The Control Group (2014)

    Five fickle “friends” get trapped inside an insane asylum by a mysterious government group led by your garden variety mad scientist (played by the El Presidente of scenery chewing Brad Dourif) who is hellbent on conducting all manner of psychological torture on our heroes in The Control Group; the debut feature from Director Peter Hurd. As our nasty narrative unfolds, we get to learn the hows and whys of the groups predicament, and before long they begin being offed in various and sundry wicked ways. Well if that wasn’t enough to piss on their parade, there is a serious supernatural menace afoot that threatens the sinister cabal as well as our scruffy young tearaways. Alliances are formed, blood flows, and things get all “guess what the F is actually going on” up in this piece!

    Let me just talk about the elephant in the room; I really didn’t have high hopes for this fright flick when I first heard about it (minus the inclusion of the aforementioned Dourif, who is always a devilish delight). Well, I’m pleased as poison punch to tell you I was wrong in my initial assumption that this thing would suck worse than a vampire with an under bite; instead I was treated to a fun lil’ blood soaked romp replete with damn fine acting, preternatural goings-on, Bava-esque lighting (Mario that is), and some decent effects. Not too shabby at all my creeps!

    All that being said, there are a few (minor) negatives to be found within this picture. First and foremost, since this is a lower budget motion picture, there are certain special effects that may be beyond the film makers means, and usually that poses no real problem…but The Control Group features an effect so sub-par I was actually shocked it made it into the finished film; said shot involves a character getting zapped with electricity and that joltin’ juice looks like it was created in MS Paint. With the expressive lighting on display throughout the movie, I’m surprised a simple light effect wasn’t utilized (ye ol’ less is more technique). Another small quibble is that there are a ton of twisty-turny things going on (many a character interaction, folks coming back from the dead, etc.) so you may have to put that 4th beer down and pay attention…hmmm, this isn’t really a negative unless you are an alcoholic or have absolutely no attention span…what was I talking about?

    To put a cork in it, The Control Group is a damn fine picture containing a great cast, impressive production design, fun effects (minus that F’n electricity), and a punchy lil’ story. Seek this one out to learn how independent fright flicks should be made!

    Donnie Darko (2001) – 4 Disc Limited Edition

    Man, back in 2002 Donnie Darko was my jiggity, jiggity,jam yo! I would sing it’s praises up and down the arcane aisles of the video store where I then toiled away (it was a full-on Broadway style show replete with dancers in bunny costumes and Bernadette Peters dressed as a bulldog riding a fuselage…). Anyway, I thought the flick was one mind blowin’ affair…but, I have seldom revisited in the years since (there is no good reason for that, I’ve just been busy with my jet-set lifestyle…watching the grass grow, observing paint drying; you know real Rock n’ Roll stuff). Anyway, Arrow is releasing a new Blu-ray, so in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds I will begin my review…oh F it, no one has time for that…

    I kind of dread doing a summary for this flick; it’s a complicated narrative that deals with time travel, quantum physics, synchronized dance…let’s see what I can do. The eponymous Donnie Darko is an outcast with a sleepwalking habit,  large therapy bill, and a friend who just so happens to be a six foot tall, doom saying demonic rabbit. After a jet engine falls from the sky and destroys his bedroom, Donnie manages to learn about time travel from a progressive teacher (and a book written by a deranged old woman), fall in love with the new girl in school, and get up to some vandalism (and more serious crimes) while seemingly bending space and time…seems like a real mind bender, right? Hell, I didn’t even get to Patrick Swayze…

    Doing the whole “weird ’80’s” a full fifteen years before fan fav Stranger Things, Donnie Darko remains a masterpiece of  cult cinema. It’s surreal, thought provoking, and a real nerd’s nerd of a motion picture that still hits all of the right notes with your’s cruelly (who in turn did a decade long tour of duty in those eerie eighties). Oh, before we continue; I should mention that when I say all of this purple praise I am speaking only of the Theatrical Cut of the film…we’ll get to the Director’s Cut soon enough (and yes, both are included in this package for those more obtuse readers in my audience).

