Salvage (2006)

JULY 31, 2010


I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – a twist ending can only truly work if everything that came before it was interesting on its own. The Sixth Sense is a perfect example – you could easily end the film before the final scene with Bruce, and you’d still have a perfectly decent thriller about a kid who could see ghosts. Salvage, on the other hand, has a pretty good twist, but the 75 minutes that came before it were largely repetitive and lackluster, and eventually the only reason I kept watching (besides HMAD-related OCD) was to see if my guess on the twist was right.

And it wasn’t! But I wasn’t way off either. As the film concerns a girl who keeps getting killed, it wasn’t hard to guess that there was some minor Carnival of Souls stuff going on, but there was more to it, something a little more interesting and unique. However, the film fails to make the situation or characters more engaging. Our heroine gets killed for the first time in the first ten minutes, and from the time she wakes up until the end, she’s mostly in “spooked out horror movie character” mode, cautiously approaching doors and (sigh) going to the library to look at microfiches. The script could have developed her character more, making her easier to sympathize with and eventually root for, or even to simply address certain odd aspects of her character. For example, why does she work the graveyard shift at a gas station, when she’s obviously still very young (I couldn’t figure out if her school was supposed to be a high school or a college)? Or, why doesn’t she dump her boyfriend, who is seemingly obsessed with sleeping with her best friend?

Actually, the boyfriend is probably my favorite part of the movie, because he seems to have wandered in from a different film entirely. While everyone else is sullen or creepy, he just talks about screwing her best friend and other largely unimportant matters. My favorite bit is during the obligatory “Hey this is where that crazy guy lives, let’s look around his house” scene, because while she’s off following all of the horror movie rules to a T, he simply declares “This is the type of place that makes me want to take a crap!” and then runs around looking for a toilet. I also like that he makes his girlfriend push his car when it stalls, because she doesn’t have a license.

There are also a couple of decent scare moments, such as when the killer cuts off our heroine’s face – not something you see too often. And for once, they actually pull off successful “looking around in the dark” scene. I hate in movies when it’s supposed to be so dark that the actors can’t see their hands in front of their faces, yet we can see everything around them. Here, the directors (Jeff and Josh Crook) have it both ways – a shot on her is typically lit, but on the reverse angle, it’s we see the same darkness she does.

They aren’t as successful with other filmmaking aspects, however. Establishing shots or anything else to denote that a period of time has lapsed are rare; early on the boyfriend drops her off, and then it seems like he picks her up again moments later, but its supposed to be the next day. Most of the supporting characters are played by terrible non-actors, and the film has far too many songs by a D-grade Evanescence-y band that felt terribly out of place. And a key moment is ruined (for me) because the blood that was supposedly just shed is already dry on both characters’ faces. As they point out several times on the commentary, this film was shot with DV tape – there’s no excuse for not re-shooting or going back to film necessary scene transitions and such.

The commentary is just as lackluster as the film, as they fall silent often and merely point out which non-actor is playing a role or where things were shot. Refreshingly, they do admit that the film could have used a stronger story to keep audiences more engaged beyond simply understanding the twist, so that’s good, but they also chalk up the lack of these elements to their budget, which doesn’t quite make sense to me – all of the actors are local, the tapes, by their own admission, cost three dollars and fifty cents – why not just add these things after their first assembly, when they probably realized that the film had some pacing issues? Luckily, since they are quiet and the film itself has long stretches without any significant dialogue, you can probably just watch it for the first time with their track and cut your Salvage time in half.

I really wish I liked the movie more. Ironically, the same guys wrote Rise Of The Dead, which was also somewhat back-loaded, in that the closing moments were by far the best part of the movie, but that one was at least enjoyable in the meantime, with a number of gonzo kill scenes, and a story that wasn’t suppressed from its audience (the “holy shit!” moment wasn’t so much a twist but in how the problem was resolved). But that movie showed that they were an interesting team, and I was excited to see another of their projects. But alas, it didn’t quite gel together for me – the twist was interesting, but getting there was a chore. A chore with a horrible soundtrack.

What say you?

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Theatre Of Blood (1973)

JULY 30, 2010


Possibly my favorite joke from Austin Powers (the 1st, and only good one) is when he lists how his old friends died: "Janis Joplin, deceased... drugs. Jimi Hendrix, deceased... drugs. Mama Cass, deceased... ham sandwich." And ever since, the mere mention of the food makes me laugh, which is one of the many reasons I really enjoyed Theatre Of Blood, because at one point Lionheart (Vincent Price) reads one of the critics' review of his performance in Titus Andronicus:

"Mr. Lionheart's rendering of the role can only be described as villainous. Placed between the delicately underplayed performances of Tamora and Lavinia; one is irresistibly reminded of a ham sandwich."

Hahahaha, awesome. It's a funny line anyway, but Price's usual inimitable delivery makes it all the more hilarious. In fact, the film as a whole is very humorous, albeit in a dark, morbid way that might turn some folks off. The concept itself is funny - a Shakespearean actor (Price) decides to kill all of the critics who denied him an acting award - but there are a number of terrific lines, and even some of the killings are sort of funny in how they are executed. Despite being a card-carrying dog lover, even I had to laugh when the prissy critic discovers that his prized poodles have been baked into a pie, after he has eaten several bites. And the final line is wonderfully cynical, as the remaining critic gives his "review" of Lionheart's final "performance" (i.e. what he was saying before he fell to his death), offering faint praise while admonishing his usual "overacting". It's so good.

I also loved how the film inadvertently (I assume) makes the London police force look like the most incompetent law enforcement agency in history. It doesn't take long for the critics AND police to figure out not only what the pattern was (i.e. that the killer was targeting this particular group of critics), yet they still manage to allow 4-5 more to get killed after that, even with some of them under police protection. Granted, Price wears disguises and has an army of homeless folk helping him out, but still, they never find anything suspicious. At one point a cop escorts the lone female critic to her hair appointment, and despite the fact that her usual dresser has been replaced by a weird guy, the cop doesn't think anything of it. Actually the critics come across as kind of dumb too (why doesn't SHE think something might be amiss?), but I'm pretty sure that's sort of the point, as if they were smarter they would have given him the award in the first place. But I didn't mind this, I actually found it kind of funny, even though by any reasonable logic I should be siding with the critics. Power of Price!

