When the trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story dropped a couple weeks ago, I watched it with a tinge of dread. See, Han Solo traumatized me as a child. I was 7-years-old when I saw The Empire Strikes Back in theaters, and the scene where Harrison Ford gets tortured at Cloud City gave me my first bona fide panic attack. It was dark, intense, and completely out of left field in an otherwise fantastic franchise where no one ever bleeds (or screams).
I might be the only one who had such an adverse reaction to Solo’s torture (which happens, primarily, off-screen), but those of us who came of age in the 1980s can probably relate to encountering terrifying moments in otherwise kid-friendly films. For the most part, these were the days before PG-13, meaning there was a ton of leeway for movies that fell in between the extremes of Cinderella and The Shining.
In retrospect, 1980s kids were subjected to a litany of scares that would be considered highly inappropriate by today’s standards—perhaps explaining our generations’ intense love of horror! Return with me now to those terrifying days of yesteryear with 10 terrifying moments from kids’ movies that haunted our childhoods!
The Tunnel of Terror in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
The only film on this list that wasn’t produced and released in the 1980s (and the only one I didn’t see in theaters) is nonetheless one every child of the era has seen: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from 1971. I remember my parents telling me that I was in for a treat when they sat me down in front of the TV at the tender age of 6.
I was already unnerved by the tall man in the trench coat and the bizarre antics of Gene Wilder’s Wonka, but that boat-ride scene completely destroyed my childhood. It wasn’t even the chicken decapitation or the centipedes that rattled me; it was Wonka’s unhinged shrieking! To this day, the scene gives me the willies (pun intended!); Wilder truly channels the dangerous intensity of a lunatic.
Gmork attacks Atreyu in The NeverEnding Story (1984)
The NeverEnding Story was an exciting alternative in the Disney-dominated landscape of kids’ movies in the 1980s—exciting and dark! But a kid trapped in an attic, a horse drowning in a swamp, a nihilistic turtle, and a devastating void all paled in comparison to Atreyu’s confrontation with the insidious Gmork.
Those green eyes staring out from the cave froze my blood. The fact that it could speak made it infinitely more terrifying; this wasn’t some primal beast, this agent of The Great Nothing was a cunning and merciless villain. The matter-of-fact way it informed Atreyu that he would be his last “victim” was beyond bleak. When the monster attacked as thunder roared and lightning struck, I screamed.
Though many aspects of The NeverEnding Story show their age, this moment remains, objectively, as scary as any horror movie werewolf attack.
The Wheelers Descend in Return to Oz (1985)
When Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) first arrived in Oz back in 1939, she was greeted by a community of cheerful Munchkins. When Dorothy (reprised by Fairuza Balk) returned to Oz in 1985, her reception was much colder.
The eerie silence of a seemingly abandoned wasteland was broken by an assault by Wheelers: colorful, mechanically enhanced cousins of the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys. As adults, we can laugh at the impracticality of villains who can’t even maneuver stairs, but we weren’t laughing as kids, I can promise you that!
While the hall of heads, an unintentionally terrifying Jack Pumpkinhead, and a truly demonic Gnome King are perhaps the scariest moments of Return to Oz, the sudden and unexpected arrival of the Wheelers was a truly devastating moment. It obliterated all our happy memories of Oz in an instant, transforming the land of enchantment into a labyrinth of evil.
Large Marge Tells her Tale in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Many of the films on this list are dark from start to finish, containing multiple terrifying moments. But part of what makes the tale of Large Marge so impactful is that it appears in an otherwise completely lighthearted film. Sure, man-child Pee-wee Herman has always been subversive in ways that only become apparent as we get older, but he never dabbled in ghost stories or jump scares.
Luckily, the scary face of Large Marge was as funny as it was shocking, so even though kids like me hit the ceiling, our fears quickly dissolved into fits of hysterical laughter. Today, I remember practically nothing about Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but I’ll have fond memories of Large Marge until the day I die.
