DVD Stalk: Hostel: Part II, Black Sheep, and Saw III: DC
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Bill Gibron's take on the DVD release of Eli Roth's Hostel: Part II. Here's some of what Bill has to say about the film: "What did Eli Roth do to deserve such wrath? He had to imagine that, by revisiting his horror classic Hostel a second time, he'd incur some small amount of anti-sequel sentiment. And when it was discovered that girls, not guys, would be the focus of these latest frighteners, gender ethicists would obviously scream chauvinistic murder. But you'd swear that this motion picture maverick, the genre outsider equivalent of someone like Quentin Tarantino (at least in his own mind), tracked down every mainstream critic, broke into his or her own backyard, and peed in their pool. Even worse, he also apparently located all the basement dwelling geeks, ransacked their rumpus rooms, and stole their copies of Halo 3. It clearly has nothing to do with the actual film itself. While not on par with the first, which remains a benchmark in the new post-modern dread paradigm, this sensational redux argues for the series' continued success. Still, there has to be a reason behind the hating. However, jealously or a violation of aesthetic anticipation are not valid decisive defenses...Believe it or not, Hostel: Part II is not the cinematic abomination the fanboy base and critical community would have you believe. In fact, in a world awash with unnecessary horror sequels, it stands as one of the best, a brazen reworking of the original formula to totally reconfigure the entire gorno genre. What current cultural whipping boy Eli Roth has done here is expand the Elite Hunting universe, showing us the mechanisms of murder as well as the more feminized angles of the business. By making girls the primary target this time, as well as focusing on a pair of potential killers, we learn more about the nature of man, and consequently, the allure of this type of 'tourist trap' than any sociological screed. And the best part is, there's blood. Lots and lots of blood. While the arterial spray provided may not rival the revulsion level of the first film, there are set piece moments (made even more juicy thanks to the Unrated Director's Cut tag on the DVD) that steal your breath away with their outright cruelty and physiological intensity. But there is much more to this film than mere babe butchering. Buried inside all the Eastern European evil is a telling statement about gender politics and double standards...From its excellent acting (special kudos to Lauren German as Beth, Bijou Phillips as Whitney, and Broadway's Roger Bart as the wimped out Stuart) to the real sense of dread and unease, the Hostel films remain excellent examples of a cynical, post-millennial desire to shock at all costs. Instead of being more of the same, the sequel only magnifies everything...Hostel: Part II is a fantastic sequel, one of the best franchise revisits in the legacy of such motion picture money grabs. Granted, it is definitely not everyone's cup of terror tea, and those who were less than impressed by the original film will definitely dislike what Eli Roth is replicating here. While this critic couldn't get enough of such gender bending antics, he recognizes that not everyone will join his praise propelled bandwagon...Hostel: Part II does everything a good splatter horror movie should - it disturbs as it delights, providing ample examples of nauseating nastiness along with its inventive narrative. It's the perfect companion piece to the extraordinary original."
"What does one say about a comedic horror film with killer sheep that hasn't been said before? I mean, seriously, what insight do I have to offer when it comes to rabid, flesh-eating lambs?...Black Sheep is an unapologetic B-movie gorefest from New Zealand, a country where sheep outnumber people by something like four to one. Written and directed by first-timer Jonathan King and featuring Fangoria-style splatter effects by the Weta Workshop (part of the effects team on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, and tons more), Black Sheep taps into what surely must be the fear of many a Kiwi, and yet does so with the kind of quirky humor we can expect from that part of the world...Obviously, Black Sheep takes itself none too seriously, and the film ends up being goofy fun. Though it could have probably been either a little funnier or a little scarier, rather than settling in some kind of middle ground between the two, you'd have to be feeling pretty grim and cynical not to succumb to the sheer dumbness of the premise. Combining tropes from a wide variety of midnight schlock, parodying zombie movies and mad scientist plots while making fun of hippies, the overtly Green, and even family dramas, Black Sheep bites off pieces of just about everything and spits it back out as bloody chunks of comedy...Fans of old-school frightfests will particularly like the old-fashioned approach to the special effects...So, if you're looking for a few shocks and quite a lot of belly laughs, Black Sheep will make for some excellent popcorn viewing. It won't change your life, but it might make you think twice next time you pull on that wool sweater...No pretensions, no high-minded metaphors, just cheap thrills and silly laughs. Black Sheep is the first ever movie to see the horror in sheep herding. Played for giggles, but also full of a few good scares and wicked gross-out moments, this Kiwi romp is exactly what it sells itself as and nothing more."
