Author Archives: Peter Fuller

Deathsport (1978) | The futuristic gladiators-on-motorcycles B-movie on Blu-ray

From 101 Films comes the UK Blu-ray release of Deathsport, from maverick producer Roger Corman, starring David Carradine.

‘In the year 3000, there’ll be no more Olympic Games, World Series, or Superbowl; there’ll be only DEATHSPORT!’

Following the Great Neutron Wars, the world is divided into desert wastelands and isolated city-states. Lord Zirpola (David McLean) captures the notorious ‘death ranger’ Kaz (David Carradine) to fight for survival opposite his laser-equipped Death Machines in his new game, Deathsport. Now Kaz must face his past, fight for his future, and save the city from the war that Lord Zirpola is getting ready to wage.

Produced under Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, Deathsport was, and sort of is, a follow-up to Corman’s successful 1975 sci-fi actioner Death Race 2000. Again, it stars David Carradine, who had a five-picture contract with Corman, and this time motorbikes feature instead of cars. Production-wise, it looks like one of those US TV shows of the 1970s like Logan’s Run or The Fantastic Journey, while the film’s Death Machines are actually cheaply refurbed dirt bikes with an annoying/overly repetitive sound effect dubbing in for their engine sound.

Supporting Carradine, who looks like he’s aping his Kung Fu TV character, Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings (who tragically died in a car accident a year after the film was released) co-stars as a fellow ranger with her own mission, while screen villain Richard Lynch plays Kaz’s torturer. Apart from the climactic pyrotechnics, it’s really not that much cop – but the last word should go to director Allan Arkush, who was brought in to complete the film when original director, Nicholas Niciphor, left the project on medical grounds:

‘Mostly, we just blew up motorcycles. Lots of them. We also set some mutants on fire. And the stunning Claudia Jennings got naked. David Carradine… smoked a lot of high-grade weed and helped us to blow stuff up… Sad to say, I couldn’t save the picture.’

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Commentary with co-director Allan Arkush and Editor Larry Bock
• Theatrical trailer
• TV Spot
• Radio Spot
• Still Gallery
• English subtitles

The Cat and the Canary (1939) & The Ghost Breakers (1940) |  A double-bill of ghosts and gags with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment come the Bob Hope/Paulette Goodard classics The Cat and the Canary (1939) & The Ghost Breakers (1940) on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK. 

The Cat and the Canary (dir. Elliott Nugent, 1939)
A decade after the death of an eccentric millionaire, his remaining relatives gather for the reading of the will at his abandoned mansion set deep in the Louisiana bayous. His niece Joyce (Paulette Goddard) is named the sole inheritor, but under the condition that she does not go insane within the next 30 days.

Timid radio actor Wally (Bob Hope) vows to protect Joyce, who must spend the night in the haunted mansion along with her jealous relatives, a creepy maid and a homicidal maniac who has just escaped from a nearby sanitarium…

A slick mix of wisecracking comedy and spooky thrills, The Cat and the Canary turned Bob Hope into a Hollywood star and won Paulette Goddard a 10-year contract with Paramount. One of the earliest ‘old dark house’ mysteries, first filmed as a silent in 1927, it was tailored to Hope’s characteristic style, which he’d go onto hone in his buddy comedies with Bing Crosby, and gave Goddard the chance to shine as the spirited heroine.

Stylishly staged, it boasts wonderfully gloomy performances from George Zucco as a stiff lawyer and Gale Sondergaard as the sinister housekeeper. Following this film, Zucco and Sondergaard went on to play the villainous Moriarty and The Spider Woman in Universal’s big-screen Sherlock Holmes adventures opposite Basil Rathbone. The success of the film led to Hope and Goddard re-teaming for The Ghost Breakers (1940).

The Ghost Breakers (dir. George Marshall, 1940)
Larry Lawrence (Hope), sought in connection with a murder he didn’t commit, eludes New York police by hiding in a steamer trunk belonging to Mary Carter (Goddard), who is sailing to Cuba to take possession of an inheritance – a haunted castle.

