THE BURNING

THE BURNING

3.5 Stars  1981/18/87m

“Don’t look – he’ll see you. Don’t breathe – he’ll hear you. Don’t move – YOU’RE DEAD!”

Director: Tony Maylam / Writers: Peter Lawrence & Bob Weinstein / Cast: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Carrick Glenn, Carolyn Houlihan, Ned Eisenberg, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter, Lou David.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “This guy is burned so bad, he’s cooked – a fucking Big Mac – overdone!”


Don’t you love that title? Say it aloud in a booming movie voice: “The BURRRR-NING!” Say it to your friends! Get them saying it! We’ll start a chant!

1981 is the year as far as slasher movie saturation is concerned. Halloween and Friday the 13th had set the rules, Prom Night and Terror Train had proved there was profit to be made by following the same template. Plenty of other films had returned the goods in the interim, some of them shamelessly ripping off their forerunners. Rumour has it that a couple of budget production companies were vying for the rights to the so-called ‘Cropsy Legend’, a summer camp tale to roast marshmallows to. The winning bid eventually came from a group of individuals who would later found Miramax – Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The other production later became Madman.

So, it’s a summer camp slasher movie then… Been there, seen that. Twice in as many years, in fact. Still, all is not lost. The Burning goes for the jugular, almost literally. By design, it seems, it was purely intended to push the bar in terms of bloodshed as far as it would go.

As usual, things kick off with a past-event trauma that sees summer camp janitor Cropsy turn from litter picker and hedge trimmer to teen-picker-offer and finger-trimmer; he’s accidentally set alight when a juvenile prank goes awry. Five years later, he’s finally released from hospital, hideously scarred (and for the time being, unseen), and more than a little angry at all things summer campy, teenagey, and fun. Kinda like your common or garden grandparent.

The Burning forces itself in a few different directions to its most obvious inspiration. There aren’t just horny teen counsellors at Camp Stonewater, no siree, it’s in full swing with proper campers. Because of this, the characterisations are quite interesting, with cliques and pranks galore. There are a couple of sexy girls, the boys who chase them, the requisite bully, the gorky kids, some skinny, some fat, some speaking with strong accents and there’s Alfred. Alfred (above right) is the nerd who nobody likes, doesn’t want to be there, but likes to perv on the girls. Here, The Burning plays around with our expectations, leading us to believing that we’ve met and bonded with our final girl – then the bastards kill her off first!

Cropsy has returned, conveniently right after his story was told around the campfire and he’s got a big pair of pruning shears to hack, slash and skewer those who have taken leave from the safety of the main camp for a couple of nights in sleeping bags. One camper down, when dawn comes and the counsellors – Todd and Michelle – discover her absence, they’re also informed that all of the canoes have mysteriously floated away as well… Five campers are elected to paddle back to camp on a makeshift raft to fetch assistance. Needless to say, they don’t make it. What occurs is easily among the most notorious slasher movie demises ever. The rickety raft comes upon a lone canoe and, attempting to retrieve it, find it’s occupied by Cropsy, who offs all five of them in thirty seconds flat.

The first time I saw The Burning I was not expecting this and nearly fell off my chair in shock at the uber-violence on display – and that was a cut version! Seriously, it’s pretty intense, even if the effects – Tom Savini’s – look a little ropey here and there. Bones are hacked, torsos stabbed and a young Fisher Stevens’ fingers are cut back to stumps. It’s gross. Really gross. Bleeeccchhh!!11!1!1!!!

After some respite, some Brandy and some crack, I felt composed enough to return to the film. Counsellors Todd and Michelle are a bit worried about the raft’s apparent disappearance while nasty bully Glazer finally gets his way with sexy Sally, unwisely beyond screaming distance from the rest of the campers. Now, slasher films ain’t particularly intelligent at the best of times but a nice touch in the script of The Burning is that the sex between Glazer and Sally is bad. She tells him as much, he apologises, she says OK and agrees to go again. It’s when he runs off for a condom that Cropsy puts in an appearance, shiny shears in hand…

While Sally is last seen trying to hold off the shears of DEATH, Glazer is followed back towards her by the ever-curious Alfred, for reasons unknown – maybe he woke with morning glory and wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Instead of observing some spank bank material, Alfred watches while Glazer tries to wake a ‘sleeping’ Sally and gets those garden tools of doom right through the neck and is hoisted up and pinned to a nearby tree (below). Nice retribution for the camp asshole.

