Hollywood Has a LOT to Learn from Indie Productions - Letter from the Editor 4/1/18 - Dread Central
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Hollywood Has a LOT to Learn from Indie Productions – Letter from the Editor 4/1/18



I have an addiction… It’s called going to the movies. There’s just something magical about sitting in a dark room with strangers gobbling handful after handful of hot, salty popcorn. Sure, there are some minor annoyances like people texting or making unnecessary noise, but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. I love going to the movies. Maybe it’s because I, like many of you, grew up in a dysfunctional family circus and used the theater as my refuge. Whatever the case, it has always been a blast… except lately.

The truth is everything is still golden about theater going… except for the quality of movies themselves. Case in point: Pacific Rim Uprising. Here’s a flick featuring giant robots fighting each other and incredible looking giant monsters. It’s friggin’ brain popcorn, man. Anyone who knows me knows that Godzilla and other mountainous beasts are things this author breathes for. So, why did the whole experience come off as absolutely vapid? It was just an in-one-ear-and-out-the-other experience… with me for only a few fleeting moments after the credits rolled. I’m in no way singling PRU out, as this has been a steady occurrence for a few years now.

But then it happens… I fire up Netflix, Amazon Instant, VUDU, and Shudder and see a movie that knocks my socks off! Mayhem, Terrifier, Veronica, Victor Crowley, Still/Born… each of these flicks is a blast and more than worthy of full-blown theatrical releases, but unfortunately for the indies (films and studios alike), getting your flicks to play on the big screen is an uphill battle against huge bankrolls, people too scared to take a chance, and superheroes guarding tentpoles which will… some day… find themselves flaccid due to over-saturation and waning interest. Even The Force has grown kind of weak.

Who knows… maybe it’s because smaller flicks have that fire… that passion to just be a good movie without worrying about ticking off every box on the old “sure bet” industry checklist. We need to fuel these type of films and their filmmakers… do it via word of mouth and via social media. The success of these little flicks is pretty much in our hands. Take ownership. Shout about what you love from the rooftops, and maybe someone else will hear you and do the same. That’s how it was done in the past, and that’s how it will continue to be done in the future as films find their audiences.

I’m not saying Hollywood should stop making these huge spectacle films… but there are reasons why movies like Get Out, The Shape of Water, Paranormal Activity, etc., etc., are so very much revered: Each of them has heart, and said heart is not (always) created via CG 3D rendering credited to 300 billion different artists and their software tools. It’s found beating within the chests of the filmmakers who were fans of the filmmakers before them. Inspiration and creativity trump homogenization every time.

– Keep it Creepy…




Exploring a Variety of Horror in Japanese Anime



In the early 2000s, Japanese horror films took American audiences by storm. These pictures took form through numerous remakes, with such classics as Ringu (The Ring), Ju-on: The Grudge (The Grudge), and Honogurai Mizu no soko kara (Dark Water). These J-Horror remakes offered stories woven with Eastern folklore, dealing with ghosts, precognition, and yōkai, including lots of psychological twists. For some American filmgoers, these remakes were their first horror films, kicking off a life-long love for the genre.

In regards to other Japanese art forms, horror has shown remarkable promise through manga. One need not look further than the work of Junji Ito; the writer and illustrator is responsible for creating some of the most visceral and disturbing work within the genre. His short story collections, as well as his famous graphic novel Uzumaki, present worlds of psychological madness and despair.

It’s no secret that American audiences continue to love all sorts of media from Japan. However, there’s one medium from Japan that is met with as much love as it is met with criticism: Anime.

For as much as the medium is loved by fans, there are others that point out how the form is home to many tropes. While we may love Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon, we can’t deny the overt melodrama of character’s dialogue and actions. Whether it’s the over-the-top machismo or extreme cutesy nature, it’s difficult to deny the, at times, cringe-worthy elements of the art form.

However, it’s extremely important to note that these elements do not speak for all of anime. There are just as many shows that does not rely on tropes (or uses them effectively within a story’s framework). And when the right combination of elements comes together, anime and horror can go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and chocolate.

So with that said, I want to highlight four excellent anime titles that do the horror genre justice. These works present their own blend of horror, and masterfully use their medium to give viewers chills (or even turn their stomachs).