Sensing that Mary is in danger, Larry and his valet Alex (Willie Best) precede her to the island, which is seemingly inhabited by a ghost, a zombie and perhaps even a flesh ‘n’ blood fiend…

Romance, comedy and chills are all on offer in this follow-up, with Hope and Goddard battling earthly and un-earthly foes—and trying to keep from ending up as ghosts themselves.

This was the third film version of the 1909 play of the same name, and although it delivers on the gallows humour and atmospherics, the whiff of political incorrectness does permeate. Still, it’s a classic treat, and features a young Anthony Quinn in a dual role (just a year before his breakthrough performance in 1941’s Blood and Sand, starring Tyrone Power).

Hope also shows his Republican colours in one joke (which he repeats in the 1949 radio adaptation). Director George Marshall remade the film in 1953 (Scared Stiff), featuring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, plus a cameo from Hope and Bing Crosby.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• 1080p presentation of both films from scans of the original film elements supplied by Universal, with The Ghost Breakers presented from a new 2K master
• Optional English SDH
• Audio commentary tracks on both films with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
• Kim Newman on The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers
The Ghost Breakers radio adaptation (4 April 1949) – Do listen to this, as it’s a lot of fun, and Hope’s interaction with the live audience is a hoot.
• Trailers
• Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann

Available to order from Eureka Store:  https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-cat-and-the-canary-ghost-breakers/

Brian and Charles | The utterly delightful feel-good robot bromance is a quirky must-see!

★★★★ “Its mixture of sweetness and silliness is wonderful” The Times

★★★★ “Made with genuine affection and innately British whimsy” Empire

From Mediumrare Entertainment comes the DVD/Blu-ray release of director Jim Archer’s delightfully weird British comedy Brian and Charles.

Based on the director’s acclaimed 2017 short film (watch it a the bottom of this post), this quirky comedy co-written by David Earl and Chris Hayward centres on Brian (Hayward), a lonely inventor living in rural North Wales who decides one day to build a robot.

Constructed from an old washing machine and the head of a bespectacled mannequin missing an eye, the lumbering seven-foot, cabbage-eating Charles (Earl) is like an overly-inquisitive child, keen to know how everything works. He also develops an obsessive desire to see the world. But, being wary of the outside world and social interactions, introvert Brian is reluctant to even let him go outside.

When Brian meets the equally shy Hazel (Louise Brealey), however, he finds his confidence growing thanks to father-son bonding with Charles, and when Charles is stolen by the town’s local bully, Brian is finally forced to come out of the shadows to save his mechanised friend…

I’ve now seen this three times, and it continues to delight – mostly for the uniqueness of the concept and for David Earl’s comically crude robot voice and quotable dialogue: ‘You don’t mess with Brian and Charles’. It’s probably a spoiler to reveal the feel-good ending, but given what happens, I, for one, would love to see a sequel or even a sitcom spin-off.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Gag reel
• Twitter Q&A Featurette
• This or That Featurette
• Theatrical trailer (as below)

King Kong | The 1976 blockbuster gets a 4k restoration release

From STUDIOCANAL comes the 4K restoration release of John Guillermin’s Academy Award-winning 1976 remake of the iconic classic King Kong, starring Jeff Bridges and introducing Jessica Lange in her film debut.

Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital, as well as a 4K UHD Steelbook (which will also include the Extended TV broadcast cut, unrestored) from 5 December 2022.

Primate palaeontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) smuggles himself aboard an American-owned oil tanker, hoping to track down a rare species of monkey on a remote island in the South Pacific, but is soon discovered. After a violent storm, the expedition, led by Petrox oil executive Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), also takes on a shipwreck survivor, aspiring actress Dwan (Jessica Lange). When the ship anchors off the island, the crew discovers the island’s indigenous inhabitants worship a monumental ape called ‘Kong’, and on seeing Dwan, kidnap her as an offering.