In fact, my only problem with the film was my own: I really haven't read/seen enough Shakespeare. Each death is sort of inspired by a particular Shakespeare tale (the aforementioned dog-baking, for example, is a riff on Titus baking the Queen's children and feeding them to her). The ones I DO know best: Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, do not provide the backdrops to any of the death scenes (though both get minor "shout-outs"). I suspect I would enjoy the movie even more if I knew enough about the source material to appreciate Price's interpretations.

Also, it's a bit too similar to Dr. Phibes at times - the films have practically identical structures, and both seem to have been an influence on the Saw films (particularly the final "trap", in which an emptying bag of sand allows a cart with two hot pokers to roll toward the victim, from which he can save himself by sacrificing something, in this case his pride). There are enough differences for it not to be TOO noticeable, but you will definitely get some deja vu at times. In fact, the 2nd Phibes film and this one were originally released with less time between them than the time between my watching them, and I'm guessing original audiences didn't watch almost 1000 movies in the meantime that would reduce their memories of the earlier film, so for them it might have been even MORE familiar.

But eh, so what? Anytime you have Price in this sort of role, you're almost guaranteed gold. And the somewhat sad bit of meta-irony makes this one even more significant, historically, as Price had longed to play these characters for real, but found himself typecast in horror films. So that he was able to satisfy his fans with one of his meatiest roles, while also (hopefully) scratching that Shakespearean itch for himself, makes this sort of a perfect Price vehicle (indeed, according to the IMDb, this was his personal favorite of his movies).

Speaking of Price, I have to wonder if the reason why the remake machine has largely left his films alone is because no modern actor has that perfect blend of being sinister and yet charming, and thus it would just be an unwinnable battle. If you look at today's sort of regular "odd" actors, none of them can really match up - Crispin Glover is too creepy, Christopher Walken is too much of a punchline at this point, Johnny Depp is too movie-star handsome, etc. Hell, in the lone Price vehicle remake I can think of (House on Haunted Hill), Geoffrey Rush seemed to be channeling James Woods more than Price. I'm sure someone, somewhere, is trying to launch a Phibes or Theatre update, but I really can't see anyone that could pull off what came so effortlessly to Price. MAYBE Nic Cage, but even that would be tricky, as he carries so much baggage from so many "crap" (general consensus, not my own) movies, everyone would be against it from the start. Then again, casting Cage as a guy who kills his critics might be wonderfully cathartic for him. I'd see it, that's for sure.

What say you?

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Without Warning (1980)

JULY 29, 2010


A couple of friends recently suggested Without Warning to me (due to its Predator-esque setup, around the time where I was making my “Predator(s) is not a horror movie!” case), and I had heard of it a few times over the years, mainly in regards to its early appearance by professional hip-holder David Caruso, who I assumed had a bigger role in the film than he actually did (he’s dead by the end of the first act). I also heard it wasn’t very good, but as the credits rolled, I figured it would at least be a lot of fun. I mean come on! Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Cameron Mitchell, Caruso, Ralph Meeker, Neville Brand, and Larry Storch – there’s no way this movie could be boring!

This movie is boring. It starts off OK enough, with some little alien things (that look like the result of a mating between Alien facehuggers and starfish) flying around and killing folks like Mitchell, but then it just falls apart after they find Caruso’s body (poor sod doesn’t even get a death scene). The alien Frisbees all but completely disappear until the closing reel, as we instead follow two incredibly awful leads as they seek shelter at a local diner, which gets Landau and Palance all riled up. Their antics keep the film from being a complete waste, but it’s simply not enough to elevate the movie into the realm of fun B movies. With this cast and this premise, I should never be looking at the time remaining display.

I also got baffled by the film on more than one occasion, which isn’t a good thing when the premise is simply “An alien is in the woods killing folks”. Early on, the heroine sees something written on a bathroom wall and gets all paranoid, demanding Landau explain what it means and telling her friends about it. Now, if it was a direct threat against her or one of her friends, fine, but it’s just like “No chance, no escape” or something. For all she knows it was just the brainstorming of future No Retreat, No Surrender screenwriter Keith Strandberg. I can’t ever imagine a scenario where I’d be THIS troubled by some crap on a dirty bathroom wall. Maybe in the sequel she can discover that “Eddie” most definitely does not provide the “good time” he promised via pen knife scratchings on the toilet paper dispenser.

More infuriating is the lack of boy scout kills. We see a troop wandering around the woods, and their leader (Storch) gets offed shortly after Mitchell, but the kids just disappear after seeing the alien (we don’t, however – they save this shocker of a moment until the end of the movie). They could have at least come to the diner. And that’s another confusing plot strand - the folks in the diner act like they are trapped there, but when someone needs an ambulance, they have no trouble calling for one, and it shows up and takes care of the guy without incident. Why the fuck don’t they all just leave? You got a bunch of folks claiming that there’s a killer in the woods, and no one seems to doubt them, yet they all just chill in the diner, even when all the lights go out. Also, the extras are particularly awful – even when Landau accidentally shoots a cop, none of them can be bothered to move or even react. Palance and Landau are the only ones that bother to try to resolve the situation. Landau takes the cop car and begins accusing our two heroes of being aliens, and I can’t say I blame him. It would certainly explain their inability to emote:

Palance, on the other hand, suddenly becomes the most pro-active gas station owner in cinematic and possibly real-world history. He goes back to his store, where we discover he has one of the starhugger things in a pickle jar. He also has some explosives and a nice rifle. All the types of things you want to keep around a gas station. Anyway, he takes an alien thing to the leg, but it doesn’t kill him. In one of the film’s best gore moments (which are all pretty much limited to the damage these things do), he takes a knife to the thing, which makes blood bubbles and shoots pus and other liquids all over the place. It’s awesome, and it’s probably where the bulk of the budget went.

It certainly didn’t go toward location scouting. What an ugly movie. At first I was all excited, because it was shot by Dean Cundey, but not even a genius like him could make this stuff look nice. Director Greydon Clark seemingly went out of his way to shoot his opus in the least scenic woods of all time. Everything looks like it was bulldozed for a golf course that was never actually built.

