October Soundtrack Picks

By • October 24, 2011



To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover

1) LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1,200 edition)

Price: $19.95

What is it?: Having done standout, and distinctly offbeat synth-centric work for such twisted auteurs as Dario Argento (PHENOMENA), Alejandro Jodorowsky (SANTA SANGRE) and Richard Stanley (DUST DEVIL), Simon Boswell would ironically compose one of his most symphonically straightforward horror scores for Clive Barker’s unnerving, oddball take on Chris Angel, as ruled over by a Manson Family-esque demigod.

Why should you buy it?: With the English composer given a new Hollywood presence at the time of LORD’s 1995 release (a year that almost marked his noteworthy, if more rhythmically fun studio score to HACKERS), Boswell showed he could certainly bend the traditional orchestral tableau to his warped desired, turning strings and percussion into shrieking, stabbing and poundingly blunt instruments that work over our senses with the same visceral glee as any of Barker’s cinematic torture chambers. But what ILLUSIONS also proved was Boswell’s mastery of strong themes and relentless suspense builds. It’s a glisteningly lush, luxuriously evil sound that also plays well into Barker’s bizarro take on CHINATOWN here, complete with a sexy jazz melody for Scott Bakula’s supernatural private dick. Boswell also makes equally fine use of the human voice, from the witch-like ululating of Goth goddess Diamanda Galas to the epic choral chants that wake the spike-helmeted undead.

Extra Special:
Equally happy in his goals to melodically please and sonically assault, Simon Boswell’s ILLUSIONS score is fully resplendent on this Perseverance release, with a whole other CD devoted to its score in demo form, as well as a glossy liner note package with neat plans for the film’s death-dealing devices- if you’d want to give building them a shot while this riveting, unholy musical accompaniment plays in the background.


Price: $22.95

What is it?: Pedro Almodovar has a long history of making skewed “womens’” pictures, where sensuality and perversity are one and the same. Yet one major reason why so many of them are regarded as class instead of camp are the very serious musical contributions of fellow Spaniard Alberto Iglesias, whose intriguing, and refined melodic sensibilities for the likes of BAD EDUCATION, VOLVER and TALK TO HER create both an elegant, and psychologically penetrative elegance to fit Almodovar’s glossy imagery. Now with THE SKIN I LIVE IN (aka LA PIEL QUE HABITO), Iglesias takes Almodovar’s bent sensibility to a whole new level of beautifully spare seditiousness.

Why Should you buy it?: When listening to Iglesias’ chamber music approach that fills much of SKIN’s sterile mansion, you’d be hard-pressed to realize that this is Almodovar’s mad doctor salute to LES YEUX SANS VISAGE (aka EYES WITHOUT A FACE). But then, Antonio Banderas is certainly far more romantic than some psychopathic scientist, with the object of his surgery, and unhinged affection, holding her own secret that makes that earlier film’s masked burn victim seem like a piker in comparison. And while SKIN’s ensemble certainly delivers on the symphonic woman-in-jeopardy set-up, it’s precisely Almodovar and Iglesias’ classically restrained approach to the movie’s sci-fi / horror trappings that make the film, and soundtrack so interesting- and likely far nuttier than a more obvious would’ve been.

Extra Special: Iglesias’ stark violins, pianos, simmering percussion and moments of noir brass remain as tightly wound as his characters on the verge. But it’s the “mad science” techno-percussion, organs, guitars and raging rhythms for SKIN’s naughtier bits that are the score’s highlights- providing the kind of bizarre jolt you’d have from witnessing Bach suddenly break out into a murderous rave beat. These are the delightfully sick, and well-placed jokes in Iglesias’ otherwise elegantly cruel game of musical cat and mouse, one that’s mostly suffused in menacing sadness. Get your biopsy via Lakeshore, or in the original Spanish soundtrack language at Quartet Records.


Price: $19.98

What is it?: A year before he’d break out the ice pick for Sharon Stone’s homicidal bedroom antics in BASIC INSTINCT, Jerry Goldsmith scored a far more sympathetic Julia Roberts for this similarly gripping soundtrack, an ENEMY that not only provided another career breakout for the actress, but also gave her character the suspenseful key to escape an abusively controlling husband.

Why should you buy it?: If Catherine Tramell’s music was soaked in lethal eroticism for INSTINCT, than Laura Burney is suffused with tender innocence, a pastoral goodness that becomes even more impactful when subjected to some of Goldsmith’s harshest electronic hits here- the equivalent of a slap across a gentle, lovely face as opposed to BASIC’s orchestral shrieks of orgiastic murder. But if there’s one man whose presence is keenly felt across both of these scores, then it’s Goldsmith’s booster Bernard Herrmann, whose feel for lush, symphonic melody gives ENEMY a feeling of VERTIGO in its slow, darkly poignant builds that spell out a woman in trouble, whether it’s from a gentle piano or an ominous gong. And just as Herrmann had an unforgettable theme, Goldsmith’s lyrical melody for this Hitchcockian chick flick is one of his most notable, a delicate motiff that the composer effortlessly spins for both danger and budding romance, topped off with rousing music that would be equally at home in any Goldsmith’s more manly action scores.