After rescuing Dwan and capturing Kong, Wilson orders the ship back to New York, where he hopes to use Kong as a publicity stunt for Petrox. But his Beauty and the Beast idea goes awry when Kong breaks out of his bonds and rampages the city before climaxing with a stand-off between Kong and the US military atop the twin towers of the World Trade Center…

King Kong was originally released over the Christmas period in 1976, and it was ‘THE’ blockbuster event of that year. I still have all the lobby cards and publicity materials from the cinema I saw it in (as well as press cuttings from its April 1980 TV release in Australia, see below), and remember very clearly my mum and my sister balling their eyes out on seeing Kong lying in a blood of blood after falling from the Twin Towers, and hearing his giant heartbeat fading away.

Kudos go to Rick Baker (uncredited at the time), who brought so much emotion just with his eyes inside his impressive monkey suit. The film remains one of my favourites, and my 12-year-old self was very aware, even at such a young age, of the subtle sexual overtones of the ‘waterfall shower scene’ between Kong and Jessica Lange, which ends with Kong drying Dwan with his breath.

While today’s SFX have come leaps and bounds, director Guillerman (whose Towering Inferno I saw 9 times on its original cinema release) and his team put so much love and attention into bringing Kong to life with what were state-of-the-art techniques back in 1976 – and it’s thrilling to see their handiwork once again in this newly restored release, especially Kong’s hydraulic arm and hand. One thing I did notice rewatching the epic adventure,is that Jessica’s Dwan is the film’s only female character (you couldn’t do that today).

Among the many excellent extras, I suggest tuning into Rick Baker’s commentary first as it tells you the real story behind the film’s production from Kong’s own mouth (so to speak).

4K UHD SPECIAL FEATURES
• Extended TV broadcast cut (unrestored)

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentary with film historian Ray Morton
• Audio commentary with actor and makeup artist Rick Baker (THIS IS A MUST-LISTEN)
• Interview with Barry Nolan
• Interview with Bill Kronick
• Interview with Scott Thaler and Jeffrey Chernov
• Interview with David McGiffert and Brian E. Frankish
• Interview with Jack O’Halloran
• Interview with Steve Varner
• Deleted Scenes      
• Original Trailer

ABOUT THE RESTORATION
This 2022 restoration is presented by STUDIOCANAL and Paramount Pictures. The 35mm original negative was scanned in 4K and colour graded by Paramount, while the restoration and mastering were then carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata under the supervision of STUDIOCANAL. A 4K DCP was created, as well as a UHD HDR Dolby Vision master, to enhance the sharpness and brightness in cinemas which is not usually possible with a standard HD master. In addition, there is a new, improved and cleaned-up 5.1 audio.

MY SCRAPBOOK COLLECTION OF KING KONG EPHEMERA

A Boy and His Dog (1975) | LQ Jones’ post-apocalyptic sci-fi on Blu-ray

From 101 Films comes the Blu-ray release of director LQ Jones’ 1975 American black comedy sci-fi, A Boy and His Dog, based on Harlan Ellison’s 1969 novella.

Following World War IV, which lasted five days in the year 2024, the earth is ravaged, and survivors struggle to find food, shelter, and companionship. One of them is amoral 18-year-old Vic (Don Johnson), who wanders the post-atomic wasteland with his sardonic, telepathic dog, Blood, who helps find women for Vic to rape in exchange for food.

When they encounter the suspiciously seductive Quilla June (Susanne Benton), Vic is lured into an underground city, Topeka – a bizarre caricature of pre-nuclear war America – ruled over by Quilla June’s father, Lou Craddock (Jason Robards).

As Blood keeps vigil on the surface, Vic soon learns his fate below – to fertilise the city’s female population and be terminated after his 35th impregnation.

Now, if the storyline sounds bizarre – then you are absolutely correct. This oddball sci-fi wasn’t a huge hit on its release but has become some of a cult film since its release in 1975, much like some other dystopian sci-fi’s of the era including Soylent Green, The Omega Man, Silent Running and Logan’s Run – only with the profanities and sexual references dialled up to the max.

However, watching it now in these ‘woke’ times may raise a few red flags – especially over the chauvinistic portrayal of women as objects of abuse and baby machines. But then, that could be what director LQ Jones was trying to address in the sci-fi satire.