The pacing is just awful, too. I mentioned the time remaining display – sometimes I checked it just to make sure that there really was only 10 minutes left, because I was watching the type of scenes that had no business being in the final reel of an alien killer movie. Our two heroes find a cabin, and there’s a goddamn cat scare! 10 minutes left of a movie about a murderer alien, and I’m watching a guy scream at a surprised cat. Then they make coffee, play with the lights, find fresh clothes... it’s as ill-conceived a third act as I can recall.

And then, we finally see the alien, at which point I cheered. Not that it’s a great looking monster – in fact it’s the polar opposite. It looks like something that might be placed outside a 3rd rate Halloween store; just a really generic alien head and big robe – all it was missing was a sign saying “50% End of Season Sale!”. I was amazed to discover that a guy was actually in the suit (and what a guy – Kevin Peter Hall himself!), because it just fucking STOOD THERE in just about every shot it was in. But it provided the goofy lunacy that I was hoping the film would be packed to the brim with, so I was delighted to see it. Especially when Palance pulls a Harry Stamper (18 years before the man existed!) and sacrifices himself by sitting on top of an explosive, while holding onto the alien’s leg to keep it from getting away (yeah, because it’s such a frisky alien). He also yells “Alien! ALIENNNNNN!!!!” as he runs toward it, no doubt thinking to himself “Only eleven more years til City Slickers...”. It’s a delightful moment, and for 3 minutes, I had the batshit silly monster movie I had hoped Without Warning would be.

But... you know. The rest of it.

What say you?

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Sigaw (2004)

JULY 28, 2010


I usually don’t like to watch remakes before the originals, but in the case of Sigaw, I’m sort of glad I did (though it wasn’t intentional – I only realized The Echo was a remake after I had watched it), because the remake was better (before you boo – it was the same director, so he obviously wanted to improve on his original too, right?). Had I watched Sigaw first, I would have had its story spoiled already, and thus wouldn’t have been as engaged with the remake.

One of the main things the remake got right was the casting of the villain. You can’t do much better than the remake's Kevin Durand, who is one of the most menacing character actor villains in recent memory. But you can CERTAINLY do better than the guy in the role in Sigaw, who doesn’t look threatening OR like a cop in any way – I actually thought it was a different character at first, because the guy just had zero ability to unnerve me, something Durand can do without trying. If the only villain in your film isn’t physically imposing, then he has to do so with his dialogue and demeanor, but this dude just comes across more like a drunken accountant coming home after office karoake.

And while the film is more or less the same, the changes director Yam Laranas made for The Echo were pretty much all for the better. I liked that the main character had a shady past and was more or less forced to stay there due to his financial situation and probation, whereas the guy here is just trying to not live with his mom anymore. And while it didn’t matter in the long run, the estranged girlfriend subplot of the remake was more interesting than the bubbly, very much in love couple they are here.

Also, and I would have had an issue with this even if I hadn’t seen the remake, I’m baffled why the film explains everything we need to know with about 25-30 minutes to go, and then the rest of the film is more or less just a bunch of milling about. Our hero finds out that his neighbors are ghosts way too early, resulting in a very anticlimactic third act. He finds out, and then most of the rest of the movie doesn’t even take place in the apartment building! He goes over his girlfriend’s house, goes out to eat with his buddy, etc. And then he finally returns and things get wrapped up very quickly. It’s not the type of movie where the ghosts can leave their residence (at least, as far as I can tell), so to leave that location for such an extended period of time at ANY point in the movie is kind of silly, let alone at the end, when the shit should be hitting the fan.

But if you haven’t seen Echo, and for some reason can only access Sigaw, it’s still one of the better Asian haunting movies, and thus should be checked out. Again, the fact that the hero is a male for a change is somewhat refreshing, and he’s pretty likable as well. There are a couple of great scare moments (little girl running at the bed – gah!), and I like that there are both malevolent and benevolent ghosts, with our hero sort of trapped in the middle of their moebius strip fight. There’s some confusion with relation how much they appear in the real world (random neighbors seem to notice them on the elevator and in the hallway, yet during an attack the victim is being flung around by an invisible force), but otherwise it’s one of the more coherent of the genre as well – and the slight similarities to The Grudge (angry ghost vs. victim ghost) make this even more impressive, since those movies baffle the ever loving shit out of me.

It’s also a LOUD movie. Most of these films are usually pretty subtle with their soundtracks, but this has a lot of talking, big music cues, etc. And I would simply turn the sound way down, since I’m reading the subtitles anyway, but apparently in the Phillipines they switch to English at random, so I’d miss dialogue if I did that. Seriously, what’s up with that? I get like saying “Hello” or maybe a choice profanity in another language, but they go back and forth on the most random words. Like (Filipino for “I would like to eat a sandwich”), and then they’ll say “but as a matter of fact” in English, and then finish the rest of their thought in Filipino. Is there some sort of rhyme and/or reason for this?

Of course, a good DVD company would just put the English subs on for every line, in case folks were deaf or whatever, but this Regal Capital, Inc. (who?) is not a good DVD company. Everything about it is very user-unfriendly, from the 90 second FBI warning that cannot be skipped (they’re usually 30), to the confusing menus with insanely short loop times (it would pause to reloop just as I was trying to select a new scene), to the baffling layout of the special features screen. Plus, none of the trailers or the behind the scenes are subtitled, so they aren’t of much use to English speaking folk. Worse, it’s a non anamorphic transfer with subtitles in the black. So if you have an HDTV, you have three choices: 1. Watch the movie windowboxed. 2. Watch the movie stretched into a 2.35:1 image (it’s a 1.85:1 movie) so you can see the subtitles and still fill your screen sort of properly. 3. Zoom in to watch the movie at the correct aspect ratio, but not see any of the subtitles. Maybe if the disc was produced in 1999, this would be acceptable, but it was done in 2005, when HDTVs were quite common. All the more reason to stick with the remake*!

What say you?

*You might not have a choice - Sigaw seems to be out of print, no doubt due to the company being terrible. Enjoy this link to The Echo instead!

