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Frozen Ground, The (Blu-ray / DVD)



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The Frozen Ground (Blu-ray / DVD)Starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kevin Dunn

Directed by Scott Walker

Distributed by Lionsgate

Police procedural films are a dime a dozen these days. If the formula isn’t being worn out enough on TV, it certainly gets just as much of a workout on celluloid. Films with a compelling hook tend to rise above the crop, even more so when the film is based on a true story. Now, look, I know as well as you do that most Hollywood police films “based on a true story” are little more than clichés packaged in a seemingly authentic box; we get the same structure nearly every time and exceptions to that rule are rare. The Frozen Ground (2013), from first-time director Scott Walker, isn’t exactly one of those exceptions. Walker’s film does bring to light a serial killer case that seems to have been largely forgotten.

Alaskan Robert Hansen was found guilty of kidnapping, raping, and murdering at least 17 women during the ‘70s and ‘80s, with his actual body count believed to be at least 24, maybe more. The only reason he was ever caught is because a prostitute he intended to kill, Cindy Paulson, managed to escape and get to the police. Hansen took a plea deal, limiting the amount of publicity the case received. Not many people are familiar with it as a result. Walker’s script hews as closely as possible to authenticity, though it does so in the confines of a typical procedure-by-numbers police work drama. And, honestly, I didn’t care. When you’ve got Nicolas Cage putting in some of his best work in years, and John Cusack playing far against type as a normal family man who moonlights as a deranged human hunter, I’m on board.

The film crashes open with the police storming a hotel where Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) just burst in handcuffed and screaming about a maniac. The cops take her in and casually dismiss her story. You can’t rape a prostitute, right? When the bodies of missing women begin appearing in the Alaskan wilderness, Sgt. Jack Halcombe receives a file in the mail alerting him to Cindy’s story. He makes contact with her and hears her tale of a guy who offered to pay her $200 for oral sex, only to pull a gun on her, chain her up in his basement, and rape and torture her for a week before trying to abscond with her on a plane. When the guy turned away for a moment, she bolted out of there. And the thing is, the cops know who this guy is – he’s Robert “Bob” Hansen, a local respected baker who has a wife and two kids. Despite his record indicating he’s had “women problems” in the past, nobody wants to take only the word of a hooker. The D.A. wants hard evidence before he’ll issue a warrant.

Halcombe works tirelessly to get Cindy on board with aiding the investigation, but she’s hesitant to trust police. More than once she runs off, back to her pimp, Clate (50 Cent, sporting a hilarious pimp wig). As Halcombe works the case, we also get to witness how Hansen works. After abducting a woman who was lured in on the premise of posing for photos, we then cut to Bob casually stoking a fire… while this girl is chained up by the neck in his basement. She pees herself and apologizes. You can tell she’s scared to death. Bob takes her from his home to a plane, telling her they’re going to his cabin. In truth, Bob is about to release her into the wild, miles from anyone or anything, before leveling his rifle and shooting her like a buck. One more to the head for good measure, and then it’s off to a shallow grave. The only loose end he’s ever left is Cindy, and when he spots her during a trip to his usual choosing grounds, the film quickly turns into a race between Hansen and Halcombe to get Cindy off the streets and into custody. Even when Hansen is finally brought in on formal charges, Halcombe still has to beat out a hired hitman and find concrete evidence at Hansen’s home or else he risks losing Cindy and seeing Bob walk free, likely to disappear forever.

There isn’t much to set this film aside from standard serial killer cinema thematically, so the onus of making boilerplate material work is placed on the actors. Everyone is fully aware of the Nicolas Cage Scale of Acting; his tendency to either play things close to the vest or as a spastic lunatic with questionable enunciation choices. But this film gets Nic Cage the serious actor; the Nic Cage who takes his trade seriously and is clearly trying to deliver a strong emotional performance devoid of his famous flourishes. Cage can be a great actor when he wants to, and he can also phone it in with the best of them. I won’t say he’s operating within his wheelhouse here since, well, frankly, I don’t think Cage can ever be confined to any sort of house; however, this role isn’t exactly stretching his abilities. He’s nothing more than a committed cop, two weeks from retirement (aren’t they all?), who wants to stop a bad man from doing more bad things. That’s it. At least he was given the free rein to mold Halcombe as his own, since the real life Halcombe is a former officer named Glenn Flothe who preferred not to have his name used here.