"It's been interesting to watch the rapid rise and dramatic downfall of the Saw franchise - at least from an aesthetic standpoint. From festival darling to part of the much maligned 'torture porn' genre, James Wan and Leigh Whannel's original Hitchockian exercise has been associated with everything original and all that is derivative with the post-millennial movie macabre. While the series wasn't helped by the switch in direction (or director) once Darren Lynn Bousman was brought on board, the filmmaker has since fallen back into line. While Saw II was successful, it remains the most unusual follow-up to a fright film since Stonehenge shards were stuffed into children's masks for Halloween III: Season of the Witch. This time, instead of trying to jerryrig the journey into something resembling a slasher film with brainteasers, the wonderful Saw III brings the endearing legacy of 'murder scientist' Jigsaw, his apprentice, the various victims, and the numerous law enforcement officers investigating the crimes to a logical, legitimate end. While Saw IV is still waiting in the wings (and how that will work out remains a mystery), the conclusions drawn here are very solid indeed...Saw III stands as an excellent end to a rollercoaster franchise, a film that wants to make up for all the liberties taken by the somewhat scattered second installment. While James Wan and Leigh Whannel, the Australian duo responsible for the original, can argue all they want to about overriding story arcs and interconnected character ideals, what many in the fanbase understand is that part two was derived from a script that had very little to do with Jigsaw and his games. Instead, director Darren Lynn Bousman brought in a project he was working on when hired to helm the sequel, and together with input from the creators, managed to make it work. When you consider that the original movie was a terrific, tight little thriller and the sequel was a slightly hackneyed extension of the same, there was quite a mountain to climb to get this final installment to succeed. Luckily, Wan and Whannel were agreeable to stitch it all back together, and the results are exemplary. Much better than the redux while upping the ick factor substantially, Saw III is one of the best epilogues to a horror property ever. Even better, it's geared directly to those of us ensconced in this narrative's death by mechanical misadventure mythos, answering major questions while giving everyone a much deserving peak at the reasons behind cancer ridden John Kramer's conversion into a harbinger of evil...Yet it's the acting, not the atrocities, that hold everything together. Tobin Bell, who has played Jigsaw as both powerful and less, is really pathetic here. He's a weak shell of a man, desperate to see his protégé succeed. As the murderous magician's apprentice, Shawnee Smith's Amanda is a mess. Having become a cutter to deal with her master's impending death, there are facets of great darkness in how she responds. There's also a shockingly sad vulnerability that's hard to shake...With the way this plot dealt with the characters, three should have been enough. Of course, where there's success, there's sequels. At least Saw III had the good taste to play fair with the fans. It makes this intended final film all the sweeter...Nothing warms a fright fan's heart more than a sequel done right. Saw II was rather sloppy when it came to staying true to Leigh Whannel and James Wan's original vision. Thankfully, Saw III does get it right. Even better, for those who've been waiting for the inevitable Unrated Director's Cut, this version of the film really piles on the pus...Saw III is one amazing explosion of entertainment and entrails."