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The Calling (2000)

JULY 27, 2010


Why do so many of these Antichrist type movies focus on the mother? If you look over the scope of (d)evil child movies, the vast majority has the mother in the “oh no my child isn’t right” role, with the dad often being a villain or killed off. I mean, Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen were both huge hits, right? Why is Joshua seemingly the only one that followed Omen’s lead and told the story from the dad’s POV? Anyway, The Calling* is all about the mom, and it’s unfortunate that I just watched Blessed a short while ago, as this is pretty much the same goddamn movie, only with more kills (yay!), a far more appealing lead (Laura Harris over Heather Graham), and a condensed running time that gets shit done in 10 fewer minutes.

Actually, they might have tried to stretch this one a bit, as one of my problems is that it often felt like I was watching a sequel and they were trying to bring me up to speed. The first 20 minutes in particular is a non-stop flurry of voiceover and montage, which is a terrible way to start a film off. I’m never a fan of starting a horror movie off in the present and showing the rest of the movie as a flashback (thus the character survives every danger she encounters), but here it’s even more damaging, because these opening scenes (her wedding night, the birth of the child, etc) are far more important than most of the stuff that comes after (i.e. the stuff they take their time with).

It’s also one of those movies where they try to make it seem like our heroine might just be crazy, but it doesn’t work in the slightest because we know that something is wrong, as people commit suicide right in front of them and the kid impales a guinea pig (and later tries to hang his dog). But for some reason even the character plays along! At one point she walks in and sees her husband kissing another woman (Alice Krige, who was pretty damn hot in the 80s and early 90s, but come on – no man would cheat on Harris with her unless there was some sort of devilry afoot), and she doesn’t even ask them what the fuck is up, because she’s too busy buying their explanation that she’s forgetful.

But it’s not too bad, as these things go. Sure, it steals from Rosemary AND The Omen, but it’s still decent cable entertainment. I particularly like what an evil bastard the kid is, playing Doom (or a ripoff of it) and not caring after a close family friend dies, kicking the dog for no reason, etc. He also talks backwards, which is never a good sign (even though I used to do it – Snilloc Nairb would be my Star Wars character, if I ever had one). And maybe it was just for time constraints or something, but I liked that Krige wasted no time trying to force her out of the kid’s life. I just wish Harris’ character was as quick to figure shit out.

I was also a bit amused by the fake Bruckheimer score. Throughout several of the montages and “action” sequences, composer Christopher Franke (who would go on to compose Brucky’s TV show The Amazing Race) would offer these Hans Zimmer/Trevor Rabin-y cues that wouldn’t seem out of place accompanying Nic Cage outrunning a fireball or something. The end credits also offered a non-“Save Me” offering from Remy Zero, a band I really dug that has sadly gone the day of the dodo (I blame Smallville).

But back to what I was saying earlier – why can’t we have more from the dad’s point of view? I get that it’s more upsetting for a mother to have to face the fact that the child that was inside of her is so evil, but it just seems like there’s more room to explore from the male perspective, as the mom angle has been done to death. Also, men are easier to seduce to the dark side (in movies anyway), so they can toy with the idea that the dad is actually sort of into the whole Antichrist thing, as opposed to the mothers, who always try to do the right thing (which never works). Or how about an older sibling? One who DIDN’T get to be the antichrist, and is thus trying to save his/her parents, but is also a little jealous?

One thing is clear though – we need to lay off the name “Chris” or “Christine” for religious horror movies. Yes, clever – it’s a play off of Christ. But it’s also going to just keep reminding folks of The Exorcist, and also in some cases (mine especially) End of Days, both of which are superior to this film. Hell, the guy who keeps saying “Christine” is Irish, just like Gabriel Byrne in the latter film, so every time he said it, I kept expecting Arnold to start shooting dudes and saying “You a CHOIR BOY compared to me!!” How about Susan? Susan is a nice name.

I want to note that I was originally watching something called Danika, which IS about a woman cracking up (from what I gathered from the plot synopsis offered by On Demand), but I had to stop it due to the fact that it was a 2.35:1 scope movie cropped down to 1.33:1. Look, the last time I checked at Best Buy, they don’t even SELL standard sized TV screens anymore. I think we need to stop with the cropping. Especially for scope films – I tried for about 5 minutes, but then there was a scene where Danika (Marisa Tomei) is at her desk and her boss comes over, and all I could see was Tomei’s bangs and one of her arms, and about half of her boss. And a lot of dead space between them. We’ve been a DVD (and thus, primarily watching widescreen or letterboxed movies) world for over a decade now – let’s fire all of those poor sods who decided to ruin movies for a living and just embrace the “black bars”, OK? Cropping is no more!! Besides, the only people who are going to dig around in their On Demand menus for unseen horror movies are people like me who actually care about proper film presentation, not Joe Average. He’s watching Jersey Shore or some shit.

What say you?

*Not, sadly, based on the band known for their power ballad “Wherever You Will Go”.

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Return Of The Living Dead: Necropolis (2005)

JULY 26, 2010


I hate to watch sequels out of order, but the proper cut of Return of the Living Dead 3 is seemingly never coming to DVD in the US, and by all accounts, Return of The Living Dead: Necropolis (and it's back to back produced sequel, Rave To The Grave), has fuck all to do with the earlier entries beyond the name of the virus, so I figured it was OK. More importantly, it was seriously the only horror movie in Blockbuster that I could find that I hadn't seen but didn't have copious extra features that would take up my very busy post Comic Con time, where I have to transcribe interviews that no one reads.

I can almost guarantee that I'm in the minority here, but I have to admit, I liked Necropolis more than ROTLD II. It's still a far cry from a good movie, but the humor was slightly more successful, they weren't afraid to kill their characters (including the requisite little kid), and it wasn't as pace-challenged. While it still takes a bit too long for the shit to hit the fan, there's a healthy dosage of isolated zombie attacks throughout the film.

But it's also hilariously and almost cripplingly cheap. Of all the shots to re-use in a film, why use one with a distracting technical error? There's a shot of a guy taking off a helmet, and the image is sort of mirrored to the character's left - it's an odd error, so why call attention to it by using it again? Especially when the first time it's used, it's incredibly useless? Also, maybe they do things differently in the Ukraine, but it seems odd that a top secret facility would have color coded vents and video-game style button-based security systems. It reminded me of the Metal Gear games, when they start telling your character directions using video game controls ("Snake, don't forget to hold R1 while you aim, and shoot with your triangle button!").