Alfred summons Todd who is duly clipped by the shears and rendered unconscious while Crospy goes for Alfred, resulting in a rather protracted and tedious chase through the woods to some random delapidated building in the middle of nowhere.

Elsewhere, the raft-of-salvation floats lazily back to the remaining campers who soon find it’s still got bits of their dead friends attached to it. Todd returns, hoping Alfred made it to safety, to witness the gruesome discovery and convince Michelle and the surviving campers – now traumatised beyond help in their pink dungarees and long socks – to use the raft-of-death to paddle back to camp for help.

Alfred is captured and trapped by Cropsy, who baits Todd into the gloominess of the inexplicably situated mine-thing for the big flamethrower-featuring showdown, where we get a look at the extent of the killer’s toasting and it transpires, flashback stylee, that Todd was one of the teens who caused THE BURNING (…use that voice again). After a struggle, Alfred frees himself and stabs Cropsy with his own shears, allowing Todd to embed an axe in his skull, resulting in a big spray of blood from his mouth.

The make-up for Cropsy is far beyond ridiculous. You might say he’d never be released from hospital in the first place, but, hey, this is the realm of the slasher movie and it’ll do what it wants. Things end with a new batch of campers hearing the story around the fire. Sequel? Nah, nobody’d survive that axe.

The Burning got cropped of most of its elaborate gore effects by the time it was released in the summer of ’81, incidentally one week after the startlingly similar Friday the 13th Part 2 was unleashed. Friday is far better and it’s sad to learn that Savini turned down that for this, but his work is the most intriguing thing about this little timekiller, which not only also features Jason Alexander – with a full head of hair, no less! – but also future Oscar-grabber Holly Hunter, both as campers, the latter with only about two lines of dialogue. If you can’t spot her, she’s Sophie, the one who shouts “hey Todd!” a moment before the raft-of-death discovery.

So why only a three-star rating? The Burning is distinctly lacking in something that makes the first two Fridays such great genre examples. Make no mistake, it’s a good film, one of the goriest on the list and surprisingly thoughtful at times. Perhaps it’s just too obvious that its primary concern is to make the audience cringe rather than root for the survivors? Or the Final Boy thing, which is a case of ‘Nice try…but no.’ There’s a cruel streak running through proceedings, borderline misogynistic, with the first camp victim singled out for a particularly spiteful demise, not to mention the luckless hooker who invites Cropsy upstairs after his release. Bizarrely, those responsible for his chargrilled condition were all boys… Maybe a kick-ass heroine would’ve bandaged some of these wounds. These minor complaints aside, it’s still essential viewing for genre aficionados.

**Edit** – I skimmed the DVD again and upped it to three-and-a-half stars, soft touch that I am.

It was finally released uncut on DVD in the UK in 2002 and the US in 2007, previously missing nine seconds of footage from various murder scenes.

Blurbs-of-interest: the editor Jack Sholder, directed both Alone in the Dark and Elm Street 2. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman contributed the intense synthy score. Carrick Glenn (Sally) was in Girls Nite Out.

Boarderline

LONG TIME DEAD

3.5 Stars  2002/15/90m

Director: Marcus Adams / Writers: Marcus Adams, Eitan Arussi, Chris Baker, Daniel Bronzite, Andy Day, James Gay-Rees / Cast: Alec Newman, Marsha Thomason, Joe Absolom, James Hillier, Lukas Haas, Lara Belmont, Mel Raido, Melanie Gutteridge, Tom Bell, Michael Feast.

Body Count: 10


Ouija boards…evil ancestors of Monopoly and Cluedo. Everybody knows someone who’s friend Claire dabbled and then went mental. Scary stories are almost as common as people who say sod all happened.