The Emperor Turns to Ash in The Dark Crystal (1982)
Over 35 years after it’s release, The Dark Crystal remains a unique and beautiful anomaly. Jim Henson’s G-rated Muppets were left in the workshop! This film was populated by fascinating and terrifying characters, conveying a tale that wasn’t dumbed down for its audience. These factors give the film profound resonance and contribute to its status as an enduring classic
Like the title warns, this film is dark. The Skeksis are demonic, Augrah is arresting, and the Garthim are pure nightmare fuel. The process of draining Pod People of the essence and the stabbing death of Kira are horrifying. But it was the death of the Skeksis Emperor that really hit me like a ton of bricks.
There was something metaphysically terrifying about this moment; not only is the idea of a creature crumbling into ash creepy as hell but the effect was gasp-inducing. As a child, it was something I’d never seen before, a concept I’d never imagined, and it floored me. Death had never been conveyed with such shocking profundity.
The Lab Rats are Injected in The Secret of NIMH (1982)
When I sat in the theater in 1982, I don’t think I realized that The Secret of NIMH wasn’t a Disney movie, but I realized soon enough Mickey and Minnie weren’t hangin’ with these rodents! The Great Owl was petrifying and the finale was as harrowing as anything my young psyche had yet experienced, but it was the flashback of experiments conducted on lab rats that stuck with me and haunted my childhood.
It wasn’t just the brilliant animation that powerfully conveyed the rats’ pain as syringes were plunged into their bellies, it was a brutal moment of education they don’t teach kids in school. It was my first introduction to the realities of animal experimentation, and the fact that grown-ups would perpetrate such atrocities felt like a betrayal
The Ending of Time Bandits (1981)
In retrospect, it was irresponsible for any of our parents to think that Time Bandits was a kids’ movie just because the main character was an 11-year-old boy. In 1981, the only other film Terry Gilliam had directed was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Yes, Time Bandits is funny and exciting with motifs common to kid-friendly time-travel fiction, but the film is nearly hopelessly bleak from start to finish.
Kevin (played by Craig Warnock) is completely neglected by his parents and essentially kidnapped by a troop of interdimensional robbers. He’s made complicit in a series of crimes throughout many dangerous eras, forced to endure wars and even the sinking of the Titanic. Eventually, Kevin is dragged into a realm of ultimate darkness. Though triumphing over Evil personified, he’s abandoned by God before returning home—only to find his home engulfed in a blazing inferno.
Though rescued by firemen, Kevin’s parents didn’t even realize he was missing and are soon reduced to piles of ash by a stray bit of concentrated evil. The friendly firemen take little notice, leaving our young protagonist utterly alone.
Faces Melt in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
A lot of my peers will count the human sacrifice scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as one of the most terrifying moments of their childhood. Not me. After what I’d endured in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was ready for anything.
Since it gets less attention than its predecessor (bonus fact: Temple of Doom is a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark), I think people forget just how scary Raiders really is. It’s worlds darker and grittier than Doom, which has a colorful, comic book pallet by comparison, not to mention a clear emphasis on comedy. The spiders, the snakes, the boobytraps: they all put monkey brains and extracted hearts to shame.
But the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark is more intense than most horror movies, past and present. The face-melting evoked Cold War Era fears of nuclear annihilation and the idea of a vengeful God was devastating.
The Death of Shoe in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
I wasn’t always the jaded gorehound I am today; I was young and sensitive once. And even though I was well into puberty by 1988 (or maybe because of it) I was especially traumatized by a moment in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The hard-boiled plot loaded with barely veiled sexual innuendo was, for the most part, completely buried beneath a cacophony of cameos from just about every cartoon character ever penned.
But it wasn’t the fever-nightmare of Roger’s mania or even the emergence of Judge Doom’s true form that devastated me; it was the execution of poor Shoe, a paradigm of animated innocence unceremoniously dropped into a barrel of “dip” (a toxic concoction made from turpentine, acetone, and benzene).
Most kids in their early teens couldn’t stop thinking about Jessica Rabbit; I was haunted by the death of Shoe.
Supercomputer Makes a Human Cyborg in Superman III (1983)
There’s an evil streak that runs throughout Superman III, the third film to feature Christopher Reeves as the titular Man of Steel. While Superman II had its dark spots (specifically the devastation caused by Zod and his companions) there’s an undercurrent in Richard Lester’s follow-up that’s absolutely wicked—containing a scene that contributed to the destruction of my childhood.
