this is a lesser film than its predecessor and comes with an even thinner story, but for fans of cheesy horror / Alligator this may be good enough for you given you should know what to expect.

On the eve of a small city’s biggest real estate venture yet, a rogue detective is faced with the task of stopping a giant alligator before it breaches land and puts the town on the map for the wrong reasons.

The story is as simple as it gets and the majority of it follows Det. David Hodges as he takes on the daunting task of stopping the alligator before it is provided the opportunity to chomp on thousands of people at the city’s real estate festival. Greed and deception play a strong role in the film as well, as we learn that the man behind the real estate celebration not only plans to screw the townsfolk over but is also responsible for the giant alligator after dumping his company’s chemicals in the city’s sewer. He does what he can to keep things under wraps, and that includes creating additional obstacles for our lone ranger. There is enough alligator action written into the story to keep the viewer engaged, and the action only increases when chaos ensues during the film’s final act. The dialogue won’t win the flick any awards but you should already know that going into this experience.

Director John Hess did an OK job with this piece and managed to get things mostly right where it mattered – the alligator carnage. It was great ot once again see a giant live-action alligator chomp away at its victims and use its tail to toss people 50 feet in the air. We see some decent gore but nothing crazy, and with the amount of kills provided I did not mind one bit. The acting performances are as expected, which for me are enjoyable given their cheesiness and those who know these types of films know what I am talking about. I mentioned earlier that this is definitely a step down from its predecessor, but Hess’ direction made this a bearable experience that fans of cheesy 80s flicks might find some joy in so long as they allow a little forgiveness.

Overall, Alligator II: The Mutation is a cheesier sequel to one of the genre’s best cheesy 80s films. The story is as simple as can be but allows for some enjoyable kills to good direction where it counts.

Rating: 5/10

…Additional Stills…

Critters – 6

May 28, 2012 1 comment

Director – Stephen Herek

Cast – Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Green Bush, Scott Grimes, Nadine Van der Velde, Don Keith Opper, Billy Zane, Ethan Phillips, Terrence Mann, Jeremy Lawrence, Lin Shaye

Release Year – 1986

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Critters was one of my favorite films to watch while growing up, and despite that I had not seen this flick in about 15 years.  I was stoked to see if I would enjoy this piece as I did growing up, and although I did find some enjoyable elements in this piece I was a bit disappointed in the end result.  The gore was there at times and the Critters provided the fun I wanted to see, but this New Line answer to Gremlins failed compared to Joe Dante’s classic and was a slight letdown compared to the film I remembered/wanted it to be.

When a group of furry “critters” crash land in the midst of a rural farming community, the townsfolk find themselves under attack by the hungry and homicidal creatures also being pursued by intergalactic bounty hunters.

My love for creature films at an early age was aided heavily by the Critters flicks, and despite my predisposition for enjoying this piece I must say that is really is a fun experience despite its faults. The cheese hits early on, with an opening sequence involving the space-age bounty hunters entering Earth’s orbit and the critters crash-landing in a field nearby our protagonists, the Brown family. The rest of the film moves pretty slow, giving us very little critter action until the latter half of the film where things pick up decently well. The look and usage of the critters was great, with them shooting sharp barbs at their victims and managing to munch on a few of them in the process. The look of the bounty hunters, however, was pretty darn ridiculous in both good and bad ways. I loved the cheese associated with their look and mannerisms, but at the same time the execution of them and the protagonists was just downright awful character/performance-wise. In addition to that I was also a bit disappointed with the critters story-wise due to them only (spoiler approaching) killing two people in the entire film, with a few others simple injured / maimed by them in one way or another. The film boasts a PG-13 rating, but I still expected decent horror given this being a creature effort and one that involved some sweet creatures capable of deliver good gory deaths, but this story lacked the horror I wanted to see.

Director Stephen Herek did an OK job directing the story he co-wrote with Domonic Muir, giving us some fun elements that managed to keep me engaged despite the storyline’s disappointments. The cheesiness of the characters and actors involved was a fun cheese that I constantly laughed and poked fun at, making this one of “those” flicks that you should not take seriously if you wish to leave with a smile. I enjoyed seeing the fuzzy wuzzy critters do their thing despite the lack of kills and gore, especially given the critters actually spoke English and added to the nonsense already present in this fun but sadly flawed effort.