Having learned nothing from Linda Blair’s experiences and probably never even having heard of the fab homage to 80s hair-don’ts that is Witchboard, eight London students discussing the most exhilerating things they’ve gotten up to decide to try a little seance for kicks with a homemade Ouija. When the message from the other side is a less than encouraging ‘All Die’, one of them breaks the pre-assigned rule of removing his finger from the glass while the cross-plains call is still in progress…

According to the spiritually-learned Lucy, the Djinn – as it identifies itself – is now locked on their side of the divide. It quickly does away with one of them and subsequently begins offing the rest, leaving scorch marks on each victim, because it’s… a fire demon!

What!?

No, really, it is.

ltd-seance2Anyway, the group sink into a depression, which, in true Brit-grit style, is nicely realised by the less-than-pristine set pieces and hints at the respective lifestyles of the characters; open to drugs, chronic smokers, short-fused and untrustworthy. This is one thing that distinguishes British horror from American and it’s used to good effect in Long Time Dead, although it could be a turn-off to others, an overused cliche thanks to the rinse n’ repeat tactics of the Guy Ritchie brethren.

Take it or leave it… none of the kids here are particularly sympathetic. Liam, bereaved boyfriend of the first victim, is set up as the moral centre for viewer identification, possibly due to the hallucinations that bother him during the seance, which we know are going to play a part down the line. His buddies Rob, Webster, Joe and Spence round out the largely indistinguishable guy cast, while Lucy, Stella and Annie are apparently best friends who barely have any scenes together.

The middle section of things is a deathfest, as the group learns what they can from creepy landlord Becker – who has a convenient fascination with the occult, from the camcorder footage token American Webster (the cute mouse that is Lukas Haas) made and finding melted plastic bottles around the homestead. All of this does them no good, they just keep on expiring at an alarming rate…

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With half the cast annihilated at the scorchy hands of the fire demon (…phnarr!!), it becomes clear that the fiend has possessed one of their number to do its bidding. Liam, meanwhile, finds out some home truths to do with his flashbacks that might aide him in stopping the chaos. We’ve seen more than three teen-horror films and therefore know better and when the other survivors return to the original spot to perform a banashing, it aligns the required planets of horror for the grand unmasking-slash-showdown. The identity of possessed schmuck houses few surprises – the posters and DVD cover all but give it away. Here, Long Time Dead begins to flap around like a landed fish until it staggers drunkenly towards the predictable final shock.

ltd-spence

ltd-blood-on-floor2Ultimately an interesting genre flick; there’ve been plenty of possession-based slasher flicks and the added niche of ornate Britishness elevates Long Time Dead a notch above what it could have been, were it a straight-up stalk n’ slash opus. Temptations to ape American conventions do more harm than good, especially when it comes to the string-rich score, which sounds outdated and plain wrong in a film that visually trades on student-class squalor and apathetic youths in the shit. The Ouija Board angle is a good sell and wouldn’t prompt many to try one for themselves, it’s simply a shame it turns out to be a bit of a ghost train with no more than a few dirty sheets alongside the track…

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Blurbs-of-interest: Thomason and Haas were reunited for David Arquette’s The Tripper in 2007 and she was in a few episodes of ‘Lost’ as well. James Hillier was in StagKnight.

Whodunit? No, really, who???

RIPPER: LETTER FROM HELL

4 Stars  2001/18/110m

“Jack’s back…”

Director: John E. Eyres / Writers: John Curtis, Evan Tylor & Pat Bermel / Cast: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Ryan Northcott, Claire Keim, Jurgen Prochnow, Derek Hamilton, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Daniella Evangellista, Kelly Brook, Courtenay J. Stevens.

Body Count: 12

Dire-logue: “For the second time in a few years, people are being murdered around you and you don’t think there’s a connection?”


Looking at the DVD cover for Ripper, it’s plain to see where it’s got some of its ideas from. That old triangle formation of pretty cast members up for the chop from another merciless killer. Mwa-ha-ha-haaaa…

Brit Director Eyres gave us the pitiful Goodnight, God Bless back in ’87 but his eye for what makes a decent body count flick has doubtlessly improved in the 14 year gap between that tripe and this impressive looking Canadian export, which owes as much to Urban Legend as it does to the story of Jack the Ripper.