The 101 Films Blu-ray release has a super audio commentary which really helps viewers understand the complexity of the film’s production and the filmmakers’ objectives. Actor, director, writer Jones, who left us in July 2022, aged 94, also penned and starred in the equally quirky 1971 TV horror, The Brotherhood of Satan.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Newly restored High-Definition Transfer
• In Conversation: Harlan Ellison and LQ Jones
• Commentary by LQ Jones, cinematography John Arthur Morrill and actor Charles Champlin
• English subtitles

Check out the original – very weird – trailer

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) | The influential pre-Code adventure thrills again on Blu-ray

Back in 1924, American author and journalist Richard Connell published what has become one of the most popular and influential short stories ever written (in English) – The Most Dangerous Game. It centres on Sanger Rainsford, a New York City big-game hunter who gets the tables turned on him after he gets washed up on a Caribbean island where he is hunted down by Russian aristocrat General Zaroff and his deaf-mute servant. It’s been adapted countless times – on film, radio and television – and continues to inspire film and television makers, video game developers and even the creators of Paintball. 

But the very first film adaptation remains the best – RKO Pictures’ 1932 fast-paced pre-Code adventure starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, and Leslie Banks, which is now out on Blu-ray, from a 2K restored scan as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

McCrea takes on the role of the heroic big-game hunter (called Bob here), while Banks is the egotistical Zaroff. Fay Wray, meanwhile, plays a character created especially for the film (for added scream queen/romantic interest value).

Taking advantage of the jungle sets created for co-producers Ernest B. Schoedsack, and Merian C Cooper’s King Kong (including that famous gigantic log), The Most Dangerous Game was filmed at night after Kong had concluded for the day, with many of the cast and crew (including McCrea and Wray) pulling double duty on both productions.

In many respects (such as the excellent production design, optical effects and Max Steiner score – which he pulled together at the eleventh hour), it comes off as a screen test for King Kong. But it really is its own beast – mainly thanks to Leslie Banks’ hypnotic, OTT theatrical performance. 

The Masters of Cinema Series 2K restored scan Blu-ray release looks and sounds fantastic and includes some super extras, most notably three radio adaptations featuring Orson Welles and Keenan Wynn (1943); J Carrol Naish and Joseph Cotten (1945) and Paul Frees and Hans Conried (1947), which all dispense with the Fay Wray character and include many lines from the film’s screenplay.

I also particularly enjoyed the audio commentary and totally agree with Stephen Jones’ idea that McCrea and his ripped shirt in the closing scenes inspired the Doc Savage pulp magazine covers that began in 1933, a year after The Most Dangerous Game hit US cinemas.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restored scan
  • Optional English SDH & Unrestored audio
  • Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
  • Kim Newman on the ‘hunted human’ sub-genre
  • Film scholar Stephen Thrower on The Most Dangerous Game
  • Merian C Cooper: Reminisces (1971 audio interview, July 1971)
  • Suspense 1943 radio adaptation
  • Suspense 1945 radio adaptation
  • Escape 1947 radio adaptation
  • German theatrical trailer
  • A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Craig Ian Mann

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) | Universal’s silent classic starring Lon Chaney gets a 4k restored release

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is without doubt one the greatest, most spectacular, silent films of all time. A ‘Super Jewel’ adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic 1831 novel, this lavish Universal production was a huge success for the studio and features a breakout performance from Lon Chaney, which made him a global superstar.

Now fully restored in 4K, it has been released on Blu-ray in the UK as part of The Masters of Cinema series from Eureka! It’s a must-have for any cinephile.

Chaney is at his most feral and uninhibited playing Quasimodo, the deaf, half-blind hunchback bell-ringer of Notre Dame, who unwittingly becomes the protector of street performer Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller) – the adopted daughter of beggar king Clopin (Ernest Torrence) – when she attracts the lusty attentions of the dashing Captain Phoebus (Norman Kerry) and Jehan (Brandon Hurst) – the evil brother of Notre Dame’s archdeacon (Nigel de Brulier).

