TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Horror Violence throughout, Language and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Dave Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Paul Solet, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin & Neil Marshall

Written by: Dave Parker, Clint Sears, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin & Neil Marshall

Starring: Barry Bostwick, Lin Shaye, John Savage, Pat Healy, BooBoo Stewart, Grace Phipps, Alex Esso & Kristina Klebe

TALES OF HALLOWEEN is arguably the most ambitious horror film to hit VOD during this spooky season. This Halloween-themed anthology has eleven directors telling ten stories that take place over the course of one night. However, the only real connections between these tales are a radio announcer (Adrienne Barbeau) who occasionally pops in and small lines of dialogue uttered by certain characters. So, an actual flowing wraparound between these segments is virtually nonexistent, but this anthology does give us an excuse to watch ten short films all centered around the scariest holiday of the year. It’s definitely no TRICK ‘R TREAT, but TALES OF HALLOWEEN is a fun flick that’s perfect for this time of year. As with every anthology that I review, I will focus on each short individually before ranking the film as a whole…

1. Sweet Tooth

SWEET TOOTH: Dave Parker (THE HILLS RUN RED) directs and writes this story about a kid who discovers a local urban legend of a candy-eating monster. Seeing that this is a horror anthology, you have a good idea as to whether or not the monster is real. This segment has some creativity to it and a nice set-up, but doesn’t fully come to a satisfying ending. You know where everything is going as soon as it starts and there was room for this short to go a little darker in its finale. B-

2. Night Billy Raised Hell

THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL: Darren Lynn Bousman’s contribution to this film is the first solid segment. This one follows a little boy who finds himself committing horrible “pranks” on Halloween under the guidance of a creepy old man. This segment is definitely more comedic than I was expecting, but I quickly warmed up to its dark sense of humor and cheesy sound effects. Also, the ending was a nice touch! B+

TRICK: A group of adults find themselves terrorized by some particularly violent trick-or-treaters. This segment had a lot of potential, especially seeing how one legitimately shocking moment occurs near the beginning. It quickly turns into a simple cat-and-mouse game that, while effective and to the point, doesn’t pack nearly enough of a punch as it should have. B

4. Weak and Wicked

THE WEAK AND THE WICKED: Paul Solet (who previously penned 2009’s brilliantly bloody GRACE) sadly underwhelms with this fourth segment. The story revolves around some violent bullies who find themselves confronted by a would-be vigilante. Though the effects are cool during the final minutes, the story is pretty silly and never really had me engaged. You’ve seen this sort of short film before and I’d guess that you’ve seen it in many different ways. C

5. Grim Grinning Ghost

GRIM GRINNING GHOST: Director/writer Axelle Carolyn makes up for Solet’s disappointing short with this highly effective and atmospheric one. A young woman hears a spooky ghost story at a Halloween party and soon finds herself on edge as she walks home through dark, fog-laden streets. It’s not exactly hard to guess where this short will eventually end up, but I really enjoyed the whole execution of it. This segment actually got two solid jumps out of me with its scares and playfully thwarted potentially cheap moments. Though it’s not exactly original, this short is extremely well-done and scary nonetheless. A-

6. Ding Dong

DING DONG: Lucky McKee is one of the most well-known directors of this anthology (with MAY and THE WOMAN in his filmography) and that’s why this sixth segment is so very disappointing. The plot revolves around an odd couple and I don’t really want to say more for fear of spoiling some of the few redeeming factors. Pollyanna McIntosh was brilliant in THE WOMAN and I just don’t know what the hell she’s doing here. Meanwhile, Marc Senter (who’s been fantastic in THE LOST and RED, WHITE & BLUE) makes the most of the material he’s given. There’s definitely an interesting idea at the center of this short, but the execution feels cheap and far from fully developed. C-

7. This Means War

THIS MEANS WAR: The best short of this entire anthology belongs to Andrew Kasch and John Skipp! Combining a great sense of humor with horror, this story focuses on an erupting battle between two neighbors with very different tastes in Halloween decorations. The segment plays out like a really nasty piece of dark comedy and I absolutely loved it. It also helps that production values are rock solid (that’s true of the next two shorts as well) and it’s all very fast-paced. Though I guessed the ending before it actually happened, that didn’t make it any less satisfying. This is easily my favorite segment of this anthology! A