    While Donnie Darko is now a tried and true classic of weird-o cinema, and truly deserves a place in your collection, the extras ol’ Arrow Films has included in this release have made this the definitive version to own! Kicking things off is a new feature length documentary on the making of Donnie Darko, containing interviews with writer-director Richard Kelly, producer Sean McKittrick, director of photography Steven Poster, editor Sam Bauer, composer Michael Edwards, costume designer April Ferry, actor James Duval and critic Rob Galluzzo. Next up is The Goodbye Place, Richard Kelly’s black and white short film that shares some elements in common with ol’ Double D, followed by over thirty minutes of deleted scenes (with optional commentary), the film’s trailer, and two audio commentaries (ported from previous DVD releases) featuring Richard Kelly, actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, James Duval and producer Sean McKittrickand round out disc one. And now on to disc two…good lord, disc two…

    Disc two contains Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut; a totally self-indulgent wank fest that serves absolutely no purpose except to stroke the egos of the film makers (and to shove the some of the deleted material from the original cut back into the film); things are over explained, the soundtrack is inexplicably altered (for the worst), and the only reason to own this cut of the film is for completest sake (and Arrow should be applauded for including it, regardless of my feelings towards it). As shit as this cut is; there are still extras included that make it all worthwhile including: an archival commentary track with Kelly and Kevin Smith of all F’n people, a lengthy production diary detailing the day to day shooting of the flick (there’s optional commentary with cinematographer Steven Poster as well), archive interviews with Kelly, actors Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Noah Wyle and Katharine Ross, producers Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry, and Casey La Scala, and cinematographer Steven Poster, and a handful of archival (you’ll notice that word or a version thereof appears on all of the features on this disc, as all are ported from the previous DVD release of the picture) featurettes. Rounding out disc two are storyboard comparisons, B-roll footage, the Cunning Visions faux infomercials (presented with ridiculous faux commentary as well), the Mad World music video by Gary Jules, and an assortment of still galleries, trailers, and TV spots. Also included are DVD copies of both versions of the film on separate discs.

    Look if you love Donnie Darko, this is the way to go; you get every special feature from past releases, a new feature length documentary, and both versions of the film presented in gorgeous new 4K restorations from the original camera negatives…a real Herculean (and greatly appreciated) effort from Arrow that could easily devour an entire weekend…now if only they’d seen fit to include the beloved sequel S. Darko…just kidding, that film sucks and you’ll be doing your own slow pan crying montage set to Mad World if you are ever foolish enough to watch it.  But yeah, buy this now!

    Blood of the Tribades (2016)

    When a new fright flick comes my way that promises to channel the spirit of two of my all-time fav die-rectors; Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, you can bet my boney ass will be parked in front of it faster than panties drop in either of the aforementioned gentlemen’s films! So let’s turn our preternatural gaze upon Blood of the Tribades and see if it has what it takes to tickle our Euro-sleaze fancy!

    Blood of the Tribades first and foremost is about world building; the flick is set in a reality where a vampire named Bathor turned a village into bloodsuckers, taught them how to live high on the hog and peaced die-rectly out of there with a promise to return in 2000 years. Now said vamps are a forgetful bunch by nature, so before long they can’t recall the great society (or it’s language; which suitably is French) set in motion by Bathor and become segregated by sex thanks to a real psycho vamp named Grando (played with scenery chewing gusto by Seth Chatfield) whose bag is to destroy those he feels have sinned against the way of Bathor. It is then up to lovers Élisabeth and Fantine to bring about change based on the ways of the past. Violence, bloodshed, and a lil’ sexy-time ensue.
    The story Blood of the Tribades presents is refreshingly uncommon in today’s slasher/ghost/found footage saturated horror biz, featuring a unique, fully realized world unto its own; a world populated by vampires that roam forests and ruins with nary a non-vamp in sight, and as mentioned above, one with its own hierarchy and class system in place. Besides the immersive mythology of the piece, the impressive array of locales, many absolutely gorgeous, on display in this film is astounding; especially considering it’s a low-budget, independent flick. Also as stated previous; this film seeks to evoke the atmosphere of European arthouse/horror flick hybrids of the 1970’s, and it succeeds rather admirably at that; the costuming in particular echoes the genre perfectly, as does the abundance of blood and female flesh on display (but as this is a film with a point to make regarding segregation based upon sex, the male form is equally represented, so if the D is yer thang rock on).