We begin with a blonde girl running through the rain, finding her friends dead – nailed to trees; covered in a mountain of soil (!?) – and watch her swim to a nearby yacht where more bodies are found and one unlucky gal gets sucked into the propeller (pictured). Ouch.

ripper-victim

Blonde girl – Molly – ultimately survives and we leap five years into the future and rejoin her, now a red-head and full of attitude, at a college where she is studying criminology under Professor Marshall Kane (Bruce Payne), currently learning about serial killers. During a lecture we get to the meet the meat in the form of Molly’s student colleagues. There’s prissy French girl Chantelle, wannabe-lothario Eddie, stuttering, frowny Aaron, and a few less interesting ones. Then there’s Kelly Brook as the (who knew) oversexed chick with in a short skirt, Marisa.

At a costume party-slash-rave in some delapidated city building, Marisa is chased and murdered before being flung through a window for all to see. Eyres makes the most of this debut murder (excluding the stuff at the beginning), as it occurs quite some way into the film. Marisa is first suspended upside down out of a window several stories from the ground and then hoisted back in by the killer who proceeds to knife her to death while her blood drips on to a starlet dancing on the floor below. We also get a few of those cool screaming-face-reflected-in-the-blade shots.

ripper-kellybrook

Back at school, everyone’s talking about what happened at the party. Which is to be expected, I suppose. Some of the students in Molly’s study group want to investigate on their own despite her preference to steer clear. It’s already been established that Molly is a bit of a cow. She’s pretty damn aggressive, doing a goth-chick thing that slowly dissipates over the course of the film. Her attitude is one of Rippers shortcomings, evidently an attempt to give things a ‘gritty’ feel by having her wear dogtags and reside in a graffiti-walled shithole. One must wonder what she’s doing at such a pompous university with all her inoffensive, pastel-wearing classmates. A.J. Cook later played the psychic girl who predicted the freeway crash in Final Destination 2, so we know she can be a nice girl too.

When another of the group is murdered in a stylish road-rage manner, Molly connects the dots and puts it to the Professor (and the class and Jurgen Prochnow’s apple-chomping detective) that the killer is copying Jack the Ripper’s M.O., right down to the number and location of stab and slash wounds on the victims.

ripper-molly

Stupidness soon ensues after a third murder (coupled with some weird hallucinations) and the remaining four teens feel it’s wise to go, with the Professor, to his cabin in the middle of the woods where there is no phone reception or shortage of cutting implements to hand. It must be noted at this point nobody has proposed why their particular study group is being targeted…

The inevitable soon unravels and nasty ends await Eddie, Chantelle and Aaron (who has followed them). The latter two endure falling into a logging conveyor which drags them into enough deadly saw blades to make Leatherface squeamish. So it’s between Molly, her love interest Jason and Professor Kane. Having worked out that the initials of the group correspond to those of the Ripper victims, they’re all concerned that they may be next.

ripper-maryanne

Ripper suddenly stalls once the remaining characters enter the rain-soaked woods. The identity of the killer – and whoever slaughtered Molly’s friends five years before – is revealed, and then unrevealed, and then sort of revealed again. In short, there are maybe three twists that overlap in the last few minutes, each negating the previous one. According to the commentary, Eyres didn’t get the end he wanted, so it’s debatable whether the close we’re left with is a comment on The Ripper’s true identity, something that will remain cloaked in mystery forever.

Ultimately Ripper is a handsome, engaging film that sadly loses its way in the last ten minutes. It runs too long and takes itself too seriously but is leagues ahead of the usual straight-to-DVD shelf filler in terms of its production values and core ideas alone. The gore is plentiful and, watching it yesterday, I noticed for the first time a fleeting shot of the poor sod’s head meeting with the saw blades during the gruesome logging mill scene. I wasn’t keen on all the violence against women stuff that came through good n’ strong, it’s something I still find a bit uncomfortable, not helped in this case by one of the least likeable final girl’s going. There’s also the killer’s copy-the-killer schtick that Molly latches on to – did Jack the Ripper use a jeep to mow down any of the Whitechapel hookers? Hmm… Not sure he had access to a saw mill either. It’s a slightly pretentious, wannabe slasher par intelligentsia, followed by a really rubbish sequel a couple of years later.