A makeshift batch of Kryptonite turns Superman into an immoral, selfish thug before he participates in a troubling fight to the death with himself. But as unsettling as the concept of an evil Superman may be, the scene where the supercomputer turns Vera into a cyborg was some next level shit for 10-year-old me.
I re-watched the scene in preparation for this article and was shocked at its similarities to the moment in Hellraiser II when Dr. Channard is transformed into a Cenobite—especially the wires! No wonder it scared the hell out of me!
Maternal Madness: Why Pyewacket Is Lady Bird for Horror Fans
Please don’t read this editorial as an attempt to stoke the fires of horror classification and Oscar-worthy representation. Adam MacDonald’s Pyewacket is, so substantially, a child’s diary that’s shredded to bits during ritualistic sacrifice. Doors that should remain forever boarded are flung open with impulsive negligence, spared not by impunity as pitchfork-scarred figures charge towards the now unblocked opening. Generational unreset and Satan’s deceit lead a cacophonous moral charge, yet even amidst MacDonald’s familial kerfuffle, it takes little sleuthing to proclaim Pyewacket the horror genre’s answer to Greta Gerwig’s Best Picture Nominee Lady Bird.
This is an exercise in theme, tone and tale – plenty more, never less.
It is quite true that both projects differ in climax – one a heart-swelling reunion (Lady Bird), the other a black magic kiss of death (Pyewacket) – but neither narrative dismisses two deeply moving stories about maternal relations. Two intentionally blurry impressions (do you even know how being alive works?), both tremendously rich in their abilities to exploit the unpredictability of emotion and a parent’s eternal love. Each project’s young female protagonist thinks they’re being imprisoned, even mistreated, only to highlight the live-and-learn faults in misunderstanding. We were all kids once, and someday we’ll be parents too (if you choose). Look no further to find equal films that so honestly address both points of view – albeit it in uniquely separate ways.
Nicole Muñoz stars as Pyewacket’s Leah Reyes, your average goth-punk “outcast” who’s obsessed with occult practices. Her mother (played by Laurie Holden) is usually drunk or distraught, a hollow shell of herself ever since the death of Leah’s father. Mrs. Reyes reaches a point where she can no longer endure her current living arrangement so she decides to purchase a woodsy, secluded cabin (without haunting memories). Leah lashes out as any transplanted child would, even though Mrs. Reyes fairly keeps her enrolled in current schooling situations. Nevertheless, Leah turns to her ritualistic hobby and calls for the demon Pyewacket as a form of adolescent overreacting – a deadly curse that must be broken when imbalanced hormones subside in the dumbstruck youth.
Where Lady Bird takes the road more often traveled – a mother and daughter’s symbiotic tug-of-war that’s rooted in sarcastic loveliness – Pyewacket allows for something more malicious. This nightmare scenario where a teenager acts on momentary inhibitions to cause harm unto their parent. It’s that gut-punch family moment where a child screams “I WISH YOU WERE DEAD” from behind cascading tears because he or she isn’t allowed to stay up past 10:00 PM or something just as trivial – but MacDonald *actually* rationalizes such a heartless and empty gesture. This is, destructively, Pyewacket’s grinning premise – except without take-backsies. Extreme to the max, because horror’s most meaningful representations understand and exploit far-reaching depths of our most questionable experiences.
Imagine. Lady Bird is so honest, open and painstakingly enthralled by its flaws, but Pyewacket ups the game with a thick layer of Salem-scented dread. There’s no phone call that erases bitterness once Leah realizes her mother is just trying to do her best in an unspeakable situation. Pyewacket has been summoned from the woods and does not stop advancing – resurrected in anger, acting on ill wishes that can’t be erased. A demon that represents the materialization of dwelled-upon negative thoughts. One girl damned by the stigma of unforgiveness. I might argue that Pyewacket harbors a stronger bond for audiences to detect versus Lady Bird, if only because viewers can sense an *avoidable* (and horrific) end for one, maybe even two lives.