The best one has to be at the very end, during the obligatory "End of zombie movie newscast" scene. The guy is yammering on and on about something, but I couldn't concentrate on what he was saying, because I was too distracted by the hilariously inept "Sports scores" running at the bottom of the screen. All they show are cities and numbers, not like "Final" or "in the 4th quarter" - hell it doesn't even say what SPORT it is. I assume they are basketball scores, because they run very high, but then there will be a 41 - 28 or something, which is more of a football score. As someone who has created these sort of things for movies/TV in the past, I know the mindset is "No one is paying attention to these things", but trust me, the more realistic you can make them, the more legit the final product will look.

Have you ever watched an action or horror movie and thought "Man, don't they EVER run out of bullets?" Well, Necropolis is the film for you. Because, I swear to Christ, EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER runs out of bullets in this movie, sometimes back to back (and at one point, simultaneously). I respect the attempt at being less cliched, but it gets pretty ridiculous for it to keep happening "at the worst possible time", over and over and over, especially when the bulk of the action is confined to the final 25 minutes of the movie. I do love, however, when one girl is trying to shoot with the safety on, and once she realizes her error, she simply puts the gun away rather than turn it off and help her friend. She then runs out of ammo a few minutes later.

But for its many faults, I do appreciate the attempt at being more like the original, with a lot of likable characters, talking zombies (they even pay homage to the "Send more paramedics" line), and a decent soundtrack. I dunno how they managed to get Alice Cooper, Powerman 5000, and Godsmack, among others, for such a low budget film, but it gives it a bit of extra quality that most DTV movies (especially those made in the tell tale "We're broke" land of Romania) could never dream to have. Of course, the tradeoff seems to be the actors, as they are a fairly unmemorable lot, with only the delightfully spunky Jana Kramer making any sort of impression on me (which I swear has nothing to do with the fact that she was on Friday Night Lights and thus automatically has my undying respect).

Peter Coyote also seems to be enjoying himself, which is nice, since this is obviously a bit beneath him. He plays the usual sort of evil scientist guy that all crappy zombie movies have, but Coyote gives him a bit of a personality, and you gotta love the guy for putting some effort into the role instead of just phoning it in like most of his peers would (and have). His character returns in the next film, as do the other survivors (Kramer is sadly not one of them, though I must admit her death was a bit of a shock), giving it the only real continuity in the entire series, so you got to appreciate that as well. Unless you couldn't stand any of them the first time, in which case that must annoy the shit out of you.

By no means is this a good movie. It's cheap looking, the zombie action is bland (that they all look alike doesn't help), and there really isn't much of a point to it. But it's also watchable, not boring, and there was SOME effort on display. And for that alone, I think it puts this a notch above the 2nd film, which was given a theatrical release. As DTV sequels to theatrical properties go, I'd say it's above any DTV Leprechaun entry.

What say you?

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Shadow Puppets (2007)

JULY 25, 2010


The worst thing about waking up with amnesia and being trapped somewhere with strangers who also suffer from amnesia is that you can’t remember all of the movies you’ve seen that followed the exact same formula, which would probably help you get a good handle on the situation. Thus, the folks in Shadow Puppets take the whole movie to figure out things that any regular horror movie fan would know, such as the fact that it’s not the angry guy (Tony Todd) that is betraying you all, but rather the one guy we thought we could trust (James Marsters), amongst other things.

And it’s a shame that it sticks to the template of these things in terms of who dies, who’s the traitor, etc, because the reason they’re all there is slightly more interesting than usual, and the monster has a pretty unique “back-story”. As we discover, their minds have been wiped in relation to a failing attempt to rehabilitate criminals and mentally disabled folks by wiping the part of the brain that causes such things. Sort of noble! And the monster is the result of someone trying to “wipe” a guy that was in a coma and didn’t have anything left to erase. A lot better than the usual “You all wronged me” explanation we get in these sort of things.

But getting there? Yikes. The movie seems stuck in a loop until that point. Our heroine wakes up, finds Marsters. They talk about how they don’t know who they are or why they are there. Then they find someone else. They talk about how they don’t know who they are or why they are there. Then they find someone else... you get the idea. Every now and then, the shadow monster will pop out of a wall and impale someone with his shadow tentacles, but these moments are all too rare. And it’s unclear why its killing everyone anyway – if its just born out of some non violent guy’s mind being wiped, where are the murderous tendencies coming from?

There’s also one of those “Yeah, OK” movie explanations for keeping the monster at bay, but they don’t follow through on it. Apparently, removing one’s clothes will help you “hide” from the monster – but it only applies to outerwear? So they’re like “take off your clothes”, but they leave their underwear and undershirts on. What kind of bullshit is that? And how would taking OFF clothes help you hide? Does the monster only see cotton and polyester? Every now and then they show a Predator style POV of the monster, and everyone just looks blue regardless of their current state of undress, so I dunno. Maybe it was explained and I just missed it – the Netflix audio mix left much to be desired.

Luckily I was able to hear one particular bit of dialogue loud and clear, and it made me laugh for quite a while. During the obligatory “everyone finds out who they are” scene, Marsters reveals/discovers that he is a lawyer named Jack. Todd then says “I don’t think we’re going to get along, Jack. Because according to this, my name is Steve.” Now, to be fair, he goes on to explain that he’s a criminal, but his unfortunately lengthy pause in between the two lines, and his punctuated line reading for “my name is Steve.” (not “my name is Steve....”), makes it sound like that is the only issue. Jacks and Steves simply don’t get along, I guess.

The digital format is also quite lousy, making a lot of it look like a soap opera. I could not find the actual format they used, but if I had to guess it was some sort of digital setup, filtered in a (failed) attempt to make it look less like digital. Or maybe Netflix was just fucking it up. All I know is, it had some terrible artifacting (jagged lines on people) and made the low-budget CGI monster look even worse. And that’s about the only good thing about the fact that there is so little monster action – any more and the film would start to resemble a cartoon.

Acting-wise, it’s certainly better than the Are You Scareds of the world (and yes, I know Todd was in the 2nd film), since the three leads (Todd, Marsters, and Jolene Blalock and her boobs) actually know how to deliver lines and offer something along the lines of charisma. And Marc Winnick, who I assume is the brother or cousin of director Michael Winnick, is pretty decent too. The rest, eh, but that’s the nice thing about amnesia movies – the actors can get away with being a little bit blank, something that certainly helps the other female actors, who look nice and all but don’t leave much of an impression. I just wish it didn’t take so long for Todd to enter the story, but then again it’s also an overlong movie (105 minutes), so everything is sort of relative.