    So the flick has bite, but what beastly bonuses does this Blu-ray provide? Well, first up you have an informative and engaging commentary by Writer/Director duo  Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein, and let me tell ya creeps, this is how it should be done! Every minute of the run time is packed fat with fantastic info not only on the making of the film, but how to deliver a truly stunning genre pic on a low budget (and all the challenges that entails) with not a single trace of that dreaded silence that plagues many a track such as this. Speaking of informative, there is also a nearly two hour “making of” documentary that covers every aspect of the creation of Blood of the Tribades included in this release, and if you have even a shred of interest in making your own fright flick this is a must watch!
    All in all this is one hell of a flick; unique, surreal, and chock full of the bloody and beautiful goods that lovers of the Euro-horror genre dig like a grave!

    Now Shane from The Cathode Ray Mission is here to give his two cents on some upcoming giallo releases from Arrow! Take it away pal o’ mine!

    The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)/The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

    The world of the giallo is filled with; gorgeous Euro babes, perverts with weird hang ups, killers with fetishes for black gloves, terrible fashion choices, thick bright red blood, J&B bottles,…and most of all groovy music. I’ve seen so many of these films now I’ve lost count. They’re a comfort food; like Kung Fu movies. You watch enough of these and you even start to recognize the voices of the people doing the dubbing (they become like old friends on a lonely day). It’s hard to believe that years ago I only had a handful on VHS and DVD. Now years later I have a few shelves crammed full of these Italian treats!  When I was just getting into Euro-horror, you either went with what was available at your local video store. Or if you were daring you went the bootleg route.  As much as I’m a retro kind of dude, I love that these days we get to see some many at one time rare films get the bluray treatment. What we have here today are two gialli directed by Emilio Miraglia. The only two in fact (looking up his credits on IMDB, Mr. Miraglia has only directed six films; a Spaghetti Western and a hand full of crime films). So how do Emilio Miraglia’s only forays into the giallo genre stack up?

    First up we have The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. Alan Cunningham is the Lord of a crumbling English estate…he’s also newly released from an asylum following the death of his wife during childbirth, Evelyn. Seems Alan caught his ol’ lady cheating on him and went all Pat Jr. from Silver Linings Playbook, and it goes without saying that Lord Cunningham still has some issues he’s dealing with. So to compensate Alan lures hot babes that look like his dead wife home to his pad, which has its own torture chamber. Here Alan may or may not kill them…Our hero everyone! It’s an interesting twist making nutty old Alan our protagonist. At a swinging party Alan meets Gladys (giallo regular and hottie Marina Malfatti). And they get married like the next day! Ahhh the ’70’s. Alan thinks this marriage is the key to you know, getting sane and what not; but this being a horror film we know that ain’t going to happen. Soon people start getting offed by a mysterious killer, and a zombified  Evelyn shows up to strain Alan’s already fragile mental state.

    The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave goes to great lengths to play with viewers expectations; from Alan’s mental state, to whether his wife is truly dead or not, to if there is truly something supernatural afoot; you’re never quite sure what’s happening (and by the end of the film there’s still a few things left unanswered). Evelyn is a nice blending of giallo and gothic horror; and Miraglia creates some great surreal imagery at times here. The kills are nicely done, they’re stylish but not over the top. The score by Bruno Nicolai is a thing of beauty as well; all groovy and haunting at the same time. Bottom line; the plot doesn’t always add up but he film is always fun to watch.

    Up next is The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. Sisters Kitty and Eveline Wildenbrück don’t exactly get along growing up. Their grandfather, Tobias, worries the girls will enact the curse of the Red Queen; where one sister will end up killing the other as well as six other victims (which in a brilliant stroke ol’ Gramps tells the sisters which in no way would put ideas into their twisted lil’ skulls). Fourteen years later Tobias dies of a heart attack when a mysterious figure visits his bedroom one night. Everyone gathers at the estate for the will reading, save for Eveline who’s run off to America (or Kitty killed her…guess which one is true). Good thing T-man laid down the ground work for that deviltry. Anyway, soon a cackling mad woman in a red cloak is killing those in Kitty’s close proximity. Is the curse real? Or is it some greedy bastard out to make the Benjamins?