Overall, Critters is a flick that will take some forgiveness to appreciate but can still provide you with a fun experience if you let it.

Rating: 6/10

The Haunted World of El Superbeasto – 7

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Director – Rob Zombie

Cast – Tom Papa, Paul Giamatti, Sheri Moon Zombie, Rosario Dawson, Brian Posehn, Ken Foree, April Winchell, Dee Wallace, Danny Trejo, Laraine Newman

Release Year – 2009

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Rob Zombie has become a household name in the horror genre these days, finding himself in a love/hate relationship with genre fans who have seen his films (I’m more love than hate), and what really intrigued me about his work was this film, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. I have always wanted to view more animated horror films, and this one coming from a veteran genre director of the live-action variety captivated me given I would get to see his transition from live-action to animation. Coming off in a comic book-esque feel regarding its characters, storyline, and overall feel, this under-appreciated animated effort from Rob Zombie makes for one of his better films and a unique entry into the genre that was highly overlooked when it debuted.

The title says it all as we follow El Superbeasto, a washed-up Mexican luchador still eager to leave his mark on the world, as he and his sultry sister Suzi X battle against Nazi werewolves and the evil Dr. Satan.

Right from the get-go I felt the one emotion that I’m sure Rob Zombie aimed to deliver to his viewers: joy. We are immediately thrown into the fun antics of Superbeasto, now a wannabe porn star and frequent spokesperson for any product that will pay him money to promote it. He does however still harbor some of the same qualities leftover from his wrestling days: extreme ass-kicking ability, charisma/charm, and a strong weakness for the opposite sex. His character was superbly well-written, providing great dialogue and loads of fun that I expected to see but found had surpassed my expectations. It does not take long before we are introduced to Dr. Satan, a man who will soon become Superbeasto’s arch-nemesis as his yearn to “save the day” aka “save the hot stripper he just met” eventually brings him face to face with Dr. Satan. Superbeasto’s sister, Suzi X(Sheri Moon Zombie) was also used in a positive fashion, delivering a good amount of ass-kicking as well while donning skimpy spandex and often finding that it is hard to slay Nazis without her breasts popping out. Now that we are on the subject, I must say that this is a fairly “raunchy” film for an animated non-hentai (hentai is actually mentioned in the story) flick, giving us lots of breast action, a few penis shots, but mostly breast action. Some may be turned off by this, but I honestly feel that this being shown in an animated fashion definitely makes it less raunchy compared to being shown live-action, which my perverted brothers will find much disappointment in. Rob Zombie’s story, which comes aided by 7 additional writers, is an awesome one that gives much more than what I mentioned above, including many more enjoyable characters who each added their own awesome positives and laughs to the experience, and coming in at a brisk 77 minutes this is one experience that takes off quick and never slows down.

So how is Zombie’s direction for this animated piece? I must say he did a fantastic job executing it on every level. As mentioned earlier, there is a heavy “fun” feel throughout this piece, and it comes due to him giving us a visually striking experience complimented with many great positives. For starters, the acting performances are incredible, especially that of Tom Papa as El Superbeasto. His ability to voice this dynamic character is amazing given Superbeasto is a brooding yet charismatic jackass who expertly employs both heavy and soft tones to his dialogue and mannerisms, both brought to screen greatly by Papa and Zombie. I was very surprised to see that Suzi X came voiced by the ever-annoying Sheri Moon Zombie, and I am glad that I noticed this after the film as I made the revelation all the more surprising and enjoyable. We are also given a few “names” providing voices in Paul Giamatti as Dr. Satan and Rosario Dawson as one (yes there are many) Superbeasto’s love interests, stripper Velvet Von Black. The action scenes are fun and Zombie makes great use of sound effects to sell the scenes as well as the rest of the film, with the only thing missing being the outlandish gore that I expected given this is a Zombie flick, but nonetheless I was pleased with the end result of his direction.