Hellsing Ultimate

The original video animation (OVA) is the main highlight of the Hellsing works (given that there was an anime and manga before Ultimate). What the OVA successfully accomplishes more so than the original works, however, is the extreme level of violence and darkness it exudes. Hellsing Ultimate follows our protagonist Alucard (the anime’s iconic vampire), along with the Hellsing organization; they work together to fight the monsters of the night that threaten mankind. The series overtime throws numerous antagonists at them, including the likes of Nazis, the Vatican, and other vampires.

What character tropes the anime uses work in its favor. There are a couple characters that act as comic reliefs, but other than those brief moments, the anime includes scenes of theatrical dialogue. In general, there are quite a few crazed antagonists throughout the anime; for the most part, many of these characters work. An example is Alexander Anderson, one of the show’s best antagonists, whose back story helps us understand his drive and personality.

However, it’s Hellsing Ultimate’s action sequences that make the show sincerely brutal and grotesque. Alucard is one of anime’s most powerful and iconic protagonists; while he takes on the role of anti-hero, his personality and ideals go beyond that of a flat archetype. For as repulsive and cruel as he can be, he also has a solid loyalty and respect to those close to him (or who he battles).

We see Alucard driven by pure bloodlust, but are also shown the somber traits of his personality. The former is where we see much of the anime’s ability to instill tension within its characters (and the viewer). His dialogue, as well as the voice acting behind it, present a sinister, even threatening aura. Given his extreme power, we see foes tear into Alucard, even tearing his limbs apart, and yet, he laughs and begs for more. His voice contains such a controlled, yet hysteric, masochistic nature, that we can empathize with the horror on his foe’s faces.

The violence is also splendid to witness for those looking for a gory rush. Hellsing Ultimate is packed with flailing limbs and literal waves of the undead. This animation also serves to masterfully capture the emotion of characters as mentioned previously; the show incorporates a hyper-realistic character design. Using a combination stellar line work, coloring, and shadowing, the emotion of each character is genuinely felt. And for those seeking more pleasing aesthetics, the world of Hellsing Ultimate is a gothic delight. Weaving in those elements of shading and detail, the European structures are as beautiful as they are creepy.

For the horror fan who needs gallons of blood, you won’t want to miss out on Hellsing Ultimate.

Perfect Blue

Unlike the previous title, Perfect Blue is a film. Directed by Satoshi Kon and written by Sadayuki Murai, the picture tells the story of Mima Kirigoe, a famous pop singer who retires to pursue acting. I won’t give away plot details, but let’s just say that this film has a lot of similarities to Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

The film is nothing short of brilliant. As the story progresses, the viewer will begin to question the reality of events as much as the protagonist. To sum Perfect Blue up as a psychological thriller may technically be accurate, but would also leave out a lot of the film’s details.

For all of Perfect Blue’s weirdness, it makes for a sincerely disturbing picture. As Mima strives to succeed as an actress, the stress continues to build upon her. Along with this stress comes a mysterious stalker and random violent actions taking place around her. This stress ends up taking over much of her psyche, altering her sense of time and reality. Getting into specifics would spoil the film, and the shock value of Perfect Blue is absolutely worth exploring firsthand.

The shock works in a way like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive; sporadic jumps in time and random bits of disturbing nature ripple throughout each scene, and will have the viewer scratching their head as to what is genuinely taking place. These transitions are jarring, revealing a combination of unsettling imagery as we witness Mima’s sanity unravel. Perfect Blue represents masterful editing, as well as relatable characters.

In a unique way, the world of Perfect Blue feels close to the real world. Beyond the psychological elements, there’s nothing that fantastical that plays into anime stereotypes; even the way characters are drawn is plain, even bland. Wherein a lot of anime characters are given flashy detail and spruced up with bright colors, Perfect Blue gives us very ordinary people (with the exception of Mima and some other girls). For an animated film, Perfect Blue feels very human; in turn, this makes the blend of unsettling, even horrific scenes, more believable.

This is a film about obsession, and how some people are always striving to fit into an image. Mima is an empathetic character and watching her descent into madness is not only grim, it’s heartbreaking.