    Red Queen his is a more straight up giallo then Evelyn; there’s blackmail, greedy relatives, inept cops, and plenty of red herrings. Of the two films Red Queen is my favorite; as it’s colorful, the story never drags, the killings are brutal (death by VW! ), and last but not least…The Red Queen herself is a visual striking killer; laughing madly and running around full tilt with a cape trailing behind her. There’s another top notch score by Bruno Nicolai, and a large amount of gorgeous actresses (man that Sybil Danning. Hubba hubba.)

    There’s the flicks themselves, but what of the special features? Well, each Blu has brand new goodies as well as archive features containing the “NoShame” extras from the old DVD box set. Each film has brand new commentary tracks, new interviews, and a tribute to each film by writer/critic Stephen Thrower.

    If you’re a fan of the giallo genre or Italian cinema in general, these films are highly recommended.

    Well, well, well; look who just strolled into the Crypt o’ XIII…it’s glam rockin’ sensations Lipstick!

    Daniel XIII: Hey guys, welcome to the Crypt o’ XIII! Please have seat..just push that cadaver to the side…comfy? Let’s start with some intros for those more bone headed members of my Coffin Club that may not have heard of your band…who the hell are ya, and what kind of music do you play?

    Greg Troyan (Lead Vocals): We’re Lipstick, and we play rock n roll music. Visually, we take a lot of our cues from 70’s glam rock, and musically, we’re a blend of classic rock from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We’ve been compared to a lot of bands like Kiss, Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, The Ramones, Meat Loaf, Iron Maiden, Queen, David Bowie, Van Halen, and many others. We’re a very theatrical band and have epic stage shows where we battle supervillains, dance with giant cats, and melt faces with our intense energy. It’s very optimistic, upbeat, energetic and positive music about believing in yourself and following your dreams.

    Daniel XIII: I have heard it through the ghoulish grapevine that you have recently released a new album titled Lipstick II. What can you tell us about the release?

    Stephen Smith (Bass):Lipstick II is our second full-length album. It’s the first one to be co-produced by me. It’s also much more of a collaborative effort between a number of parties. Lipstick I was pretty much entirely written by Greg and produced by Billy Morris, who used to play with Warrant and Quiet Riot. This one has more songwriters – including the aforementioned Cha La cover and several songs by myself and one co-write by one of our guitarists named Eric Penticoff. Plus, we had a ton of guest musicians contributing lead lines, keyboards, vocals, etc.

    Greg Troyan: Lipstick started off as a studio project where I had a bunch of songs I wanted to record, and I recruited my good friend Billy Morris to help play guitar and co-produce the tracks I had written. When I moved to Nashville, I wanted to form a live Lipstick band, but it quickly turned into a musical collective very similar to P-Funk where I’m the George Clinton of the group and Steve is the Bootsy Collins. It’s very much led by Steve and I, but we’ve incorporated a large cast into the music making process, both for the album and for shows. There are so many people in this band and I honestly am not sure who is in Lipstick at this point. I’m pretty sure you might be in the band!

    Daniel XIII: I know you fellers are BD into anime (as evidenced by the aforementioned Cha La Head Cha La which if you fiends didn’t know originated as the theme to Dragonball Zway back in the eerie eighties), but do you have any favs within my beloved horror biz?

    Stephen Smith: I’m a huge fan of bad horror movies – the kind you just riff on with your friends. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re most all awful and hilarious in their own way. Cemetary Man is great for its utter incoherence. Skeleton Key is great for its “they clearly shot this in their parents’ basements” DiY ethic and awful writing. If you put on a low-budget horror movie, I’m almost certainly down to watch it.