With some better editing and maybe a little more production value, this could have easily stood out above the other Saw/Cube wannabes. However, the rather pedestrian look, and the fact that the only interesting things about the movie occur in the last 20 of its 100+ minutes, make it a bit hard to recommend. I’d say start it up while you’re folding laundry or something, and then by the time you’re giving it your full attention, Todd will be on screen and the movie will be past the parts you’ve seen a million times already.

What say you?

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Farmhouse (2008)

JULY 24, 2010


When the star of the film's name is spelled wrong on the DVD cover, it sets the bar pretty low for the type of movie you're going to get. But Farmhouse, starring Steven Weber (not Webber, DVD design people) is actually pretty decent, with a unique (if not entirely successful) spin on the standard "Couple's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and they take refuge with people who eventually try to kill them" scenario, leading to a truly horrifying final scene that explains why the events of the film have happened to these people.

Unfortunately, this plotline is also what hurts the movie. Instead of it being just a matter of "wrong place, wrong time", we eventually discover that Weber and wife Kelly Hu are intentionally after our protagonists. The final twist makes this easier to swallow, but for the entire time in between those two revelations (a good half hour), I was distracted by how idiotic a plot point it was. If the car had broken down due to something being put in the road or whatever, that would be one thing. But the accident is caused by our "hero" falling asleep at the wheel - there is no way that Weber and Hu could have been counting on their accident.

Of course, the big reveal of Weber/Hu's true nature makes this far less of a coincidental occurrence, but that idea is also hinted at far too early into the film, so I was already sort of suspecting it anyway. It's like the movie has all of the right beats, and presents the twists in a way that never feels like cheating, but they're not spread out at the correct rate for me to get truly engrossed in the story - I was constantly picking apart foreshadowing and growing increasingly annoyed by the film's puzzling moments, such as when our heroes don't even contest that it's "too late" for Weber to drive them over to a garage, as it seems to be about 3 in the afternoon at the latest.

Equally annoying is the performance by William Lee Scott, who once again makes his whiny "Guy doing a bad Robert Deniro impression" face whenever he is required to deliver any lines, same as he did in the equally "OK but flawed" Nine Dead. And I liked the guy in Pearl Harbor, so I know he is capable of, you know, not doing that. The other actors are quite good (Weber seems to be having a ball), but Scott's performance was a constant distraction.

It doesn't help that they never give you any reason to really like the guy. Sure, he's not torturing folks like Weber, but he's a complete and total dick. It's his fault they are more or less on the run (we learn he has some serious gambling debt) and then it's his fault that they crash. So that, plus Scott's incessantly constipated appearance, made him the least sympathetic hero I can recall. The wife (Jamie Anne Allman) fares a bit better, though she's sort of annoying as well, sitting there doing nothing in several situations that she is free to help.

The movie has a number of surprisingly harsh gore gags, though I never felt that they really belonged in this particular film. Even before the final reveal renders them wholly pointless (without spoiling much, there's no reason for Weber to do the things he does without the film), they just seemed like they were imported from a different movie, one where it would make some sort of sense for Kelly Hu to tie Allman up to a chair and take a cheese grater to her knees. For example.

Also, every single person who gave approval to the costumes, makeup, and every other facet of its execution, for the final scene, should be fined or forced to trade their next good job for a 25th round draft choice one. Because there's this horrifying, ballsy reveal in the very final scene, but a lot of its power is lost due to the fact that it comes right after we've seen our villains standing around in goofy vampire-esque high collared capes, with red eyes and truly cheesy "otherworld" backgrounds. Again, the ideas are fine - its the execution that needed some reconsideration.

Ultimately, it's certainly one of the more unique takes on this overcrowded genre, and had I not seen at least 39 other films that started out more or less the same way, I probably wouldn't have been so keyed into things that the filmmakers probably thought were cleverly hidden from the audience. And it's a major improvement for the filmmaking team of writer Daniel P. Coughlin and director George Bessudo, who were responsible for the abysmal Lake Dead. Hopefully they can continue to grow, and maybe explore something that doesn't involve folks being tortured on their next film.

What say you?

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Happy Hell Night (1992)

JULY 23, 2010


As today was the busiest day at Comic Con (for me anyway), it was tough to find time for Happy Hell Night. So I sort of watched it in pieces throughout the day (and had to go back and re-watch most of it later as I'd usually be getting emails and texts the entire time it was on). But it's sort of fitting, because the movie itself seemed to be produced like that. According to the IMDb, it was shot over a nearly year long period in both Canada and Yugoslavia (!), and many of the characters never interact with the bulk of the others (top-billed Darren McGavin, for example, has about 5 minutes of screentime, all of which are either alone or with the two guys who play his sons).

Thus, it's hard to tell if the structure was fragmented due to poor writing or a less than ideal production. The killer seems to be everywhere at once, making even Jason's silly "path" in Final Chapter (where he kills two guys in adjacent rooms, but pauses to kill a girl on the 2nd floor - from outside! - in between) look more logical. Inside, outside... he always seems to know exactly where people will be, even though we never see him watching or stalking anyone like Michael Myers, a character the filmmakers were obviously familiar with, given how many times they crib shots from Halloween (including a direct steal of him going out a window and then disappearing).

But time seems to be shifting around for other characters too. The most offensive example had to be when one of our heroes accidentally releases the killer. Rather than do anything about it THERE and THEN, he decides to drive back to warn his friends, getting pulled over in the process. In the meantime, we see that the killer has managed to already make it to the frat house before him. A full 15 minutes later in the film, we see the cop finally give our hero the ticket. So either the cop took an hour or so to write the ticket, or the killer managed to outpace a motorcycle in real time (even 15 minutes seems a bit long for a ticket, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt there). Also, the DJ at the party seems to be asleep, as the same song (the film's shitty theme) is playing for at least 10 minutes.

I remain unsure how McGavin managed to make it from Yugoslavia to Canada in what seems like 4 hours tops, however. And not just get there, get from his hotel in Yugoslavia to the airport, take the flight, land, get from the airport to his son's exact dorm room. Go McGavin!