For those who like mystery and stories that involve ghosts and curses, Another is right up your alley. The show follows Kōichi Sakakibara, a young boy who has just moved back to his birth town. The show opens with him waking up in the hospital after being sick for a month. Students from the new school and class he will attend come to visit Kōichi, but immediately begin to act strange around him. He meets a girl be the name Mei Misaki, and eventually learns of the curse that haunts class.

The show does a great job keeping you in the shadows, slowly trickling bits of important information overtime. In the beginning, the viewer will sense a great deal of weirdness coming from the characters. It’s this feeling that, while people may appear normal, the viewer can tell there’s a larger act at play. Details slowly trickle throughout each episode. The events that have led to the class’ curse are grim and make for sinister context in regards to their present state. Another comes with a compelling atmosphere. The animation utilizes stellar shadowing, casting a foreboding presence throughout the show.

If you are a fan of ghost stories like The Ring and The Grudge, you’ll love Another; there’s a consistent air of dread and uneasiness that roams about the characters and school. If you live for supernatural mysteries, Another offers a thrilling, dark journey in hopes to learn more about a curse. The show presents plenty of creepiness and twists, feeding into its overall gloomy plot.


This is the one anime on the list that comes with a warning. I had a friend recommend the show and say to me, “You won’t see what happens coming.” What takes place in episode one is super out of left field, and one of the most unique ways to trick an audience.

So before going into this show – please keep in mind that the following will include the first episode’s twist.

When you start episode one of School-Live!, we are introduced to Yuki Takeya, a cheerful high school girl that is the ideal example of cutesy anime tropes. Yuki’s friends are just as bubbly, all playing into typical girly anime tropes. As you watch the girls run throughout the school, you notice all the delightful colors and decorations.

The first episode continues in this way for the majority of its run time, up until the end. It’s revealed to the viewer that all this cuteness is inside Yuki’s head. The school is not full of bright colors and life, but is actually quite the opposite. We learn that Yuki’s friends are playing along with her to protect her, for the majority of the school’s population has been desolated by a zombie outbreak. Barricades protect broken windows and walkways, and the girls work to keep Yuki safe while trying to survive.

School-Live! throws tropes into the viewers face, amplifying the shock value of the twist. The rest of the girls use Yuki’s delusional mind state as an excuse to leave the school grounds for supplies. When we see the world through Yuki’s perspective, the animation becomes bubbly and full of color; the tone drastically shifts when we see the point of view from the other girls. This shift allows us to see the real horrors that surround them.

What transpires from there is a somber story of each girl’s desperation to survive and protect one another. The show also utilizes a series of flashbacks to provide context for each girl and where they were the day the outbreak first took place. The grim nature of their world weighs heavily upon their shoulders, and as the show progresses, the darkness of their reality leads to strain and despair.

This show is a surprising gem within the realm of horror anime. It’s a smart anime that knows not only how to play into the medium’s tropes, but the viewer’s expectations as well.

These four are just the beginning. There’s so much horror anime out there for fans to enjoy, including titles like Vampire Hunter D, ParasyteShiki, and more. You can find many of these titles on Hulu, Crunchyroll, as well as the Funimation streaming service.

Anime has much to offer horror fans through story, stellar voice acting, direction, and superb animation. While some of the horror to be found may be fun and action-oriented, there are plenty of titles that offer a sincere atmosphere of tension and fear.

What are some other horror anime titles you enjoy that are worth checking out? Let us know in the comments!


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FORBIDDEN ZONE and Political Correctness



Forbidden Zone is not just a surreal musical-fantasy, it is an expression of wild, balls-out absurdity. Unabashedly politically incorrect, with something to offend everyone, its outrageousness is certainly not for everyone’s taste. Fine. But my 1980 cult film has nonetheless picked up a loyal and still growing audience.

Occasionally detractors accuse Forbidden Zone of being racist, homophobic and both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. We seemed to hit all the bases! In my opinion, it is none of those. Only if an element is taken utterly out of context can Forbidden Zone be misconstrued as to having any bias against anyone.

An example might be “insult comic” Lisa Lampanelli. She insults whites, blacks, gays, straights, Asians, Latins, Jews… everyone, including herself. Her audience is totally diverse and includes all of the above named groups who laugh their asses off. However if one element of her show were taken out of context it would certainly appear bigoted. But taken within its context it is not. Just a diverse group people having good-natured fun, laughing at themselves and each other.