8. Friday the 31st

FRIDAY THE 31ST: The award for most bizarre entry in this anthology goes to Mike Mendez (director of the appropriately titled BIG ASS SPIDER!). This segment starts out as a slasher-esque bit that turns into something else entirely. I won’t say what because a lot of the fun comes from the goofy “what the hell am I watching?!?” tone in this segment. I haven’t seen any of Mendez’s other work, but this short strikes me as the work of someone who could potentially become the next Sam Raimi. In other words, this short is cheesy, goofy and a friggin’ blast! B+

THE RANSOM OF RUSTY REX: This segment stands out as my second favorite of the film. Two kidnappers find their plan falling apart after one horrible mistake. That’s all I’ll say, because this segment is really fun to watch. An over-the-top sense of humor is combined with creepy horror, but this story leans slightly more on the scary side than THIS MEANS WAR did. The two performances of the leads as well as one well-placed cameo and some stellar make-up effects make this into the second-best of these ten shorts. Also, I would easily watch a feature-length horror-comedy centered around this premise. A

10. Bad Seed

BAD SEED: Neill Marshall has brought us enjoyable flicks in the past, such as THE DESCENT, DOOMSDAY, and CENTURION. Now, he brings us a short about a killer pumpkin. That’s right. A cop is investigating a killer pumpkin on Halloween night and we see this occur for about 10 minutes. Think of this short as a Halloween-centered version of ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES…but with pumpkins. I really wanted to enjoy this short and there were a couple of goofy moments that worked. However, I felt that this segment was a weak way to close out the film, especially given how it ends. At least, the always enjoyable Pat Healy shows up for a few minutes. C+

11. Overall

TALES is the second horror anthology to come out this year that’s based around a holiday and features a radio host as the main connection between the stories (the first is A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY). Like that other holiday anthology, TALES OF HALLOWEEN has a mixed bag of segments. There are bad ones (Lucky McKee’s and Paul Solet’s), so-so ones (Neil Marshall’s and Dave Parker’s) as well as some good ones (Mike Mendez’s and Darren Lynn Bousman’s) and fantastic ones (Ryan Schifrin’s, Andrew Kasch’s and John Skipp’s). The good far outweighs the bad though! If you’re looking for a fun anthology that’s perfect for this time of year, then TALES OF HALLOWEEN won’t disappoint.

Grade: B

THAT GUY DICK MILLER (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Elijah Drenner

Written by: Elijah Drenner

Starring: Dick Miller, Lainie Miller, Gilbert Adler, Steve Carver, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker, Ernest R. Dickerson, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Leonard Maltin & William Sadler

If you watch a lot of movies, then you’ve likely noticed small recurring actors. You may drive yourself crazy trying to remember what you’ve seen them in before and ultimately realize that they’ve been side characters in a ton of movies. These performers are what some people refer as “That Guy” as in “Oh that guy. He’s in everything.” Some modern examples of “That Guy” include Brian Cox and Dylan Baker. However, there’s one “That Guy” who trumps them all. From the mid-1950’s to the present, Dick Miller has acquired nearly 200 credits to his name. Though he’s only received the leading role in two of his films, you’re more than likely to recognize Dick Miller from somewhere. He’s the neighbor in GREMLINS. He’s the psycho-killer in A BUCKET OF BLOOD. Now, he’s the subject of this remarkably entertaining and insightful documentary.

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THAT GUY DICK MILLER takes the viewer through Dick Miller’s career in the film industry. The documentary weaves together interviews with co-workers and friends as well as tons of clips from Miller’s bit parts in various films. We are also given details about his personal life that you would never have any clue about. For example, Dick wasn’t planning on becoming an actor and originally wanted to be a screenwriter. He has a full drawer of screenplays that were never made into movies and has officially written three films (two of which he seems to be embarrassed by).