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Blurbs-of-interest: Three of the actresses – Cook, Vaugier and Evangellista – appeared in various Wishmaster sequels. Vaugier crops up in The Fear: Resurrection too. Chantelle’s accent is actually real, contrary to what some IMDb critics assumed. Derek Hamilton was in Taboo. If you’re feeling masochistic, check out the more-or-less unrelated sequel.

GRADUATION DAY

GRADUATION DAY

3 Stars  1981/18/92m

“The class of ’81 is running out of time!”

Director/Writer: Herb Freed / Cast: Christopher George, Patch MacKenzie, E. Danny Murphy, Michael Pataki, E.J. Peaker, Richard Balin, Carmen Argenziano, Virgil Frye, Beverly Dixon, Hal Bokar, Linnea Quigley, Denise Cheshire, Billy Hufsey, Tim Hintnaus, Carl Rey, Linda Shayne, Karen Abbott, Vanna White.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “You have lovely eyes. My sister had eyes like yours. She’s dead now.”


Back in 1996 I read a book called Games of Terror, one of only a few theoretical insights into stalker movies (as they were dubbed by the writer) and of the films briefed, I found all but Graduation Day within a couple of months – bearing in mind this is long before DVD back-catalogues. Hell, it was before DVD! Six gruelling months of trying to bag a copy, a local collector sold me his VHS tape for £9 (along with Madman) and I merrily skipped home for the premiere.

Graduation Day is one of those ‘meh’ films. Probably due to overexposure to lost classics of the period (Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me, Terror Train), or possibly the fact that the film is just a bit crud, finding things to like about it is a bit difficult.

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Proceedings begin in the usual way, with a past event trauma that spurs on the killer at a later date and gives him something to talk to the final girl about. In this instance, over the groove-tastic disco stomper that plays through the credits, a female track runner – Laura – sprints to glory before falling down dead. We’re later told this is down to a blood clot, but everybody else blames the track coach for pushing her too hard.

A couple of months later, Laura’s military ass-kickin’ big sis Anne returns from abroad to collect a special graduation award in the dead girl’s memory. Meanwhile, a black-gloved killer is stalking and slaying the other members of the track team, clocking in all murders at just thirty seconds, the same amount of time it took Laura to win her death race. First to go is big-headphones jogging girl (throat slashing), followed by moody gymnastical-girl (sword through the neck)…

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In between kills, our killer stops by his gym locker and draws a big red cross over the face of the most recent victim, working his way across the picture from left to right.

At this time, some other, less important characters (suspects!) are introduced. There’s Delores, played by bad movie fixture Linnea Quigley, who will do anything to pass her music class, including seducing the face-like-a-slapped-arse teacher. There’s also an affair going on between the principal and his secretary, which contributes nothing to the slashathon we’re anticipating. Leery campus cop MacGregor likes to clamp down on the dope smokin’ students and creep around in the trees and the despised track mentor Coach Michaels, whom everybody blames for the accident. Lastly, is Laura’s grieving boyfriend, Kevin, who is all sensitivity and broodiness. Hmmm…

grad7<<< That’s Anne. Anne is our final girl, although she looks a bit like a final drag queen, don’t you think? That’s a lot of makeup for a military recruit. Gasp! Maybe she’s hiding something!!

I digress… While the boring characters talk about graduation ceremonies n’ shit, the killer offs a few more budding athletes. The third murder is truly that old classic of homicide: the football with the sword protruding from it. That’s an American football, by the way, and Mr Killer tosses it back to its owner who catches it sharp-end first. Watch in awe as the sword-ball spins in slo-mo through the air, defying all laws of gravity and credence as it goes! There’s some time out for a song about graduation and a roller-disco that boasts a seven minute nu-wave rock song while another couple of kids are chased and murdered outside. Although decapitation may be preferential to skating in circles and listening to Felony’s ‘Gangster Rock’ 12″ extended rollerboogie remix. Actually, when I re-watched the film recently, I noticed that they actually sing the song three times on loop.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the interesting look that Felony employ:

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Fedora’s, lip-gloss, mascara and those double-guitar things. Yikes.