The same could be said of Forbidden Zone. It is a human cartoon where everyone is parodied. Yours truly actually was the original “Human Pet.” The topless Princess led me around by a leash tied to my dick and only a potential ratings problem made us reshoot the scene later using another actor, dick tucked safely in his pants.

Perspective is obviously influenced by one’s life’s events. I was born adjacent Watts on 103rd Street deep in South-Central L.A. We moved up to Crenshaw when I was four and I attended predominately African-American schools—both a matter of the Elfman family’s liberal idealism…and economic necessity.

As a red headed Jew growing up in a virulently bigoted and anti-Semitic time period (1950s and early 1960s), I was actually accepted more by black kids than white kids. I excelled at track, Afro-Latin percussion…and boxing. I was one of the few white athletes to compete in the champion, seven-school, almost entirely African-American “Southern League.”

The African-American community I grew up with had its own divisions. Baldwin Hills was black middle class. The top of the hills were fairly rich, a place of black doctors, lawyers, major sports figures, etc…. And literally, across the tracks at Jefferson Blvd., and south on Crenshaw, sprawled the “hood.” Diversity!

Around my friends and teammates I must have heard the “n-word” ten million times. We actually laughed and joked about our differences. After I smoked one track meet, someone remarked that a white boy shouldn’t run that fast. Someone responded, “He ain’t white–he a red n****’!” I took that as a compliment.

From today’s perspective, if I could go back forty years, I certainly wouldn’t have included the brief blackface bits in Forbidden Zone. It was just one of hundreds of visual absurdities not at all important to the film and not worth it’s particular hot-button reaction. Although I have grown up in and around the African-American community (and have a racially diverse family), I don’t claim to know exactly what it is like to stand in a black person’s shoes and feel the effects of their particular oppression over the centuries.

So what was I thinking? I wasn’t. There is stream of consciousness. In my case it was stream of diarrhea. Whatever popped into my fervid absurdist art-mind as I pasted a “plot” around musical numbers from my Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo stage show. I certainly didn’t mean to offend my black friends. Or anyone else for that matter. I simply wanted to share crazy absurdist art and expose new audiences to great, timeless music–Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, etc… (And little brother Danny’s very first film score.)

Yes, we’d all do a lot if things different if we only had that proverbial time machine. You’d probably still see a red headed “Human Pet” in Mickey Mouse ears led around by his dick. And no blackface in Forbidden Zone.

Danny and Richard Elfman, ages 12 and 16. I was at Dorsey High School then, Danny soon to start Audubon Middle School on MLK & Crenshaw Blvd.

“Oy vey! Oy Vey! Oy Vey!!”–The portrayal and mannerisms of “Mr. Bernstein” were labeled anti-Semitic.

Hyman Bernstein was my Brooklyn/Jewish grandfather. He wasn’t acting! (Me aged 29 on the set of Forbidden Zone.)


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Recollections of a Teenage Monster: HEAVY METAL ZOMBIES



I’m Byron C. Miller, horror filmmaker, musician, and fan! Since preschool, I’ve had a love for the horror genre and a great need to tell scary stories. I was teaming up with friends to build mini haunts for the unsuspecting babysitter and filming little monster movies with my dad’s VHS camcorder. Then middle school took it to a new level… In 6th Grade I decided my future: to be a horror filmmaker!

Between middle school and early high school (89 to 93), I came up with 51 movie ideas, adding each one to “The List”. Now I want to share those crazy stories with you! Join me on a nostalgic trip back to my monster kid, middle school life. Each entry will cover a movie from “The List” – not just what I remember about the imagined film but my inspiration and my life at the time. Crazy movie ideas. Slice of life. Nostalgia.

Welcome to Volume 1 of Recollections of a Teenage Monster!

My parents are cool: They let me watch Horror films and bought me Fangoria magazines as early as pre-school. From late night horror hosts to every weekend spent at the theater or drive-in, my love for cinema and horror grew at a feverish pace! I saw The Return of the Living Dead 2 multiple times in the theater and owned the rock/metal soundtrack on cassette. It was only fitting that the first time I put pen to paper it was for the zombies. Heavy Metal Zombies was the first “script” I wrote. I didn’t understand formatting yet (I was 11 give or take) so it was more like a madman’s notebook describing every scene. It kills me that I no longer have the handwritten draft but I remember a great deal about the film and its sequels.