Overall, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is a great animated horror film from a veteran horror director who mixes his usual schlock with a fun comic feel and delivers a great experience in the end. The performances are fantastic and Zombie’s execution is as good as ever, making for a flick I would suggest you check out if you want an animated horror film and do not mind a few somewhat raunchy (it’s animated) scenes.

Rating: 7/10

The Howling – 7

August 22, 2010 1 comment

Director – Joe Dante

Cast – Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Elisabeth Brooks, Robert Picardo, Margie Impert, Noble Willingham, James Murtaugh, Jim McKrell

Release Year – 1981

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Werewolf films have become a well-known sub-genre in the horror realm, and despite Lon Chaney’s “Wolf Man” films of the 40s, the werewolf genre had been all but killed off…until 1981.  A few months before An American Werewolf in London debuted, Joe Dante(Pirahna, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, The Hole)’s The Howling kicked off the werewolf chaos, and with good results.  While The Howling has been overlooked due to the film debuting the same year as the superior An American Werewolf in London, this flick still remains one of the better werewolf films, and much like its competition…comes with one of the coolest transformation scenes of all time.

The Howling stars Dee Wallace as Karen White, a popular reporter who has a near-death run in with a serial killer who had been stalking her.  She survives the incident, but the mental anguish proves too much, and at the recommendation of her psychologist she takes some time off.  She heads off to a rehabilitation center for those who have suffered traumatic events, and soon enough she learns there is something “not right” about the place.  The creepy inhabitants of “The Colony” are harboring a dark secret, and Karen’s rehabilitation has the opposite effect.

This is the film that really gave Joe Dante the chance to become a horror legend.  After the success of his 1978 film Pirahna, he found even more success with this watch, which then opened the door to the film that made him an icon…Gremlins.  Dante’s direction is positive in this film, and he expertly uses the werewolves and atmosphere to his advantage.  We get some sweet and gory werewolf action, excellent usage of the werewolf in regards to their mobility and mannerisms, and of course…a tremendous eye-popping transformation scene that etched this movie in horror history.  The rest of his direction is good, but it was his werewolf-oriented scenes that stole the show in this one, naturally.  The pacing is well done, although this film does tend to slow down a bit from time to time but I blame that more on the screenplay than Dante’s direction.

Based on the novel by Gary Brandner, this screenplay went through a few struggles before being fully touched up by Dante buddy John Sayles, who had previously worked with Dante on Pirahna and also penned the script for 1980’s Alligator.  The storyline is a unique one for the werewolf sub-genre in that we get a protagonist who is not bitten by a wolf and then suffers the emotional turmoil that comes from it, but a protagonist that is forced to fend off a colony of werewolves, which for this film’s time had yet to be employed.  I liked this original element, although thanks to a slowly-developing story it did take quite some time before things really got going.  Dee Wallace sold her role very well, and we were given a high amount of conflict regarding her character.  While she was not suffering the effects of a werewolf transformation, she was suffering some pretty traumatic stress over the serial-killer fiasco, which was only furthered when she stumbled upon a werewolf colony during her search for peace.  Oh, and the climax to this film is BRILLIANT and shows that true horror reigns supreme in this one.

Overall, this is a sweet werewolf film that has become one of the better werewolf films of all time.  We get sweet special effects, good direction, and an original werewolf story that we rarely see used in the genre.  There is a reason why this watch is a classic in regards to the werewolf sub-genre, and I suggest you give it a watch and find out why.

Rating: 7/10

Popcorn – 7


Director – Mark Herrier, Alan Ormsby

Cast – Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, Derek Rydall, Malcolm Danare, Elliott Hurst, Ivette Soler, Freddie Simpson, Kelly Jo Minter, Karen Witter, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts

Release Year – 1991

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Boy did this film surprise me.  I have never been too big on giving 90s horror films a chance simply because so darn many of them are disappointing.  We got a few great 90s horror flicks with Army of Darkness and Se7en, but most just come off as underdeveloped and with crappy music.  Well, that is not the case with Popcorn.  Popcorn gives us horror fans a real treat of a film in that we are shown just how fun horror films used to be back in the “day”, and with many shout-outs and homeages to the classic films that helped horror evolve into what it is today.