Now, of course, this IS a slasher movie and thus plot holes are sort of par for the course, but like I've said several times - if the movie was good enough I wouldn't have noticed on my first (distracted) viewing. I already mentioned the lack of stalking, but even more damaging is, once again, a complete lack of sympathetic characters. Our "hero" is a guy who is trying to steal his brother's girlfriend (asshole). The other characters are all typical frat douches, so they fuck around and fight. Even a nurse at the hospital where the killer is being held is presented as a lowlife, dragging a patient around by one arm and falling asleep with food in her hand.

The one thing holding my attention is Charles Cragin as Malius (the killer). In addition to resembling my good friend Joe, he manages to retain his creepiness even though he has to deliver "wisecracks" with every kill. They're not Freddy-level quotes, instead he just says "No _____", based on whatever the character is doing when he kills them. "No TV", "No sex", "No parking", etc. Some of them are even kind of amusing, and even the groaners never got to the point of annoyance. He also manages to pull off a completely fucking stupid moment where he gets his hand caught in a trap. Rather than just pull it out, or at least cut it at the wound (where he would already have a head start), he somehow and for some reason cuts off his entire arm (between the shoulder and elbow), heavy shirt and all, with a goddamn scalpel. But Cragin somehow makes it work. It's a shame that he has either died or retired... after a busy few years in the early 90s (including two films with Woody Allen), he just disappeared, and his IMDb has no info whatsoever.

I also kept hoping for more 'cameos', though it seems to be just the three. McGavin I have mentioned - not the kind of guy you found slumming TOO often. Sam Rockwell also pops up in a wordless role (he is actually playing McGavin's character in flashbacks to Malius' "creation"). And later in the film, we are treated to the lovely Jorja Fox (CSI) as a sorority girl who makes her frat guy hookup get a condom. She then... I have no idea. I watched the scene twice to see what I missed, but I still can't tell what her plan was. She seems to be stealing from the frat guy or something. At any rate, she runs out to the car, and then Malius drives his hammer-claw thing through the roof, and through her head in turn. The physics make no sense, but it's a cool kill. Fox is unbilled for the role, but it's definitely her - the gap in her teeth is a dead giveaway. Also, the main guy is Frank John Hughes, who played Tim Woods on 24. So even though this movie is as obscure as they come, it actually has a pretty decent success rate in terms of actors in early roles still having careers.

Sadly (or not), I cannot say the same for the film's writers - Michael Fitzpatrick, Brian Owens (who also directed), or Ron Petersen, none of whom have had a produced credit since (Owens wrote the original draft of Brainscan, which was rewritten by the far more successful Andrew Kevin Walker). Whether they gave up, couldn't get hired, or all died in a terrible plane crash from Yugoslavia to Canada, I have no idea. The DVD only has a trailer, so there's no help there. Seriously, what the fuck is with this movie? Big stars in early roles, a somewhat memorable killer, and its a rare early 90s slasher to boot - why is it so under the radar?

At least I have another question to ask Rockwell if I ever meet him. Clownhouse, Joshua, Happy Hell Night... guy's got a surprisingly colorful horror section on his resume.

What say you?

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Dead Tone (2007)

JULY 22, 2010


For me at least, today began Comic Con. I drove down in the wee hours of the morning in a mostly successful attempt to beat rush hour traffic in LA, and thus it only took about 3 hrs to get to San Diego (w/o any traffic at all it would take about 2:15 at 60mph, which is my vehicle’s top “it won’t start making odd noises” speed). Thus I had a lot of time to kill, as I had very little press obligations and picking up my badge was a remarkably quick affair. So I certainly had time for Dead Tone (formerly known as the insanely terrible 7eventy 5ive), but after watching it, I wish I had just parked on the side of the road, or maybe walked, or anything to use as an excuse for not watching the goddamn thing.

As always, the main problem with this modern slasher film is that it’s made by people who watched Scream a whole bunch of times (and Urban Legend, apparently - the killer is a complete ripoff in look AND motive - it basically comes down to an unbalanced character getting “back” at someone’s innocent prank by killing a whole bunch of people except them). Christ, the first modern day kill (we get a “10 years ago” opening scene) has the scary voiced killer calling the person he wants to kill and saying that he wants to know what they look like when he kills them. Come on, people, at least TRY.

And like Scream, the second half of the film all takes place in a giant isolated mansion owned by one of the characters, who has a big, sex and booze filled party, the likes of which I certainly never attended when I was in high school (though I did watch Scream with a bunch of my friends once, while drinking Barq’s). But unlike Scream, which had the good sense to send most of the characters home so we could focus on the ones we cared about, our guy kills a few we have no connection to, and as the party gradually dies down (not a pun), our primary cast finally sees a few bodies and goes into scared mode, with roughly 20 minutes left to go but also 6 or 7 characters still alive, which is about the number we should have had in the first place, which would allow for such wacky things as suspense and character development. Even with the film’s punishing length (100 minutes, spent with not a single likable character), the sheer number of characters keeps you from ever truly caring about a single one of them.

Hell they even make a Basic Instinct reference (like, you guessed it, Scream), which is just one of the many dated references the movie includes. It was shot in 2005 but was only released in early 2010, but even for 2005 I was a bit baffled by that one - the character saying it would have been about 2 or 3 when that film came out, and she doesn’t seem like the type that would keep up with anything beyond the newest dance flick. Hilariously, in another scene, characters refer to Tara Reid and Eric Benet as “sluts”, which will go over well in 10 years (hell, 5) when those people and others referenced in the scene have completely faded from memory (I’m already having trouble remembering who Benet is). The idiotic Flava Flav intro (as the completely not scary sounding “The Time Keeper”) will also probably just puzzle people in the next generation, and the fact that he doesn’t return for a closing segment makes it all the more pointless.

To try to class it up a bit (they fail), Rutger Hauer pops up from time to time as a cop who is trying to put the pieces together. Besides resembling Stephen McHattie whenever he dons his black hat, Hauer does his brief post-Batman Begins career resurgence no favors here, looking bored out of his mind and appearing in scenes that could easily be cut from the film without any consequence. The only other actor I recognized is Wil Horneff, from Ghost in the Machine and also The Roost, but sadly unlike that latter film he did not bring his super hot sister along for the ride.