I wanted to create something with the punk/metal/comic book attitude of the Return of the Living Dead films, combined with the fun Satanic Panic/Evil Rock Star movies like Black Roses and Trick or Treat (Long live Sammi Curr!). My story centers around a heavy metal rocker named Slash. He’s at the top of the world! Sold out arena shows! Crazy parties! Satanic murder! Wait, what?

We open on the encore of a sold out show. The theatrical band gives it their all and the crowd goes wild! Slash takes a bow and quickly exits to his private trailer. It’s your standard, over-the-top rockstar crash pad until Slash pulls the Scooby Doo lever revealing a secret room. Corpses, candles, pentagrams, spell books, and presumably a lot of air freshener adorn this foul place.

Our rocker begins some light spell reading when suddenly cops are everywhere! Surrounding his trailer! Guns drawn! Using vague but ingenious detective work, ambitious rookie cop, John Cooper, tracked the pattern of missing persons straight to Slash. As they give him the old cop countdown, Slash does something strange… He carves some rad demonic symbols in his guitar and plays part of his number one hit song (something like “A.D.I. Horror of It All” by Anthrax). Hiding his guitar Slash pulls out a crazy looking knife and rushes out of his trailer, full charge at the cops. Bam Bam Bam! Slash goes out in a hail of bullets….

Did I mention that my dad was a cop? For many years my father worked at the local sheriff’s office, and then the police department. I remember his police gear, his guns, his cool badge, going to target practice. It was awesome! Even after he left the force, we still watched a healthy amount of action, cop films. All of this lead my child brain to one obvious conclusion: all heroes in movies had to be cops! You’ll notice this over and over again in most of my childhood scripts. But back to our story… Five years later!

Slash is buried in the town that he died in, that’s normal right? Anyway, rookie cop John Cooper has moved up in the world, and is now the town sheriff and a family man with teenage kids of his own. It was a really busy five years. I was 11 give me a break. Friday night rolls around and all the kids are going to the big metal show at the stadium that’s conveniently located on the outskirts of town. Meanwhile, two members of Slash’s band go to the giant, Thriller Video looking, cemetery with Slash’s special guitar which was certainly not impounded as evidence. Following Slash’s “If I ever die” request, they plug in a portable amp and begin to play the number one song. A few bars in, electricity erupts from the satanic carving, shooting into Slash’s mausoleum. Out of the fog steps the resurrected rocker, looking like a bizarre hybrid of the villains from the VHS cover art of Fulci’s Zombie and the rocker from W.A.S.P in Charles Band’s Dungeonmaster.

He quickly attacks his old mates, pissed that they took so long. One of the guys rips half of Slash’s face off, you know, so he can look extra cool. Finishing off his old pals, Slash grabs his evil magic guitar which can suddenly produce sound with no amp. Slash plays that epic guitar riff from his song. Electricity shoots out into all of the graves and into the corpses of his dead buddies. Things get crazy as the dead begin to rise, transforming from their normal clothing to heavy metal gear and head banging through the cemetery (11 years old when I wrote this). It’s like the graveyard scenes from Thriller on speed. Zombies explode from the earth! Smash tomb stones with their fists. Go absolutely ape shit!

This love of shock rockers and heavy metal didn’t come from thin air. My mom was a big Alice Cooper fan, something I didn’t realize until I myself became a big fan in middle school. I remember renting one of his concert videos and watching it with my mom. We had a blast and Cooper’s showmanship and horror references blew my mind! My parents were always into music, going to concerts, dance clubs on the weekend, and even co-owning a nightclub for a while. This was also the age of the birth of MTV, back when it was just music videos! I remember watching the Thriller video when it premiered and loving it! This love for music and 70s and 80s theatrical rock ‘n’ rollers definitely made its mark on my psyche. Which reminds me…

Slash leads his zombie army into the town. They march past the power plant and another guitar riff takes out the town’s electricity.

The trap is set.