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This documentary will definitely play big for genre buffs who are more than a little familiar with who Dick Miller is, but should also serve as a fascinating experience for newbies who had no idea about this actor’s many roles. Through one-on-one interviews, you get the sense that Miller always injects a little of himself into each performance (as small as that performance might be). He’s such a unique individual that you can’t help but love the man. That spirit and sense of enjoyment is omnipresent through this entire documentary. Miller discussing the many problems that occur on various sets is especially entertaining. One piece about how money was tight during spots of his career (even though he had filmed five movies in one year) and him constantly waiting by the phone for his livelihood is a bit of brutal honesty that you don’t hear a lot of in Hollywood. I felt like giving the man a round of applause, because he very much seems like a dedicated individual.

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Besides examining Dick Miller’s career, the movie simultaneously sheds light on how very different the filmmaking scene was during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Miller thrived in the world of exploitation cinema and B-movies. They were his bread and butter. Though he’s also appeared in THE TERMINATOR and was sadly cut out of PULP FICTION, Miller serves as a bit of a genre icon for many. I would love to see a documentary examining the rise of exploitation movies and B-flicks in the Hollywood scene as well (though I’m sure a handful have already been made) from director Elijah Drenner because he clearly has a solid grasp on what he’s doing and how to present this information. If there is one complaint to be had from me, it comes in a 5-minute segment focusing on Miller’s friendship with Joe Dante that seems to lean a tad too much on Dante’s filmography as opposed to Miller’s role in it. At any rate, it’s a minor gripe and is still interesting nonetheless.

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Overall, THAT GUY DICK MILLER is a fascinating, oddly heartwarming documentary that highlights a significant piece of genre filmmaking history. That piece being the recurring character actor with nearly 200 credits to his name. Much like BEST WORST MOVIE and SPINE TINGLER!, THAT GUY DICK MILLER should serve as a hugely enjoyable time for genre buffs and equally fascinating for people who don’t necessarily know a lot about exploitation cinema. This comes highly recommended!

Grade: A

GREMLINS (1984)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Joe Dante

Written by: Chris Columbus

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Howie Mandel & Frank Welker

Out of all the pint-sized monster films (not exactly a subgenre known for its originality and quality) in cinematic history, GREMLINS is likely the best. This horror-comedy is full of creature chaos, dark humor, and silly scenes. Director Joe Dante (who also helmed THE HOWLING and the second-best segment in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE) made an enjoyable monster movie that feels like it would be right at home in the 1950’s…if it weren’t for the impressive practical effects and surprising level of violence. GREMLINS is one of those nostalgic pieces of entertainment that encapsulates what 80’s family classics are made of (ala THE GOONIES and MONSTER SQUAD).

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Inventor Randall Peltzer is searching for a special Christmas present for his son, Billy. When he stumbles across an underground store in Chinatown, it seems that he’s found the perfect gift: a furry, adorable creature called a Mogwai. Billy begins to care for this Mogwai, named Gizmo, as an unusual pet. However, there are three rules that come with Mogwai. You can’t expose them to bright light. You can’t get them wet. Most importantly, you can’t feed them after midnight. Billy accidentally breaks all three of these rules and soon after, reptilian-looking Gremlins are wreaking havoc in his small town on Christmas Eve. It’s up to Billy and Gizmo to put a stop to this monstrous mess.

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Believe it or not, GREMLINS is one of the films that had a significant impact on the MPAA’s rating system (alongside RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and POLTERGEIST). Though it only sports a PG rating, GREMLINS contains some surprisingly dark moments. There are creepy images on display, including cocoons that form before the actual Gremlins emerge. I also like how the movie took a semi-JAWS approach before reveling in the Gremlins themselves. You only catch a few shadows and a very brief glimpse, before the movie goes balls-out in showing off the little monsters. The film is surprisingly violent too, not that I’m complaining. While you don’t necessarily see a lot of people get killed by the Gremlins (there are a couple), the title monsters themselves get it pretty bad. One sequence with Billy’s mother wandering through her house while five Gremlins stalk her is both suspenseful and beyond satisfying as the little monsters bite it in gruesome ways.