John Cusack, however, is completely playing against type. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Robin Williams’ turn in Insomnia (2002), where he also played a serial killer operating out of Alaska. The real-life Hansen was described by those who knew him as a normal, everyday guy who kept to himself and didn’t bother anyone. He was a family man people liked. Casting an actor audiences consider to be that type of person, as Cusack certainly is seen, just adds an extra unsettling layer to a deranged character. Our perception is that Cusack is a “good person” since those are the roles he tends to play, making it all the more chilling when he’s revealed to be a lunatic with serious woman issues. What I found most effective about his performance was the cold, calculating nature of his demeanor. Hansen never allows himself to lose control until the film’s climax, when his façade begins quickly crumbling. Nothing registers with this guy. When his wife won’t stop trying to make a point at dinner, the minor act of allowing a fork to drop heavily to the plate and a vacant stare are all he needs to make her instantly quiet. There isn’t a hint of humanity behind his eyes.

The only film I’d seen Vanessa Hudgens in prior to this was Harmony Korine’s divisive Spring Breakers (2013). Her character was mostly annoying, which was probably intentional. She can act, though I never once bought the fact she’s supposed to be a hooker in 1983. For that matter, the production design at large does a poor job of conveying the year, outside of some cars that fit the period. Hudgens plays your standard street-hardened hooker who gets all gooey inside when someone hits the right nerve. She just wants to see Hansen behind bars so she can move on with her life. Hudgens delivers some scenes with true, raw emotion that showed she isn’t just a pretty face.

50 Cent, however… I’m still laughing at that hair. And, really, his acting in general. He’s popped up in at least half a dozen or more films I’ve seen, and not once has he given a performance that wouldn’t have been better served with an actual actor. I guess he’s the right fit for Pimp Clate Johnson here. Luckily, we’ve got trustworthy character actors like Kevin Dunn and Kurt Fuller and Dean Norris (Hank!) to deliver strong support.

The film ends with a dedication to the victims of Robert Hansen. Scott Walker specifically said he didn’t want to glorify Hansen through this film, presenting him only when the story required it and focusing more on Cindy and Jack’s relationship. We don’t delve deeply into who Hansen is or why he’s doing this; that isn’t the film’s concern. Most serial killer films have a tendency to glorify the killer’s actions, so in that respect this film is refreshing. The Frozen Ground doesn’t break much new ground, though with its gripping story and stellar performances from its leads – and the gorgeous, isolated Alaskan landscape – that doesn’t matter so much. A lot of films can be seen as derivative; what matters is who’s telling the story and how good of a job they do it.

The film’s 2.40:1 1080p image is about as proficient as the Arri Alexa digital camera can provide. Post-production color grading was clearly implemented here, with many shots attaining hues of steely blue or grey; warmer lighting is used in the strip club and basement scenes. The film flip-flops between these two aesthetics without compromising other aspects of the image. Sharpness remains high, with faces exhibiting minute details. Contrast isn’t the strongest, allowing some of the more dimly lit scenes to swallow up the image without allowing much detail to shine through. Black levels, likewise, could have deep more saturated and deep, though they’re mostly good enough to avoid giving a washed out appearance. The picture does a fantastic job of selling the darkness and isolation that come with being in the Alaskan frontier. There are numerous aerial shots that convey a sense of despair. Audio comes in the form of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track that has a real strong presence. Composer Lorne Balfe’s work is ominous and foreboding, enveloping viewers in a tense series of cues full of percussion and woodwinds. Fidelity is excellent. Sound effects pan seamlessly between speakers; any freeway driving features an array of vehicles deftly moving across the front assembly of speakers. Bass levels kick in when the film transitions t the strip club, a frequent location throughout. Separation of effects and dialogue is handled perfectly, with both given plenty of room to breathe alongside Balfe’s score. The rear speakers levels seem punched up a bit, which only adds to the immersion this soundtrack provides. Subtitles are included in English SDH and Spanish.