Now for some zombie chaos montage action! We see suburbia under siege by seemingly un-killable zombies; Drinkin’ beer, eatin’ brains, smashin’ windows, and literally punching through steel doors to invade homes. Sheriff Cooper races around town trying to help where he can. Suddenly, he slams on the breaks in shock! Slash stands in the center of the road staring Cooper down. Our hero floors it and just before impact, another magic guitar strum sends lighting into the car, blowing up the engine. Cooper jumps out just in time, landing on his feet and firing on Slash. Unlike Slash’s torn face, the bullet wounds quickly heal. Slash, having not seen many Bond films, lays out his plan to destroy Cooper and the town. He will go to that metal show and give the kids a performance that will transform them all into Heavy Metal Zombies! He leaves Cooper stranded in the darkness. On foot, Cooper makes it home in time to stop his kids from going to the concert. He gathers what’s left of the cops to drive out to the stadium and stop Slash.

At the concert, the teens excitedly watch some Metal band when suddenly, the lights go out. The band is dragged off, murdered, and replaced with Slash and his key zombies. They play a full version of his hit song and we see the entire crowd turn into zombies while the rest of the ghouls from the cemetery pile in and watch the show. The cops realize they’re too late to save the teens so they seal all the doors, cover everything with gas and explosives and blow it up!!!! Just like in Gremlins! Also just like that film, Stripe, er I mean Slash, escapes.

You might notice the myriad of inspiration on hand. You see, growing up in the 80s we had cable and a VCR. In many ways this was better than Netflix or streaming. Every weekend I went to one of the many video stores and picked out 3 to 5 films to watch. I was also allowed to watch whatever I wanted, uncut on HBO. Furthermore, going to the movies was pretty cheap and we were at the theater or drive-in every weekend. I watched hundreds of films every year! Having to go out and find them made them more important. I paid attention; I learned who the filmmakers and actors were. I read movie magazines. I needed to know more! I was a sponge and my storyteller mind blended and repurposed moments from hundreds of films. The finale here is very much Gremlins meets Black Roses meets Witchboard meets Critters 2 meets my crazy brain! This brings us to…

Sheriff Cooper chases Slash down and they duke it out! Cooper, proving to be no match for Slash, is about to get Zombified when he scrambles to his gun and shoots the guitar! A hole in the guitar equals a hole in Slash! Cooper keeps shooting and finally pulls the guitar from the weakened Slash. He douses that shit in lighter fluid and burns it up! Slash does an epic zombie meltdown and finally turns to dust. Cooper is relieved. He might’ve lost most of the towns’ teenage population, and a few whole neighborhoods but he stopped it!

…or did he?

We’re backstage at the blown up stadium. We push past burning ruble to a sound board with a cassette deck. A fireman passes, knocking the deck to the floor. A cassette tape falls out of the wreckage. No ordinary cassette, this one has those familiar devil symbols carved into it…
I smell sequel!

The first Elm Street film my parents took me to see was Part 3, Dream Warriors. It was phenomenal, and part of one truth of 80s cinema; there had to be a sequel! They didn’t do quite as many remakes back then, they just made a million sequels instead, most of which played out like remakes. If you look at “The List” almost every idea has a number of planned sequels along with it. I put a lot of love into Heavy Metal Zombies; played it as a game with my friends, acted it out when I was home alone, and mused about the crazy series it would become. I imagined interviews in Fangoria Magazine, discussing the series with my favorite talk show host Arsenio Hall! Slash would be my Freddy!

“The List” says Heavy Metal Zombies 1, 2 …?

My memories of Part 2 are vague. I know that Cooper would be divorced, broken, living in the big city, and cursed with wild nightmares of Slash. I know the tape would end up with some record executive. I know that Slash and the Zombies lay siege to the city and only Cooper can save the day. Maybe there would be a Trick or Treat style race against time to stop the cassette from getting played for a large audience? Save the world from getting zombified? Whatever it was, it was gonna be awesome!

My parents are cool, and I’m glad they let me be the crazy monster kid. However being a weirdo isn’t always fun. Sometimes we get bullied. You know what happens when you bully a monster kid? We dream up a crazy trilogy of revenge on the shitters of the world! Tune in next time for my Maniac* trilogy!

*No relation to the William Lustig classic. I didn’t see that one until I was full grown.


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