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GREMLINS isn’t all good though, because the humor is very hit-or-miss. The movie especially gets a little too stupid in its final third. There are two montages that go on way too long: Gremlins drinking at a bar and Gremlins partying at a movie theater. It’s not as if these ideas are terrible (though the bar thing is dumb), but they drag out and feel tired. While the last third of this movie gets downright comedic, one depressing monologue comes right out of nowhere and is arguably a bit too dark for this film. It’s not like it’s a bad monologue, but it’s oddly placed and doesn’t help the shifting tone of the story. The mixed bag of characters complicate things too. Billy is an okay protagonist, but bland. Meanwhile, Dick Miller is great as a drunk neighbor with a prejudice against foreign machines. Of course, in a monster movie like this one, the characters aren’t supposed to the be the stars. Those would be the Gremlins themselves and they’re fun to watch, even if they can be too ridiculous.

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This is one of those family films that had a big impact on kids growing up during the 80’s and 90’s. The tone of the movie doesn’t exactly stay consistent. Sometimes, it’s all-out comedic (a couple of montages are way too long) and it can also be a bit too dark (a Santa Clause monologue comes right out of nowhere). However, it makes up for its shortcomings though legitimately creepy moments and a risky level of chaos. GREMLINS is enjoyable and easily the best little-monster movie that I’ve ever seen (competing with the likes of GHOULIES and CRITTERS). Recommended!

Grade: B

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller

Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison & Jerome Bixby

Starring: Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd, Vic Morrow, Doug McGrath, Charles Hallahan, Scatman Crothers, Bill Quinn, Martin Gamer, Selma Diamond, Helen Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy & John Lithgow

From 1959 until 1964, Rod Serling made a splash on the small screen with a hugely influential and acclaimed anthology series called THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The episodes could range from scary to heartfelt and almost always had an otherworldly edge around them. During the early 80’s, four influential directors became attached to a big screen adaptation of Serling’s small screen series. Drawing inspiration from original episodes and turning them into four distinct segments of this movie, each director delivers their signature style in a TWILIGHT ZONE story of their own. What results is a sometimes mixed bag, but mostly quality horror/sci-fi anthology. Now, onto the stories themselves…

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PROLOGUE: This opening segment (running at just under 10 minutes) follows two men driving along a desolated road. When the radio breaks, the pair entertain themselves through casual conversation and little road games, but this all takes a dark turn when one man asks the other if he wants to see something “really scary.” This opening runs a bit too long as it’s just one big set-up for a jump scare that is tame by today’s standards. This brief prologue is not particularly great, but still has its charming qualities. B-

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TIME OUT: Bill Connor is an ill-tempered bigot. After getting drunk at a bar and going on a verbal insult spree against black people, Asians, and Jews, Bill finds himself stuck in a shifting timeline of hatred as he runs for his life from Nazis, American soldiers in Vietnam, and the KKK. This segment gave the film notoriety after a fatal on-stage accident claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two illegally hired child actors. That tragedy and legal trial overshadow what is a fairly good story with a grim moral message. In spite of never actually completing this segment (which originally had a far more uplifting ending), the continuity blends together well. It’s a dark segment with great acting from Vic Morrow as a hate-filled man forced to sympathize with those he despises. Good moral, good ending, but a horrible on-stage accident casts a shadow over the whole film. A-

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KICK THE CAN: It’s pretty easy to identify the worst story in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Ironically enough, it comes from the biggest name out of the four directors. Steven Spielberg strays from the dark and eerie tone of the rest of the anthology to tell a charming/cheesy story about old folks in a retirement home recovering their youth in a magical game of Kick the Can. This segment starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into an overly sappy, melodramatic mess. Besides the story going far too over-the-top and not tonally blending in with the rest of the film, the child actors are really bad. It seems that Spielberg had the kids try to imitate elderly people as opposed to just being kids and it doesn’t work at all. C-

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IT’S A GOOD LIFE: Based on one of the TWILIGHT ZONE’s best episodes, this story follows a schoolteacher who befriends a young child named Anthony. After she driving Anthony to his home, it becomes quickly clear that his living situation is abnormal to say the least. The teacher quickly learns the frightening truth that the saying “If you can dream it, you can do it” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Anthony. This second best installment of the bunch manages to nail down the right balance of over-the-top and scary. It starts off a little slow, but quickly gains momentum with impressive visuals and a crazy storyline. Honestly, I think director Joe Dante would have been right at home doing a whole TWILIGHT ZONE anthology all by himself, but then we wouldn’t have this film’s closing segment (more on that in a moment). A