Universal spared no expense in bringing Victor Hugo’s novel to the big screen, and it certainly shows with the magnificent sets (like the life-size reproduction of Notre Dame) and 2500 extras (which required a public address system to get them all into position) on display.

Director Wallace Worsley covers the full scope of Hugo’s epic story, delivering drama, romance, action, spectacle and horror in equal measure. Then there are those set pieces which have become cinema legend: Quasimodo being lashed in the city square, the beggars storming the cathedral, and Quasimodo decanting vats of molten lead onto their heads.

While very much an ensemble piece, the film is really all about Chaney, who imbues his grotesque dispossessed character with so much light and shade – and comedy. Indeed, it taught Universal a valuable lesson – that human monsters can inspire both terror and pity. So great was the power of Chaney’s performance that, following a Quasimodo impersonation competition staged during the film’s London run, it became a benchmark for young British actors to aspire to.

The Universal 4k restoration is fantastic (and best viewed on a really big screen so you can witness Chaney’s incredible make-up and facial expressions). The score is impressive, as are the informative and well-researched extras that accompany this MUST-HAVE release. The only thing that can better this is someone finding the missing 15-minutes of footage (only seen in the original 1923 35mm release print).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures
  • Score by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Laura Karpman (presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo)
  • Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman (the fanboys let loose again! Always a fun listen)
  • Interview with Kim Newman on the many adaptations of Victor Hugo’s novel (Did You Know? Lionel Bart of Olivier! fame wrote a stage musical called Quasimodo! that was only performed at London’s Kings Head theatre?)
  • Interview with film historian Jonathan Rigby (loved his story about the London impersonation competition)
  • Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by journalist Philip Kemp illustrated with archival imagery

The Spine of Night (2021) | An animated ultraviolent fantasy horror thrill ride

Ultraviolent barbarism and cosmic horror collide in an epic animated fantasy from animator Morgan Galen King and Love, Death, & Robots‘ Philip Gelatt. The culmination of seven years of painstaking handcrafted work, The Spine of Night, is now available on Blu-ray and DVD following its exclusive release on the Shudder streaming service.

The film opens with a swamp witch, Tzod (Lucy Lawless), seeking out an ancient guardian (Richard E Grant), who possesses knowledge about a sacred blue flower with mystical properties. Together they share stories about how the bloom has shaped not only their fates but also all existence. What follows is a centuries-spanning saga involving a tomb robber, star-crossed lovers, a maniacal necromancer and winged assassins.

Utilising the old-school rotoscoping process (where the art is literally drawn over reference footage of live-action performers mapping out the movements of the story), this ambitious animated feature echoes the same style used by Ralph Bakshi in Wizards (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978) and Fire and Ice (1983), only with a great deal more blood, gore, ultraviolence and nudity (just check it out below).

That rare technique is crucial to the filmmakers’ vision here, and it certainly pays off with a spellbindingly surreal sword and sorcery thrill ride with an existential bent that is certain to please genre fans and is the anti-thesis of the cartoony animated styles currently employed by Pixar, Disney and their ilk.

The Acorn Media International Blu-ray/DVD release includes an excellent ‘Making Of’ featurette, and two shorts, Exordium (8mins) and Mongrel (3min).

The Owl Service (1969) | Alan Garner’s landmark Welsh valley-set children’s drama on Blu-ray

Broadcast in the UK during the winter of 1969/1970, this adaptation of Alan Garner’s 1967 novel of the same name, about an ancient story being brought back to life in a ‘modern/1960s’ Welsh valley, weaves a heady brew of the supernatural, sexual jealousy and class divide. Now, the eight-part Granada Television/ITV series is available on Blu-ray from Network in the UK.

Alison (Gillian Hills), her mum Margaret (who is never seen), her new husband Clive (Edwin Richfield) and his son Roger (Francis Wallis) are taking their first holiday together in a country house in the Welsh countryside, which Alison has inherited from her late dad. The house staff includes the rather peculiar groundskeeper Huw (Raymond Llewellyn), frightful housekeeper Nancy (Dorothy Edwards) and her son, Gwyn (Michael Holden).