This flick follows a group of high school Film Club students who decide to put together an all-night horror fest in a soon-to-be-demolished theater house to bring respect to the club.  One of the students, Maggie, has been suffering horrible dreams lately involving a man referring to himself as the “possessor”.  When the students find an old film within the theater they decide to play it on the big screen, and it near perfectly resembles the dreams Maggie has been having.  The film, titled Possession, has a dark past to it as it was a film from a new-age occultist director named Lanyard Gates, who was believed to have been killed in a fire that occurred during his only showing of the film.  A few days pass and it is now the night of the horror fest and Maggie soon becomes taunted by a man bearing a strong resemblance to Lanyard Gates, and when the students begin to suffer horrible demises as the horror fest goes on, she sets out to find and put and end to Lanyard Gates herself, and with surprising results.

If you love cheezy horror then this film is for you.  Of course…it gets better if you also enjoy film and cinema, then this film is REALLY for you.  Right from the start we are thrown into the fun mess of lame and cheezy high school jokes coupled with the desire of young film club students hoping to put on the greatest horror fest their unappreciative/soon-too-be-appreciative town has ever seen.  It was very fun to watch these students transform the theater into an awesome establishment that I personally would LOVE to go to and watch old horror films at.  I was very enveloped in the feel and atmosphere of the film, which really made this a fun watch and shows how very well executed this piece is.

Story-wise this flick sounds and comes off a bit like a slasher film, but with some nice twists that keep it from being anything overly cliché.  The dreams Maggie suffers are quite horrifying, and learning the truth behind Lanyard Gates throws the viewer for a loop multiple times, until the final “twist” kicks in.  Yes, that is right, MULTIPLE twists for the viewer.  I, like most horror fans, am a huge fan of twists in films, and this one comes with enough of them to last me a while until the next one comes about.  To make this even cooler, the twists were ones I really did not see coming, which is always the objective of the twist.  I must commend writer/original-director(I’ll explain later) Alan Ormsby for a very fun and well written screenplay that played a big role behind the success of this awesome horror film.

Direction-wise this flick is a success, and comes with some interesting information.  The original director for the film, Alan Ormsby, was replaced after about three weeks of principal photography.  Some of you may remember Mr. Ormsby as a co-writer for Bob Clark’s amazing PG zombie film, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.  So who was Mr. Ormsby replaced with?  Well, none other than Mark Herrier, who starred as Billy in Bob Clark’s most popular film…Porkys!  Yeah, I was pretty bewildered when I came across this information myself.  While Alan Ormsby got things going, Mark Herrier really sealed the deal with this film’s direction and fantastic execution.  The pacing is great, the visuals and props are awesome, and the atmosphere and feel of this film envelop the viewer entirely.  For a first-time director Mark Herrier did one hell of a job.

Overall, this is a fun watch that I recommend to all horror fans who love these fun-to-watch slasher-esque films with plenty of horror homeages thrown in.  This is definitely a film made “for the fans”, and it comes highly recommended by me.

Rating: 7/10

The House of the Devil – 7


Director – Ti West

Cast – Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace

Release Year – 2009

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Nearly all true horror fans have an incredible amount of respect for the 80s horror films we grew up loving, and still love to this very day.  Thankfully, writer/director Ti West is a fan of such horror films as well, and gave us all a treat that shall not be forgotten.  With horror cinema’s ever-growing technological advances, it came as a surprise to me that this film was shot the way it was.  If you did not know any better, you would assume this film was an actual film FROM the 80s.  Yes, that is right.  Relying heavily on atmosphere and development, such as another satanic film The Exorcist, this flick is one you will have to see for yourself to believe.