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NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET: Talk about going out on a high (no pun intended), NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET is an adaptation that’s actually better than the iconic episode that inspired it. A nervous passenger on an airplane is flying through a turbulent storm. He’s scared out of his wits, but tries to maintain a positive attitude that the plane will land in once piece…that is, until he sees something on the wing of the plane. This story truly is the best this film has to offer. Directed by George Miller (the same man who brought us the MAD MAX series), NIGHMARE AT 20,000 FEET literally feels like a nightmare put onto the screen. To merely call this story intense or creepy would be doing a disservice to the material. Aided by John Lithgow’s stellar performance, Miller manages to capture a sense of claustrophobic chaos that will have you on the edge of your seat through the whole story. Also, there’s a nice call-back to an early segment that will at least get a chuckle out of you (if not a shiver down your spine as well). A+

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TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is, like most anthologies, a bit of a mixed bag. There’s only one really disappointing story (ironically enough, it happens to be from the most accomplished director attached to this project), a decent prologue, and three tales that measure up to varying degrees of greatness. This film is worth seeing if only for the last two segments. Overall, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is an anthology film that’s well worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

THE HOWLING (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Joe Dante

Written by: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless

(based on the novel THE HOWLING by Gary Brandner)

Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy

By the time the 70’s had ended, it seemed like the reign of classic movie monsters was at an end. There was a lack of vampire films, no Frankenstein movies to be found, and next to no werewolf movies. 1981 brought two great features about the beast that transforms by the light of the full moon. The more well-known film was AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. THE HOWLING was the other film and though it has received significantly less attention than the horror-comedy take on the monster, it was extremely successful at the box office and has gone on to be considered one of the best werewolf movies of all-time. Incorporating classic sensibilities of the Universal horror movies from the 1940’s with a new concept of the well-known monster, THE HOWLING is a very cool 80’s horror film that holds up amazingly well.

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Karen White, a LA news anchor, is being used as bait to catch a serial killer. After the cops lose connection with her, Karen goes through a traumatizing experience in which she almost dies at the hands of the killer who appeared to be a little more than….human. In order to recuperate, Karen and her husband, Bill, travel to a resort where psychiatric patients gather to receive professional help. It’s a place called The Colony. After hearing some rather alarming howls in the woods at night, Bill is attacked and bitten by a large animal. As Bill begins to go through more than just a personality change, Karen, along with two of her friends, investigate the hairy secret that The Colony hides.

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Many critics say that the incredible transformation scene in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is the best werewolf scene of all time. I’d say that THE HOWLING has a scene that is just as great as that well-known moment in AMERICAN WEREWOLF. Rick Baker was actually on the make-up crew for THE HOWLING and left to work on the Landis production. They gave each other some stiff competition with well-constructed effects and memorable moments. As far as gore goes, I found THE HOWLING to be more graphic than AMERICAN WEREWOLF too. It’s a dark film that also has moments of humor, but isn’t a complete blend of horror and comedy. There are also plenty of little references thrown in the background for horror buffs.

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The music sounds like it’s from a black-and-white monster movie for the most part, but that also feels completely appropriate for the story being presented. For the most part, the monsters are left to the darkness for the first half of the film. We get little hints at what’s going on, but nothing is really shown front and center, save for one scene. When the werewolves are on-screen, it’s quite a sight to behold. Even little things like a shadow passing by the window can be nothing short of scary.

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One characteristic about these werewolves that is unique involves the idea that they’re simply shape-shifters. It doesn’t have to be a full moon for them to transform, instead they can turn anytime they please or that is convenient for them. This adds a new level of danger for the characters, especially Karen living with a man who could potentially change and rip her to pieces at any moment. The final third also introduces a really cool plot twist that makes sense with the logic that has been set up early on.

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As far as weak moments go, the only real pet peeve I had with this film is Dee Wallace’s acting. She’s good for the most part, but at times, she comes off as a bit over-the-top. Everything else about the film is stellar and makes for a hell of a great werewolf film. It might even place a little higher for me than AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which is blasphemy for a lot of people. THE HOWLING is an essential viewing for anybody who enjoys scary movies, especially ones about werewolves.

Grade: A-

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