In throwing Laurie Holden and Laurie Metcalf comparisons around (both mamas), yes – it’s acknowledged that Holden portrays a more volatile arc. She’s grief-stricken, typically passing out whilst “enjoying” red wine or saying the wrong thing to her daughter. It’s never intentional, but emotions are so inherently complicated and subject to personal comprehension – something we often forget ourselves (like Leah does). She’s a strong girl who happens to find comfort in pentagram shapes and incantations. Her mother? Smashed to jagged pieces. But here she is trying to piece together a crumbled existence, asking her kin for help. The move isn’t an act of betrayal, it’s permission for understanding (much like how Lady Bird and her mother take everything personally). As (self-obsessed) children, it’s hard to see the big picture.
So important is a reminder that we’re all just sacks of flesh and cerebral neurons that are trying to make sense of infinite existential unknowns. Maturity provides no one an answer key. Metcalf’s decision to abstain from conversation when Saoirse Ronan flies away and Holden’s depleted capacity to “deal” are both neither “wrong” nor “right.” Good decisions? Hardly – but that’s not for you to say. I love this brand of steadfast imperfection because it allows for latter-act breakthroughs where two characters finally channel the same wavelength. Both stories trace these lines so incomparably well, which is an easy inclination of similarity. Pyewacket as vividly wounded as Lady Bird despite horror sadism.
MacDonald makes the most of his film’s satanic roots with heretic details. Leah’s Pyewacket awakening so researched (oil, milk, herbs, blood from her wrist, subject’s hair), her ensuing torments chilled to the bone. This, of course, is the biggest gap between Lady Bird and Pyewacket – Lady never had to fake sleeping while a midnight demon sat *on* her bedroom wall (downright paralyzing sight) – but that’s what gives Leah’s struggle its signature genre stench. There is no fear of pushing boundaries too far as a “wannabe Manson chick” must live with decisions poised to haunt her every waking hour – if they’re proven real (you better believe there’s a sick psychological duality at play).
Of course, Muñoz’s performance is just as important as Holden’s given the situation. How is a child with no worldly experience suppose to take her mother’s exclamation of “Moving on is impossible with your father’s face?” The weight here is heavy, with Muñoz dealt a much uglier hand given Ronan’s intermittent department store banter and more obvious hints of mixed messages. Leah’s HIM posters and Rowan Dove books (an occult writer she admires) are her safety net – an escape from depression. Lady Bird acts out in her own way, but for genre fans, this is a familiar trope – executed so beautifully by both MacDonald and his young starlet. Muñoz sells her angst, paranoia and teenage selfishness like a pro (ditto Ronan). Be careful, this is one of those feely, decadently rich emotional horror flicks some of y’all are afraid of (jk WATCH THIS MOVIE).
Am I using broad strokes to latch Gerwig’s California-hazed coming-of-age dramedy onto a movie about a malevolent spirit set free by a woefully unprepared child? Maybe, but not as blindly as you’d think. Both films run a tremendously relationship-driven undercurrent that evolves with analogous devotion, creepy Pyewacket chase sequence or not. Both proficiently understand parental dynamics (and fears), both highlight egregious Hollywood misconceptions about raising children and love, both connect messy characters through blood and experience – don’t be fooled by monsters in one and Timothée Chalamet in the other. Pyewacket is a brooding rumination on hasty decisions and stewing over perceptions we create ourselves, but also the power in coming-of-age – and the unknowingness that remains in adulthood.
Horror fans, do not skip out on such a genrefied dagger to the heart as Pyewacket – one marvelous movie about our human condition in horrific form. As tragically beautiful as is it cautiously forthcoming. Pure, bare-it-all art laced with the devil’s strongest brew.
Kip Weeks, Original Man in the Mask, Slashes The Strangers: Prey at Night
We need to quit the knee-jerk hatred towards sequels; recent follow-ups like Ouija: Origin of Evil, The Conjuring 2, and Annabelle: Creation prove that creative ideas and talented directors can exceed expectations set by an original.