Morning comes and brings with it news of the missing teenagers, but the principal is more concerned with the logistics of the day and ignores it. A couple more deaths ensue and then a couple of squealy girls (one of them played by Wheel of Fortune letter-turner Vanna White; below) discover the body of moody gymnastical girl stuffed in a locker and blame falls on Coach Michaels, who’s just been given the boot over the whole Laura thing.

Vanna (right) as disco-clad squealy girl

Vanna (right) as disco-clad squealy girl

A right kerfuffle ensues and the killer’s identity is finally revealed, much to the surprise of nobody except the cast members and Anne is soon thrown into direct combat, which allows more corpses to swing out on doors, severed heads to be found on crash mats and the like…

Graduation Day is one mess of a film. There’s some nifty speed-cut edits thrown in but some simple shots are completed screwed up with demented high-speed zooming. It’s the film they should remake but probably never will. Amidst the bad scripting, some horrible acting and diabolical pacing problems, there are remnants of a good tale here, it’s just tangled up by the crowded supporting cast, many of whom aren’t required at all. If you wondered about the blonde girl who disappears early on without explanation (Diana), the actress was fired and replaced by Quigley for refusing to disrobe on screen.

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Director and scribe Herb Freed appeared in the 2006 documentary Going to Pieces to add a few tidbits about his film – the fact that he’s now a Rabbi may indicate he’s moved on. And if you’re wondering why I was so generous with my rating, I’m trying to justify the six months spent looking for the damn thing.

I want to be this person's best friend

I want to be this person’s best friend

Blurbs-of-interest: The make-up effects here were all courtesy of a woman (!), Jill Rockow, who later worked on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Boogeyman 2. Editor Martin Jay Sadoff worked on Friday the 13th‘s Part III and VII. Christopher George was in both Mortuary and Pieces. Michael Pataki appears as Dr Hoffman in Halloween 4. Carmen Argenziano was Dr Mendrakis in When a Stranger Calls and later turned up in Identity. George and Quigley turn up all over the place. Denise Cheshire, who played moody gymnastical-girl (or Sally), was the swimming double for the famous shark attack victim Chrissie Watkins at the beginning of Jaws.

SAVAGE LUST

deadly-manorSAVAGE LUST

2 Stars  1989/18/86m

“A classic horror story.”

A.k.a. Deadly Manor

Director/Writer: Jose Larraz / Cast: Kathleen Patane, Greg Rhodes, Liz Hitchler, Jerry Kernion, Mark Irish, Clark Tufts, Claudia Franjul, William Russell, Jennifer Delora.

Body Count: 13

Dire-logue: “What’s next, Uncle Fester on the patio?”


Six teenagers embarking on a camping trip stop to pick up a hitchhiker who informs them they are off course and, when a heavy rainstorm sets in, they take shelter in a remote manor house that appears to abandoned. Closer inspection reveals that yesterday’s paper has been left out and the wreck of a car has been mounted in the garden. As night falls and the group wander aimlessly around the house, they are killed by an off-screen figure who might well have some answers concerning all the black and white photos of the same solemn woman that adorn every wall in the joint.

This clunky rarity is best viewed tongue-in-cheek as you will find it impossible to take lines like ‘a horn doesn’t just beep by itself’ seriously. Nearly a solid hour of crappy dialogue torments until the butcherin’ starts (bar an off-camera taster earlier on). Though shot in ’89, the film has not aged well and could easily be mistaken for something some ten years older, emphasised by the characters’ total lack of sense. The girls all say things like ‘maybe we shouldn’t be here’ and the boys reply ‘chill out, babe, there’s nothing here that can hurt us…’ Asking for it.

Allowably, there are a couple of creepy shots thrown in amongst the junk, but when the killer’s opening gambit to the final girl is a perky; ‘yes, it’s me!’ before even removing their mask, one must wonder who the script was approved by. When the heroine replies: ‘you’re insane – you’ve created all this madness in your head!’ you get your answer.

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