"In discussing the colorful career of director-producer Roger Corman (born 1926), writers and even the perpetually grinning Corman himself tend to emphasize the anecdotal: the often hilarious stories of making movies under ludicrously tight budgets and even tighter shooting schedules, most famously The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which Corman filmed in just two days and three nights. Perhaps less secure about his artistic accomplishments than his business acumen, he seems to prefer discussing the latter, as the title of his autobiography suggests: How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood (And Never Lost a Dime). Historians like to talk about Corman's many famous disciples, how talent as varied as Martin Scorsese, Robert Towne, Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, and James Cameron all got their start working for Roger...All this is absolutely true, but it tends to undermine Corman's talents as a director. Bottom-of-the-bill helmers like Jerry Warren, Edward L. Cahn and Richard E. Cunha were working with the same amount of money and time (often more so) Corman had back in the 1950s but there's not a big demand for retrospectives and monographs of their careers today. That's because the secret to Corman's enduring popularity wasn't just that he could bring his films in ahead of schedule and under-budget, or that he had his finger on the pulse of the drive-in market, or even that he was shrewd enough to hire hungry young talent to work for him for next to nothing. Rather, it was his intelligence, taste, and ingenuity in raising bottom-of-the-bill fodder into something far better than anyone might reasonably have expected. His pictures were always commercial - indeed, usually highly exploitable - but for no extra time or money was able to infuse them with (among other things) richer and more complex characterizations, camerawork and (especially) blocking that was infinitely more compelling than the flat style of his contemporaries...MGM's The Roger Corman Collection is a well-chosen set of eight films, all either underrated and/or or significant points in the director's career...Though The Young Racers would be worth seeking out if it were available separately, and Bloody Mama is worth seeing if not exactly good, the boxed set isn't really worth picking up for those Roger Corman fans who already own all or most of the other films in this set. If you've skipped them until now, the selection of titles, and despite the hit-and-miss transfers and dearth of extras on the new releases, is recommended."
"Starting late in 1999, Image Entertainment licensed and released a series of Mario Bava DVDs from producer/rights holder Alfredo Leone. Around the same time, Video Watchdog editor and publisher Tim Lucas announced the upcoming publication of his major book on the Italian director. Seven years later, improved editions of most of the same Bava titles are being reissued by Anchor Bay, just as Lucas' massive Bava bio, All the Colors of the Dark has finally been published. Last March, Savant reviewed The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1, which contained five titles: Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, Knives of the Avenger and Kill, Baby ... Kill! The new Mario Bava Collection Volume 2 contains seven separate shows, or nine if one counts The House of Exorcism, an ugly reworking of Bava's Lisa and the Devil, and Rabid Dogs, a superior cut included on the disc of Kidnapped...Anchor Bay's Bava Collections have been in the works for over two years. I spoke with the producer of extras for the company back when they first acquired the collection. The initial plan was to turn the discs into lavish special editions. The disc producer had even lined up the reclusive Barbara Steele for interviews. Those ideas were soon dropped, even before Anchor Bay was purchased by Starz Media. While the Special Edition idea was still on, AB picked up distribution rights for the non-Leone Bava epic Erik the Conqueror. But the company drew the line at importing the much-desired Caltiki, The Immortal Monster because it was in B&W...Improved transfers for some of the titles makes the Anchor Bay Volume 2 set more than a simple reissue. Several of the Volume 2 discs also feature new commentaries by Tim Lucas, turning them into a virtual 'companion publication' for his just-released book...Hopefully, fans pouring over the lavish contents of Tim Lucas' book will increase interest in the Region 1 holdout titles in Bava's filmography...Caltiki, prime versions of the Hercules movies, etc. The timing of Anchor Bay's boxed sets couldn't be better."
"While Andrea Bianchi's Cry Of A Prostitute and Strip Nude For Your Killer stand as popular Italian genre films, the director remains best known for the insanity that is Burial Ground starring the one and only Peter 'Mother, this cloth smells of death!' Bark and Mariangela Giordano who, not so coincidently, also stars in Malabimba The Malicious Whore. While the first three films mentioned all stand out as remarkably depraved, the can't hold a candle to Malabimba and its mix of hardcore sex scenes and off the wall murder set pieces...Filled to the brim with all manner of perversions, the film leaves no kink unturned. Once poor little Bimba is possessed she'll stop at nothing to get herself off, whether that require an encounter with the nun or a graphic romp in the bed with her stuffed animals, the girl is intent on doing it as often as possible and with whoever or whatever is handy. As such, these scenes make up a fairly large portion of the film's running time and, seeing as there are hardcore inserts included here, essentially throw what appears to be a horror film into straight up porno movie territory. That said, it's a very well shot film with some truly inspired and insane performances from its cast and a couple of eerie moments that remind us we're watching more than just a simple spank film...The whole melodramatic affair plays out in a wonderfully creepy looking old stone castle out in the middle of nowhere, giving Malabimba The Malicious Whore a fantastic gothic look that works quite well in the picture's favor. Despite the uber-trashy content the film looks fantastic and it's obvious that the crew put some serious effort into the visuals and that the cast put their all into the performances with Laennec really standing out in the lead. As it stands, the film is an interesting mix of sex and gothic horror that makes no qualms about exploiting its ridiculous premise...One of the most insane of the Italian possession films of the seventies and early eighties, Malabimba The Malicious Whore is a remarkably trashy film with some fantastic set pieces and skin galore. The hardcore inserts might through some viewers off but those with a taste for sleaze should find much to love here."