But we can’t give sequels a free pass to be mediocre either. For example, the response to the follow-up to Bryan Bertino’s home invasion masterpiece, The Strangers: Prey at Night, recently debuted to extremely mixed reviews. Pessimists bemoan, “What did you expect? Most sequels are unabashed cash-grabs!” In the case of The Strangers, I expected a lot more.
Fans of the 2008 shocker have been clamoring for a sequel for years, but no one wanted the wait to end with the unceremonious dispatches of some of the 21st Century’s most iconic new villains. I’m talking about the titular Strangers themselves, the murderous trio dubbed Dollface, Pin-Up, and The Man in the Mask.
While attempts to give characters like Michael Myers and Leatherface backstories have backfired by turning manifestations of evil into melodramatic anti-heroes (thus demystified and deflating their sources of terror), such an endeavor isn’t always a liability. In the case of Prey at Night, it should have been considered a necessity. The first Strangers concluded with hints that Dollface was conflicted; simultaneously, the juxtaposition of Mormon missionaries hinted at cultish motivations (beyond the infliction of random acts of violence).
While the unknown was key to the terror of The Strangers, it was a one trick pony; the franchise could only flourish with an expansion of the implied mythology created in 2008. Of course, Prey director Johannes Roberts’ decision to assassinate these compelling masked invaders proves he really had no intention of turning Bertino’s original into a franchise, something that left me feeling extremely disheartened.
And I’m not the only one; among the lambasts of fans and critics comes a vocal response from the original Man in the Mask, Kip Weeks (replaced by Damian Maffei in Prey). I caught up with him after he chimed in on a negative review in Variety. And lest you think it’s a case of sour grapes, I wouldn’t be sharing his insights if I didn’t agree fully.
Dread Central: We were all bummed the original Strangers actors weren’t recast. Now that Prey at Night has premiered to mostly negative reviews, can we get your thoughts? Specifically, why does Prey fail where the original Strangers succeeded?
Kip Weeks: I had a long back and forth with one of the producers. I told him, “You destroyed an art form.”
DC: Did you give him any specifics?
KP: I told him: “You have no idea what it means to create a character from its core. You made a piece of shit, jump scare movie without realizing you had gold in your hands.”
DC: What should the producers have done differently?
KP: They could have made a movie about “The Strangers”: where they came from and why they became killers. Instead, they made it about some bullshit family and wasted Christina Hendricks’ acting skills. The fans wanted depth and story and honesty. They gave them shit.
Zena’s Period Blood: Pin Up the Period Blood
It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”
“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.
Allow me to do a proper introduction for once.
Pin was directed by Sandor Stern and is based on the book by Andrew Neiderman. The film introduces us to Leon, an 8-year-old boy who believes that Pin, a medical dummy, is alive. Leon’s father, Dr. Linden, is a ventriloquist who projects his voice onto Pin and uses the dummy to teach his kids and patients about bodily functions. See, that was a modest introduction. I even made it seem like I was introducing a nice, little Goosebumps episode. But, no. THERE’S SEX. Sex played a huge part in this movie. They referred to it as “the need”. Freaking intelligent. They made it sound like it was as powerful as “the force” from Star Wars. Oddly enough, Leon’s younger sister Ursula, at the sprightful age of five, deduced that she was going to like “the need” as a teenager.
“The need” led to Ursula becoming pregnant at fifteen. Terrified, she confides in Leon for instruction whose bright idea is to talk to Pin. Yes, the medical dummy. Ursula reluctantly agrees to this absurd idea and discovers that 18-year-old Leon can also perform ventriloquism, although he believes Pin is truly speaking to him. The voice tells them to come clean to their father, who after being told performs the abortion of Ursula’s baby. This caught me completely by surprise. Abortion was not deeply debated in this movie, yet I still commended the bravery of Stern and Neiderman to include this. Nonetheless, here we see that even as a teenager, Leon relies on Pin to give him advice. Although Leon has developed his own ability of ventriloquism, he gives Pin the same personality that Dr. Linden gave the medical doll.
Before leaving to give a speech one night, Dr. Linden returns to his office to find Leon having a conversation with Pin, via ventriloquism. Observing his son’s psychosis, he takes Pin, insisting that he must use the doll in his speech. Unfortunately, on the way to the ceremony, Mr. and Mrs. Linden are killed in a car crash.