    Greg Troyan: I’m a character guy, so stuff like It and Predator work really well for me because it is based around interesting characters. I’m not as much into the monsters killing everybody slowly thing because I’m not a fan of victimization, so stuff where the heroes make an effort to combat the monsters are more engaging for me. I do love Sweeney Todd because its music is amazing and the story is very Shakespearian. I love the Rocky Horror Picture Show too, and though it definitely is not horror, I wanna give a shoutout to its under-appreciated sequel, Shock Treatment. The dynamic between Rocky Horror and Shock Treatment is a good way to explain the comparison between Alice Cooper and Lipstick: Alice and Rocky Horror are horror movies while Lipstick and Shock Treatment are Saturday morning cartoons.

    Daniel XIII: On to a more serious topic, and all shtick aside, an issue I fully endorse; namely April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. I understand that Lipstick is spreading awareness of this topic…could you tell us how?

    Greg Troyan: We [did] a charity show on April the 9th in Nashville where we donated all of the funds to the Nashville Children’s Alliance, and beyond that, we’re offering our song “Fight Back” as a free download for the entire month to help spread awareness of the issue. As a former victim of child abuse, I know firsthand that the best way to stop abuse is to spread awareness.

    “Fight Back” is a very personal song I wrote about the issue, and side-note, my stepfather was the abuser and not my biological father. I just want to add that disclaimer so people don’t blame him for what happened because he didn’t know and it wasn’t his fault.

    But as far as the song is concerned, it’s a great song that I’m very proud of, but even if people don’t like our band and think we suck, I hope that it encourages discussion about the issue and helps spread awareness. I humbly ask everyone to share the song to all of their friends if they like it to help spread awareness, and if they don’t like the song to please spread awareness anyway because it truly is an important issue.

    Daniel XIII: What’s up next for the band, and where can we keep up with you online?

    Stephen Smith: We post pretty much everything on www.lipstickgeneration.com, you can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter (with the former being more active). Next up is planning a few tours to promote the new album and start plotting the third one!

    Greg Troyan: Thank you for having us. Stay Spooky!

    Daniel XIII: Fangs guys!

    One guest leaves and a new one enters! Let’s put our tentacles together for Justin Barber, the Director of the upcoming alien awesomeness; Phoenix Forgotten!

    Daniel XIII: How did you come to be involved with Phoenix Forgotten, and what does the story entail?

    Justin Barber: I started out in my career as a graphics and digital FX artist working alongside Wes Ball, who I also went to film school with at Florida State. The concept for the movie originated with Wes and screenwriter TS Nowlin, another FSU alum. One night TS was over at our office and they were watching that movie Catfish. What they found cool about that movie was how on the fence they were about whether or not it was real or staged. The three of us are also fans of the original Blair Witch Project, and Speilberg’s Close Encounters. The original idea for this movie was just to make a cool documentary version of Close Encounters that midway through goes off the rails and becomes a found footage UFO ride.

    Around that time I had just started directing commercials, and a lot of that work was documentary style, or genuinely documentary in nature. With that work in mind, those guys thought I would be a good fit to direct this movie.

    We really wanted to make something that at first could trick an audience into thinking it could be a real documentary. With that in mind, I thought what better way to bring some authenticity to it than to set it against a real-world UFO sighting. The Phoenix Lights sprang to mind as I remembered it from the initial news coverage of the event in 1997.

    The story is told in two different time periods. In 1997 a high school kid named Josh Bishop is video-taping his six-year-old sister’s backyard birthday party. Suddenly everyone notices the strange lights in the sky and Josh ends up capturing the iconic footage of the Phoenix Lights. Josh and his footage are featured on the local news and at that point he catches the UFO bug – he becomes obsessed with the lights and sets out to investigate what they are, recruiting two high school friends to help. A few weeks later, they vanished without a trace. Just drove out into the desert and where never seen again.

    In modern day, Josh’s kid sister Sophie, now all grown up, returns to Phoenix to make her own documentary about her brother’s disappearance. The first half of our movie is Sophie’s documentary, a mix of her own contemporary footage – interviews with family members, members of law enforcement involved in the search for the missing kids – and of Josh’s footage from the 90s.