When Alison discovers a service of old dinner plates with a pattern that turns into owls when traced on paper, she sets in motion a centuries-old legend that’s connected to Blodeuwedd, the woman made of flowers, who appears in the Welsh epic poem The Mabinogion. 

Regarded as something of a landmark, The Owl Service is not your typical children’s TV drama (especially given the way it addresses adolescent sexuality within a pagan context and uses experimental editing to infuse the story with supernatural elements). The cast is all excellent in their respective roles, though Edwards and Llewellyn chew the scenery at every chance, and their bizarre characterisations so belong to the weird universes of The League of Gentlemen, Twin Peaks and their ilk – as does the final episode, which is OTT bonkers surreal.

And if you are a film location fan like myself, you might like to know that The Stone of Gronw replica, created for the series, still lies in situ on the bank of the River Dovey today. I will so be paying a visit one day soon.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Archive interviews with Alan Garner from 1968 and 1980
• Commentaries on selected episodes by writer/broadcaster Tim Worthington
• Image gallery
• Limited edition booklet written by Stephen McKay, Chris Lynch and Kim Newman

ORDER FROM NETWORK: https://new.networkonair.com/the-owl-service/

The Owl Service is out now on Blu-ray in the UK from Network

An original ‘owl service’ ceramic plate that inspired Alan Garner’s novel.
According to Griselda Garner, (Alan’s wife), the service originally belonged to her aunt, who bought it at a farm sale in Somerset but then ‘packed [it] away and put [it] in a barn because she said that the owls watching her eat gave her indigestion’. Image: Bodleian Libraries

Jeepers Creepers: Reborn | The Creeper is back!

Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (which is out now on Blu-ray from 101 Films in the UK) is the fourth film in the horror franchise, which was unleashed back in 2001 by controversial writer-director Victor Salva.

After two hugely successful instalments, Salva and his demonic serial killer, The Creeper, laid dormant until 2017, when a third film got a one-night-only cinema release before heading to TV and a home entertainment release.

This ‘reboot’ removes Salva from any involvement – most probably due to the dark cloud that continues to hover over his career – but is this ‘reboot’ any good? Well, not really! Here’s why!

Taking the helm is Finnish director Timo Vuorensola, whose previous films included a huge fave of mine Iron Sky and its sequel Iron Sky: The Coming Race, while Jarreau Benjamin replaces Jonathan Breck, the actor who portrayed Creeper in the original trilogy. 

Tapping into the latest horror trends, the plot involves a young couple – loveable geek Chase (Imran Adams – Hollyoaks, Ghosts) and his pregnant girlfriend Laine (Sydney Craven – EastEnders, A Christmas Carol) – who win an escape room experience while attending a horror convention in Louisiana. But it’s a trap set by the satanic followers of The Creeper, who’s after Laine’s unborn child.

So why didn’t I like it? Well, a number of things. The film (which was shot primarily at the Black Hangar Studios in Hampshire here in the UK) comes off looking like a computer game. There’s lots of CGI used for the ‘escape room’ house and the birds, which play an important role. Maybe that was what the director was aiming for (just as he had done in the Iron Sky films), but it just made it less real – fake, even. It’s a shame because there’s a Devil’s Rain kind of film itching to get out here (especially with the introduction of The Creeper’s satanic followers – but they aren’t explained nor developed enough).

Also the convention crowd scenes are poorly staged, with the same dozen extras gyrating, dancing and mucking about that don’t match the final music edit (Focus on one extra instead of the main characters, and you’ll see what I mean).

The Creeper isn’t creepy at all. Jarreau Benjamin does an admiral job, but he lacks the otherworldly ‘feral-ness’ of Breck’s incarnation. And what’s greatly missed (for me) is that it’s devoid of any of the homoerotism that bubbled beneath the surface of Salva’s originals – and made The Creeper so darn creepy. Saying that the cast give their all to make their characters believable, and it was great to see some young British talent getting to strut their stuff.

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