Okay, so far I’ve talked about five characters but said little regarding my feelings about the film. I must start with my adoration for the subtle hints given about each character’s personality. You never received a straight in-your-face revelation, like he’s the weirdo or she’s the slut. Still, the little hints instantly put you at ease with understanding these characters. There is nothing more annoying than spending thirty minutes with a character and having no idea what his or her motives are for their behaviors.
In addition to the characters, clever actions in the story often cloud you from foreseeing outcomes. For example, there could be a jacket picked up nonchalantly or a wristwatch given as a gift and you would think very little of it. The foreshadowing happened so casually that when you finally saw the significance of that prop or article of clothing, you were mesmerized at the calculated execution. It seemed like the entire crew was super competitive all while displaying immaculate teamwork. The unique screenplay coupled impeccably with stunning camerawork. A notable scene involved Ursula discussing Leon’s schizophrenia with her boyfriend Stan. We hear Stan behind the camera, but we see Ursula bickering in the foreground and simultaneously see a mirror in the background holding Leon’s reflection as he painfully listens behind a wall. You can tell that cinematographer Guy Dufaux meticulously walked each set to determine how best to tell the story. I love when a cinematographer and director take this much time to learn the screenplay and the sets. I also love the fact that Guy Dufaux had his wife help out on the movie set (she operated the clapper). This gleefully reminded me of my relationship with my husband. He and I work together now; but before, I used to go to his job and help him out from time to time. My primary task was to remind whores that their place in this world was anywhere but near him. While in these shops, I discovered that even elderly women over 102 years old can still have “the need”.
Now, I know you thought this was going to be a regular review. I even tried to give you a modest introduction (emember the “Goosebumps” thing). And yet, all of the previous information was presented to build a case for something. Sorry that you didn’t know you had been summoned to court, but we are here to discuss the case of Good Booty vs. Bad Booty. Let me explain: first, allow me to reintroduce you to Stan.
In the movie, Stan seemed to be a well-brought-up guy: nice looking, studious, the type of guy momma and poppa would be proud to see you bring home.
Let’s say we, like Ursula, are casually introduced to Stan.
Let’s say he spots us in the library like he spotted her.
We are a hot girl named, well, Ursula, sitting there, working in-between helping customers.
Stan figures he’d be polite and say hello.
Okay. The scene is set.
Is there something we should tell Stan? I mean, he’s admiring the booty already, right? Let me just get to the point. By this time in the movie, the viewer is already thinking or possibly yelling, “Stan, don’t do it, dude! Run like a bat out of hell, Stan. That is bad booty.”
Bad booty is simply defined as booty that is bad for you. By this time in the movie, we knew that (1) Ursula slept with majority of the football team, (2) her brother kicked a dude in the balls so hard that we poured out a bit of liquor for the dude’s balls because there’s no resurrecting dead balls, (3) her parents died in a car crash because her father was staring in the backseat at his medical dummy, and (4) her older brother’s best friend was the medical dummy who helped him kill their Aunt Dorothy. Now of course, Stan knew nothing about the booty before he approached it. But here is my point. ALWAYS STUDY THE BOOTY! Study it in detail before you fall in love with it. Question that booty. Background check that booty. Get it together, Stan. That booty had been through enough by this point in the movie that it was probably going to end up killing Stan, which it almost did. The lesson here is to always inspect the booty.
My husband acquired “Good Booty”. The only bad part about the booty is that my attention can be taken away with the snap of a finger. For example, I first watched this movie at work. It was supposed to be background noise and light peripheral fondling as I focused on important social media statistics. All of a sudden, the peripheral fondling seized my full attention. You know that moment when your mind has its own schizophrenic conversation? Pause this awesomeness and focus on work or pause the work and focus on this awesomeness? Well, that happened to me. Pin won.
All in all, I hope we all learned something today. Determine if the booty is good or bad. Men, protect your balls from potential NFL kickers. If your five-year-old says she has “the need,” you might want to listen. And last but not least, Pin is a remarkable movie. Point blank. PERIOD.
In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.
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