    At first, Sophie assumed like everyone else that Josh and his friends got kidnapped, or just got lost in the desert, but as her investigation continues she starts to go down her brother’s rabbit hole. She starts to wonder if there might be some connection between his dissappearance and the Phoenix Lights.

    Daniel XIII: What challenges did you face telling a story via the found footage format?

    Justin Barber: For the first half of the movie, the ‘documentary’ the challenge was getting performances from actors that felt like the real people you see in documentaries. Everything from real people seems under-played, but then when you push your actors in that direction the risk is losing too much energy. So it was a push and pull but in the end the cast did a great job.

    As for the ‘found footage’ portion of the movie, a lot of those scenes needed to be one-shot scenes. You don’t have the advantage of editing. So blocking out these long scenes with dialogue and complicated action was challenging.

    Daniel XIII: How did legendary director Ridley Scott come to be involved in the film?

    Justin Barber: TS had been over at Scott Free working on another project, and happened to pitch this idea to Ridley and he really liked it. I think they had been wanted to play in this space of lower-budget genre movies and this was a good fit for them based on the subject matter. He wasn’t on set day-to-day, but he did offer his insight and the producers at Scott Free were very supportive. From the standpoint of the cast and crew, we were all really motivated to make something that was of the quality of his own work, something that he would like and sign off on.

    Daniel XIII: Were you familiar with U.F.O. lore before you became involved with Phoenix Forgotten, and are you believer in the phenomena?

    Justin Barber: I grew up on X-Files, and Spielberg’s Close Encounters. For whatever reason that material always drew me in. I guess when you’re a kid growing up in the suburbs of Florida you just want to believe the world is more fantastic than it is. So when I was young I steeped myself in all of that stuff, and was very aware of the Phoenix Lights when it first happened. I was the same age as my main character Josh in 1997, and I remember writing an article for my high school newspaper about the Phoenix Lights.

    However as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more skeptical. I haven’t seen enough hard evidence to hang a belief on. To quote X-Files, I WANT to believe they’re out there, but I’m still waiting to be convinced.

    I enjoy reading about the Drake Equation and the movie Contact hits on it – the idea that the universe is so big and so old and we know there must be X amount of habitable worlds out there… But on the other hand there are the issues in the Fermi Paradox – if that’s the case ‘Where are they?’ as Fermi himself said. Did they all blow themselves up with nuclear weapons before they could call us?

    A lot of people say that aliens have visited them, but with how little we understand the human mind it could be just as likely these people are having some sort of collective psychological experience, or are just crazy. At the end of the day, the photographic evidence doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny in my honest opinion.

    Daniel XIII: What do you have on the horizon?

    Justin Barber: I’ve started writing another movie but it’s too fetal to discuss right now. But enough people see Phoenix Forgotten maybe they will let us make a sequel!

    Daniel XIII: Fangs!

    Before I crawl back to my coffin; I’m happy to inform you boils and ghouls that one of my fav creators of arcane audio, Werewolves in Siberia, are back with two new E.P.s that are sure to make your eerie earholes pleased as putrid punch! Here’s the official word from the wicked wolves:

    As a follow-up to January’s DeathRace 2000-inspired “Transcontinental Road Race”, Werewolves in Siberia is back with two brand new EPs.

    The first EP, entitled “Abyss”, takes you to the depths of the unknown with two new synth-driven tracks. Escape the impending apocalypse of the outside world and get lost in the aquatic atmosphere of the Abyss. It hits for free download Friday, April 14 on the official WIS Bandcamp page.

    One week later, April 21, the next EP drops. “In Memoriam” will also be available for free download on the Bandcamp page. With themes for the Monster Guys and Bazaar Cast podcasts, songs inspired by Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines and an 80s-style horror hip hop song inspired by the Ghost Brothers tv show, this EP is more of a tribute to some horror icons and up-and-comers in the horror/paranormal realm. Don’t expect anything less than other WIS releases, though. There’s plenty here to sink your teeth into.

    Trust me creeps; I’ve heard both of these monsterpieces and they are well and truly the bat’s knees!

    Daniel XIII
    Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

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