In fact, I can say this about the cast - it’s a nicely diverse crowd. The film is considered an “urban” horror film, but there are African Americans, whites, Latinos, Asians... it’s a good mix. And the one good thing about not bothering to really characterize any of them beyond their stereotypes, and having so many goddamn people, is that it was a bit hard to guess who would die first/last/everything in between. Had I actually CARED, a lot of the other problems of the movie wouldn’t have been so damaging.

The sound mix is also nice at times. I particularly liked when the movie briefly went into Wrong Turn/TCM territory (much like Somebody Help Me, it seems that no one involved could decide on a specific sub-genre to rip off) with the characters going into a disgusting out of the way place, as the sound of flies kept buzzing around all of the speakers (an effect that worked even better on headphones - I actually swatted at my ear). The soundtrack was also as diverse as its cast, which was nice - there was rock, rap, some actually decent score, dance... I began to wish I had just LISTENED to the movie, but then I remembered all of the horrible goddamn dialogue, with even the fat nerdy white kid saying “Aiiight”.

There was one good dialogue exchange though. A girl and a guy are about to get it on, and she gives him a condom. Because he is the male lead in a shitty horror movie that is trying desperately to be funny on occasion, he immediately protests that he needs magnum sized. She tells him to figure it out. He asks “How about I just put the head in?”, to which she replies “How about you just put your TONGUE in?”. Hahahaha. I’m going to use that next time - wait, fuck. Well, anyway, it was a good line.

As for the kills, eh. A few decapitations are always welcome, and I liked the fact that no one survived, but without any suspense or buildup to the kills, it just got tiresome. And the two killer twist (spoiler, but again, they REALLY love Scream) meant an ending filled with too many explanations and flashbacks and not enough chasing - it seems the last 10 minutes of the film takes place in a single room, instead of taking advantage of having two killers in a very big and now very empty house.

The DVD has a making of. My screener does not. I am happy to have it on screener.

What say you?

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The Dark Half (1993)

JULY 21, 2010


I distinctly remember my mom coming home one night and telling me she had rented a horror movie for me. "What one?" is what I probably said, as I've never been a master of knowing whether to use "which" or "what". But instead of just saying the title, which might have meant something, she simply said "The sparrows are flying again!" (which/what, nowadays, I would probably assume to be the title of a giallo). Apparently, she thought I had read The Dark Half, and thus would understand the reference and be excited for the movie. I don't remember anything else about the experience; it's very likely I fell asleep watching it and never bothered to finish it.

At any rate, it's certainly not one of King's young-appealing stories. Maximum Overdrive, IT, Pet Sematary, etc... these all could and DID appeal to me as a young'n, due to having kids in them or being at least easy enough to follow in terms of its themes. But The Dark Half is a little more weighty than those others, dealing with identity crisis and possible schizophrenia. And no kids.

It's also possibly not a book that lends itself to a cinematic adaptation (its among the ones I haven't read; I'm at about 50/50 with his entire output). From what I understand it was a faithful adaptation, with only minor changes (in the book he blows someone up, he kills him up close in personal in the movie), so I have little reason to doubt my suspicion. For starters, there is never any question that Thad is innocent of the murders Stark is committing, due to the fact that we see him at home in Maine while Stark is killing folks in New York. The "not great, but I remember it being better than this" Secret Window (which also had Timothy Hutton), at least had the good sense to keep everything localized.

And it's really a two character story (Thad and Stark), and thus we don't have anyone else to really be concerned about. Most characters are only in it long enough to get killed; the two exceptions being Thad's wife, who mostly just stands around looking concerned, and Alan Pangborn, who I know lives long enough to turn into Ed Harris and fight the Devil. I would guess most of the book was made up of the interior monologue of the two characters (and, knowing King, probably some excerpts from their books). So the movie, being faithful and all, is very repetitive - Stark kills someone, Pangborn tells Thad about it, Thad explains that its Stark, and then back to Stark killing again. But without any of that deep thought process that gave the book its appeal.

That's not to say it's a BAD movie, it's just lacking a hook. Hutton is terrific in the dual role, but the primitive effects of the day (the one split screen shot of the two is atrocious) keeps them from really interacting. You look at what they could accomplish even a few years later with Multiplicity, and this movie ironically becomes a candidate for being remade with decent effects. And that's why the climax of the movie is mostly about them having a write-off, at least until a bunch of horrid looking animated sparrows (HD does not do this movie any favors) swarm the house and pick Stark to death (AWESOME effect by the way).

As most know, the film was adapted and directed by George A. Romero, and it would prove to be his last film for many years, as he spent almost a decade after its production (it came out in 1993 but it was finished in 1991) trying and failing to get other projects off the ground, before finally shooting the very low budget Bruiser in 2000. It would also be his final Pittsburgh shoot, which is a bummer as he is forced to try (very unsuccessfully, I hate to say) to pass it off as Maine. Again with the irony, I almost wonder if he could have made a more personal, interesting version of this story now, as he is almost forced into doing zombie movies because he can't get funding for anything else. Like Thad, he probably wants to kill off his most popular creation and express himself more freely. But at the time, he wasn't having much trouble getting films made - Dark Half was his 3rd film post Day of the Dead (which was released 5 years prior to Dark Half's production), and he was also writing a lot: Creepshow 2, the Night remake, etc. I think he could have brought a little more personality to the film had he waited a bit longer.

Then again, this is one of King's more autobiographical tales. A struggling writer who suffers from a problem that mirrors one in King's own life pretty much describes half of his protagonists, it seems. Stark is, of course, very much based on Richard Bachman, and some things (like his mock burial) are taken from what King did to Bachman for real. Later books would have characters being hit by cars (in fact he did this at least twice), and ultimately he'd put himself as a character in the "Dark Tower" books. Few authors have ever taken the "Write what you know" approach so literally. Thus, Romero may have felt obligated to stick to what King wrote rather than inject too much of his own neuroses and fears into the movie.

At any rate, it's a decent enough watch, and the performances are first rate across the board. But I think a King/Romero collaboration should be something really special, and thus shouldn't be so by the numbers.

Oh and the sparrows shouldn't be finches.

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