The audio commentary features writer/director Scott Walker and producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming. This is a lively chat that moves along at an even pace, full of technical information regarding the production and other on-set stories. Walker talks about the difficulty of shooting in such a cold, remote climate where they were constantly losing a little bit more daylight with each passing day. Several deleted scenes are included, the majority of which provide just a little more insight into Hansen’s personal life. Most were wisely cut. “Examining The Frozen Ground” features Cage and Cusack discussing their respective roles, which at one point almost were almost reversed. But even Cage knows people would expect him to be the crazy one, and he didn’t want to play to the audience’s expectations. Scott Walker mentions that Jack Halcombe is an amalgamation of police officers, most notably Glenn Flothe, the Alaskan office who brought the case to a head. In “Writing The Frozen Ground” Walker talks about his early ideas for a different story forming the basis for this tale when he learned he was writing something similar to a real-life case. He did exhaustive research, getting the approval of the real Cindy Paulson as well as Glenn Flothe’s participation in order to make sure he got as much right as possible. If you’ll notice, even the photos of missing/deceased women shown in the movie are based on actual shots. They even got Hansen’s creepy trophy room full of stuffed animal heads replicated perfectly. A handful of extended interviews are included with writer/director Scott Walker, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, officer Glenn Flothe, Kevin Dunn, and producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming. The film’s trailer is also included. An insert containing a digital download code for use with Ultraviolet is tucked away inside the case.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with writer/director Scott Walker and producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Examining The Frozen Ground
  • Writing The Frozen Ground
  • Extended interviews
  • Trailer

    The Film:

    3 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    4 out of 5

    Discuss The Frozen Ground in the comments section below!

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    Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!



    Beyond the 7th DoorStarring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman

    Directed by B.D. Benedikt

    Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision

    Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.

    Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.

    Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.

    The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.

    Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.

    The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.

    The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.

    There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of

    “Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.

    “The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.

    Special Features:

    • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (
    • Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and’s Paul Corupe
    • The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
    • Beyond the Seventh Door
    • Special Features


    Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.

    User Rating 3.28 (18 votes)
    Comments Rating 0 (0 reviews)
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    The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross



    Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu

    Directed by Xavier Gens

    Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.

    A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.

    From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.

    I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?

    My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.

    • Film


    The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.

    User Rating 3.47 (17 votes)
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    Black Christmas Blu-ray Review – Making Its U.K. Debut From 101 Films



    Starring Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Art Hindle

    Directed by Bob Clark

    Distributed by 101 Films

    There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.

    The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, Black Christmas, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough Black Christmas doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.

    The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.

    The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.

    With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. Black Christmas was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.

    Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.

    Cult label 101 Films is giving the film its U.K. debut, presenting a transfer that is nearly identical to the remastered version Scream Factory released last year in North America. That 1.85:1 1080p picture is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. Black Christmas has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less “noisy” and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable than ever. The only noticeable difference between the Scream Factory and 101 Films versions are the latter is a touch brighter, allowing for a little more detail to filter through.

    Audio is available via an English LPCM 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo option. The multi-channel effort grants the unsettling soundtrack and Billy’s insane vocalizations more room to breathe, ratcheting up the creepiness thanks to the sense of immersion. Unlike the Scream Factory edition, the original mono track is not included.

    Only a handful of extra features have been included, all of which can be found on the Scream Factory edition, too.

    “Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” – Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.

    “Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” – The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.

    “Black Christmas Legacy” – This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.

    A handful of original TV and radio spots have been included, along with the “40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014”.

    The package also includes a fold-out poster, reversible cover art, and a DVD copy.

    Special Features:

    • Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
    • Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
    • Black Christmas Legacy
    • Original TV and Radio spots
    • 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
    • Black Christmas
    • Special Features


    This is an easy recommendation for purchase if you live in the U.K., since this is the film’s Blu-ray debut. Stateside readers may find this region-free version attractive due to the price, but know that it does contain significantly fewer extras than the in-print Scream Factory release. Either way, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have a version worth buying.

    User Rating 3.33 (18 votes)
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