"Why is it that homemade horror filmmakers always take on the standard stereotypical scary stuff? You know - zombies, vampires, the psychotic serial killers and the single minded Voorhees in training slashers. It seems like, whenever a novice director wants to get his fear freak on, he reverts to long dead (or undead) genre formulas. Of course, it's only fair to acknowledge the limitations inherent in camcorder creativity. You have to deal with amateur actors, found locations, crappy F/X, and that most meddlesome of moviemaking issues - cash. Monetary concerns can make the already paltry pickings slimmer indeed, but imagination and invention have a funny way of flummoxing even the most restrictive fiscal policy. Yet too few dread reckonings use novelty as part of their production. Kudos then to self-ascribed "homme fatale" Alan Rowe Kelly. In an eclectic career that's seen the drag diva master fashion, literature and the technical side of television, his sensational schlock masterwork The Blood Shed stands apart. As a homage to insane inbred families with a craving for cannibal cuisine, it's a brilliant bumpkin satire. Even better, it illustrates how abject creativity can overcome even the most limited cinematic situations...Imagine if David Lynch and Rob Zombie had a baby, gave said malformed infant to John Waters to wet nurse, and on weekends, all three allowed Kenneth Anger and the Kuchar Brothers to come over and babysit. With Tobe Hooper and Jack Hill as the godparents and Edith Massey as thrift store style consultant, the results would begin to resemble something similar to the wonderfully weird brain damaged b-movie The Blood Shed. The conceptual offspring of couture auteur Alan Rowe Kelly, this tasty take on the entire Texas Chainmail Massacre trip is one of the year's best unknown independent movies. Striking an intriguing balance between scares, surrealism, and satire, this eager exploitation experiment is a joy to behold. It takes all the archetypal elements of a Deliverance level hillbilly hoedown, macerates it in a cinematic concoction of kitsch, creeps, and dollar store perfume and paints a perverted patina over every last piece of lunatic fringe. The result is a delirious, dangerous example of old school schlock infused with a post-modern knowledge of the genre's long term effectiveness. It's the cinematic equivalent of swallowing a few tabs of Jean Nate soaked acid and tripping the blight fantastic...Even better, The Blood Shed avoids the standard clichés we've come to expect from the entire wicked family formula. Sure, it may steal just a skoosh from 1988's American Gothic (which also contained a heifer sized character guiding its batsh*t brood storyline) and frequently gives itself over to glamour fits of outrageous pointlessness, this is still one helluva horror comedy ride. It's riotously inventive, strangely satisfying, and completely out of its gourd. It's also a flawless illustration of how using one's brains - instead of buckets of blood - can lead to true cinematic greatness. This won't be everyone's style or sensibility, especially since Kelly never once lets on that there may be a man underneath all those baby doll dresses and grue-spattered crinoline. And anyone wanting more gore for their good time will probably wonder where the funk's at. Such criticisms really don't matter, however. The Blood Shed is a heaping helping of quirk-filled fabulousness, a movie with a surprise around every corner, and a corpse in every closet. From the oddball chase between the sheriff and the two Bullion boys (each one dressed in a different animal costume), to the hilarious photo shoot where Beefteena dreams of being America's Next Top Model, this is memorable, manic stuff. It doesn't deserve to be scoffed it. Indeed, this is the kind of film that needs to be celebrated - and savored."