The film stars Jocelin Donahue(The Burrowers) as Samantha, a sophomore in college in desperate need of money to pay for her new apartment.  She sees an advertisement on campus for a babysitter needed, and quickly sees a quick and easy way to make money.  Upon meeting her babysitters, their shady mannerisms trouble her, but nonetheless they pay well and she accepts the job.  What seems too good to be true, IS too good to be true.  Little does Samantha know, the owners of the home plan on using her for a satanic ritual that coincides with a lunar eclipse going on that very night.

As I mentioned earlier, if you did not know about this film prior to viewing it, you would assuredly assume this film came straight from the 80s.  The score, the scenery, the picture quality, it is all there, a great touch for what this film plans on giving it’s audience.  We have seen time and time again where a  young girl answers a babysitting call and goes through one hell of a night, and in all honesty…I never get tired of it.  There is just something about staying in a complete stranger’s home that is very unsettling to me, especially if they come off as shady as the homeowners in this film.

Ti West’s development of the plot is excellent, and although it does take quite a while for things to get going, I was hooked nonetheless.  That really does tell me something.  When a film shows little to no outright horror scenes, yet still keeps me engaged that is a true testament to great writing/direction and great overall filmmaking.  What really helped with this element was the use of the Mr. Ulman, which was complimented by the use of Mrs. Ulman.  They come of as shady, of course, but not so much that they come off overly predictable.  You know something is wrong, and they are not telling Samantha everything, but at the same time come off so humble and warm-hearted that you can see why she would take the job and not be so overly alarmed.  Excellently done Mr. West.  The atmosphere created thanks to the Ulman’s old creaky home was great as well, with many dark and shadowy corners that set the mood for the viewer and raise the creep-factor(as I like to call it).  In the end though, what really assists all of these elements is Ti West’s cinematography.  From what I have studied on the guy, it seems his cinematography is love/hate.  Some hate the fact that he has so many wide open shots, allowing the character on screen to walk away from the lens without any zooming in.  Personally, in THIS film, I enjoyed it.  It came off to me as a big reference to 80s cinematography, namely John Carpenter’s camera use in Halloween.  Watch both, and you will see the resemblance; not exact, but enough to compare the two.

Probably the biggest complaint I see with Ti West’s films, including this one, is his overly long development of the plot/film.  I mentioned earlier that it does take a while to get things going, and anyone who has seen this film will testify to that.  Put it this way, the film is 1hr and 29mins long before the credits roll, yet we don’t get our first shot at outright horror until 1hr and 15mins into the film!  What, only 14 minutes of on-screen horror?  Yes, and although that is a short amount of time, this film keeps it’s creep-factor relatively high from beginning to climax.  Don’t get me wrong, the development is nowhere near “boring”, and in fact does provide a few nice little chills here and there to keep you engaged.  If you are looking for an outright non-stop horror film then you will have to look elsewhere.  This film plays off the 80s atmospheric horror films, and those take a while to get going.

Aside from this film’s awesome direction, the writing is pretty well done as well.  A slow developing film such as this one could not survive on direction alone.  We do not get a high number of characters in the film, but the use of each character was warranted and none were useless.  Time and time again I see characters thrown into a film seemingly because the director needed some “eye candy” to keep the audience awake, which should be a sign that said film is lacking in one area or another.  Ti West’s best writing aspect in this film would not be the writing for our lead, Samantha, but for Mr. Ulman.  Mr. Ulman sold the film to me, with his select choice of words and humble-creepiness that stayed in my mind and kept me engaged in what I saw, waiting for the “break”(when outright horror kicks in during a slow film) to hit me.  Thankfully, when the horror did come in it was abrupt and surprisingly violent.  I was however a bit disappointed with the film’s climax.  I was hoping we would get some nice demon-oriented action, especially this being a “Satanic” cult and all, but all we really were given was some bloody action and a final scene that was slightly ambiguous, but if my prediction is correct…ill-fated at best.  Oh well, the great development and testament to great writing and direction were enough to allot me to forgive this film for not giving me a climax I will never forget.

Overall, this is a great throwback film to the classic atmospheric 80s flicks we all know and love, and I recommend this to fans of such flicks.  Keep in mind this film is quite slow, but worth it all the way.

Rating: 7/10

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