"Imagine my surprise upon discovery that Frostbitten (Frostbiten), a solid horror flick from director Anders Banke, reigns as the first dedicated vampire film to come out of Sweden. Uncovering said info after viewing this slick, comedic bloodbath impressed me. Aside from a few classic genre sacrifices and a flimsy story, Sweden's colorfully cold stab at vampirism satisfies in humorously macabre fashion...We hit a few bumps along the way with weak plot gaps and lackluster characterizations through its foundation, but the flick easily muscles past such originality problems with pure blood-soaked adrenaline. There's a lot of the raw essence of great vampire flicks ensnared in Frostbitten, mainly in the solid exchange between quirkily effective humor and tingling tension. It reminds me a lot in proportionality to James Gunn's 'slug'-fest Slither, but it blends the elements of both laughs and jolts in a less belligerent fashion. This, actually, works quite well to its advantage...Frostbitten is a limerick-style creature mystery with lush visualization, and solid within its core is a pseudo-realistic tie to genetics and vampirism. The ease of transformation from human to vampire through a small pill is a little hard to swallow; however, every other intricate element revolving around the ferocious fiends, whether we're talking aesthetics or behavior, is a top-notch achievement considering the freshness of the crew. Clear integration of numerous Hollywood influences wiggles in, both in stunts and overall stylistic presence. Sure, Frostbitten is a splash on the unoriginal side and predictable in delivery and story, but it's easy to sacrifice any search for innovation when a horror flick is as reliably and charmingly solid as this...If you're on the search for vampire flicks with panache and humor, then Frostbitten is right up your alley. Lack of both innovation and blatant scares aside, you'll have a bloody good time with this."
"Horror fans have been thirsting for this box of Fox Horror Classics, as rumors of an imminent release for the Laird Cregar films have been around since at least 2003. The classy Cregar duo show Fox doing their best to trump the upsurge in psychological horror introduced by Val Lewton and Cat People at the start of the war, adding slick 'quality values' associated with upscale titles like MGM's Gaslight, made the same year. These stylishly produced thrillers afforded director John Brahm the opportunity to let loose with a barrage of expressionist lighting effects to emphasize the menace of the troubled star Laird Cregar...The chills actually begin with 1942's The Undying Monster, a muddled werewolf picture surely made to exploit the popularity of Universal's The Wolf Man from the previous year. Director John Brahm was given a no-name cast but the Fox production values are lavish compared to what was being turned out at Universal and RKO. Impressive castle interiors may have been partially recycled from other films, and the impressive stage-constructed exteriors include a massive wave-tossed rocky shoreline...1944's The Lodger is a big step up to 'A' picture status; the only studio doing fancier work at the time was MGM with its Picture of Dorian Gray...The film's suspense mechanism is a bit slack but The Lodger gets high marks for style. Once again teamed with cinematographer Lucien Ballard, Brahm's camera cranes over shiny cobble-stoned back lots and isolates characters in dingy rooms. Cregar's alienation and weirdness is accentuated by dramatic accent lighting on his tortured eyes. The special camera treatment balances Cregar's arresting performance. The massive Cregar can't help but draw attention, and has excellent instincts to play strong without going overboard...1945's Hangover Square is John Brahm's near-masterpiece, a popular chiller that nevertheless did not attract the attention of more audience-friendly pictures like Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase... Fox's 3-DVD set of Fox Horror Classics are beautifully transferred and come with a number of extras that begin with an insert flyer with publicity notes. Postcard-scaled photos are included for two of the titles, and all of them come with a restoration comparison, ad and still galleries, and an original trailer...New Wave did a featurette docu for each disc, a piece on director John Brahm, one on the making of The Lodger and one on Laird Cregar's short and mostly unhappy Hollywood career. They suffer from repetitious editing (three spokespeople say the same thing, one after another) and overexposure of capable interviewees like Kim Newman and Steve Haberman. Several of the talking heads are interviewed wearing the same clothing and in the same setups as seen in last month's Vincent Price Collection. All of these spokespeople are qualified and knowledgeable, but by including every statement that praises the films or the actors, the editorial choices oversell the films -- these are good movies, but not monumental landmarks in horror history."
"The headlong rush into violent, sexy absurdity that is 1995's Species makes me pine for the days when major studios accepted pitches about supermodels who could mutate into killer aliens with little on their minds but reproducing...Cinemax After Dark style. It's sounds goofy and indeed, it's hard to take Species as seriously as it might like. Certainly, it's a well-pedigreed film that features a pretty solid cast for what's essentially "Basic Alien Instinct" and the special effects, although a bit wobbly at times, are effectively gross...A film tailor-made to be enjoyed on cable, Species isn't a cinematic masterpiece by any stretch, but as turn-off-your-brain entertainment, it's worth cracking open a bag of popcorn."
"When Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel hit pay dirt in 1974 with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, arguably one of the finest horror movies ever made and certainly one of the most intense, it probably didn't surprise anyone when they teamed up again a few years later. The resulting film, Eaten Alive, also starred Marilyn Burns, who earned her place in horror history with her performance as Sally in the earlier film. Would they be able to create the same kind of magic this second time out? Not really, but Eaten Alive is still pretty enjoyable and it's certainly entertaining...Eaten Alive is a weird film. While it isn't particularly frightening it does have a few disturbing moments and a completely sleazy atmosphere from start to finish makes it eerie enough even when it probably shouldn't be, given that this is primarily a film about a crazy guy and his pet crocodile. This earned the film a spot on the UK's infamous Video Nasties list where it was released as Death Trap and trimmed by a few seconds until it was eventually released uncut in 2000. Neville Brand is pretty manic in his performance, coming close to going over the top in a few spots and bringing a really strange intensity to the role that makes it a little more frightening than one might expect. Though the film never comes close to matching the intensity and sheer balls-to-the-wall terror that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is so well known for it does have a similar lily unseemly atmosphere to it that works really well...The film reads like a veritable whose who of seventies drive-in movies and that, coupled with the weirdness factor, makes Eaten Alive well worth seeing, even if it isn't really a classic in the true sense of the word."
"Odd. That would probably be the best word to describe Rapturious, a hip-hop horror film about a white rapper who may or may not be possessed. When I describe the basic plot, I'm sure there are other words that may come to mind like 'ridiculous' or even 'crap,' but for whatever flaws it may have, Rapturious is neither. So, yeah, the best way to describe the film is 'odd.'...Although Rapturious is a low budget film, Ahmed's go-for-broke ambitious filmmaking counterbalances the occasional moments where a lack of money is obvious. Ahmed's commitment to the project comes through, and helps to carry Rapturious during times when the film loses some of its footing. But in all honesty, the film doesn't really stumble all that often. Sure, you can tell there wasn't much money to make the movie, but that never becomes a distraction. More often than not, you're caught up in the stylish atmosphere, and trying to figure out exactly what is happening...Where the film has its greatest problem is also where it has its greatest strength, and that's in the 'odd' story it tells...There are far worse things a film can do than making an audience think a bit more than it was expecting to. And when you look at Rapturious as a complete film, it gets more things right than not. The cast all deliver solid performances, far better in fact, than what you usually find in other 'urban' films. But what really works is Ahmed's storytelling abilities, both as a writer and as a director. He has set himself up with the challenge of creating a film that promises to be one thing, but turns out to be something completely different; and by and large he succeeds."
"Two of my all-time favorite horror movies are the 1959 William Castle gimmicker House on Haunted Hill and its deliciously demented 1999 remake. Both films are woefully underrated, and both films embraced their status as B-grade shockers. My love for these movies is what led me to welcome, not bemoan, the idea of a direct-to-video sequel to the remake. Even if a cash-grab sequel couldn't maintain the high level of ghoulish fun of its predecessors, surely it would still contain some sense of devilish charm, right?...My mistake. The clumsily titled Return to House on Haunted Hill is straight-up awful, hampered by a deliriously inane screenplay (from rookie scribe William Massa) and direction (courtesy effects vet and first-time feature helmer Víctor García) that takes the dimwitted story so gosh darn seriously that the viewer becomes immediately embarrassed for everyone involved...Problem is, García and Massa mistake gore for scares, and so they ignore any attempt at tension. 'Kill scenes' just sort of pop in at random throughout the story, leaving a plot that's too disjointed to ever work as a whole. Gore hounds may approve of some of these sequences on an individual basis, but the film moves from death scene to death scene so clumsily, and the kills, while definitely grisly, are presented in such a drab, generic style, that even the hardest of hardcore horror fans will find themselves bored far more than thrilled...You'd think with all this effort to launch a new way of watching movies, the producers would have bothered to ensure the movie was actually worth watching. Seen here on its own, without the 'Choose You Own Adventure' enhancements, we discover that the film's nothing but a sloppy, boring gorefest."
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