Extra Special: For a composer who’d proved himself with every gene from war epics (THE BLUE MAX) to sci-fi spectaculars (TOTAL RECALL) and demonic thrillers (THE OMEN), SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY paved the way for Goldsmith to be on call for future romantic thrillers films like THE VANISHING, MALICE and that iconic score that got Michael Douglas all hot and bothered. Yet what distinguishes SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY is just how deeply heartfelt it is, a quality that transcends the genre requirements to capture the feeling of an abuse victim’s anguish and betrayal, one that often isn’t so successfully, and satisfactorily fled from as a Hollywood movie would have it. Though you should hang onto ENEMY’s old Columbia CD for its equally iconic use of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” La La Land’s new 3,500 unit edition brings over twenty minutes of new Goldsmith to its complete release, whose Grrl Power is astutely summed up in Julie Kirgo’s deceptively fun liner notes.


Price: $ 15.01

What is it?: No, we’re not talking about a stillborn prequel here, but the one and only. Jack-of-all-trades filmmaker John Carpenter had served as a writer-director-composer on all of his films until his first studio production of THE THING. It was a bigger budget that allowed Carpenter to get his composing idol Ennio Morricone to provide the director with his first “real” orchestral score. But that didn’t mean that Carpenter and his “in association” collaborator Alan Howarth wouldn’t give THE THING’s soundtrack more teeth by sweetening it with the icily sharp electronics that marked the auteur’s distinctive brand of horror. The result was a fusion of mournful symphonic passages and menacing synth beat-drones that’s marked Varese Sarabande’s soundtrack for nearly thirty years. But for this cult film’s diehard fans, the choice Carpenter-Howarth synths that accompanied Rob Bottin’s freak-o makeup highlights have been sorely missing. Now a monster that keeps taking on new DNA with every wonderfully disgusting transformation fittingly gets a complete re-score on Buysoundtrax, courtesy of Alan Howarth himself.

Why should you buy it?: THE THING’s electronic heartbeat and ever-swelling synth organs are as iconic to 80’s horror scoring as Michael Oldfield’s tubular bells were to 1970’s musical fear. But where you could say that malefic percussion had an upbeat quality that signaled THE EXORCIST’s demon would be vanquished, Morricone’s main THING theme is suffused with a mesmerizing, downbeat tone that tells us no one will come to a happy end. Morricone’s passages are replete with the shivering realization of doom and noble resignation. Trembling, overlapping strings, lonely pianos and shrill brass make for tone poems of isolated dread. And while violins and organs provide suspenseful rhythms, there’s no action music here, or even “terror” music as such. Rather, John Carpenter instead chose to play the discovery and aftermath of the creature’s assimilations. What accounts for far more music than is actually heard in the film is that Morricone wrote THE THING to fit his perception of the story, rather than its actual picture. In choosing the relatively brief, and subtle amount of score he’d use, Carpenter’s musical economy undeniably adds to the soundtrack’s overwhelming creep factor. And while Morricone bent his own trademarked style of overlapping strings to assimilate into Carpenter’s electronic mode, there’s no mistaking the original synth sound of the director and Howarth, evil, razor-sharp droning that stands in for THE THING’s sci-fi element- the feel of a cold, organically calculated intelligence piercing through the halls of a doomed Antarctic base.

Extra Special: THE THING’s fearful chill is given a powerfully new, and pulsating life by Howarth that’s mostly identical to the original, while done with a verve and enthusiasm that makes it anything but a rote carbon copy. Where Howarth doesn’t have the benefit of replicating Morricone with an actual orchestra, his string emulations mostly do the job. And even when some are a bit wonky, their mutated sample quality only adds to the album’s unsettling pleasures. But as for the synth elements, Howarth is spot-on at creating the classic, and long-desired Carpenter touch, as most popularly heard during THE THING’s spaceship arrival and dog-creature reveal. Genre soundtrack specialist Randall D. Larson is also on hand to document THE THING’s unique musical history in his liner notes. Where many re-performances are to be dreaded (let alone unnecessary prequels), this freshly minted THING album is a notable case of cold tentacles and a warm musical heart.


Price: $19.99

What is it?: Hollywood’s revisionist youthquake movement really hit dead center when a “Brat Pack” gang headed by Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Philips took up the mantle of Billy the Kid and his regulators for 1988’s YOUNG GUNS. Their new blood helped energize a genre that was rapidly gathering tumbleweeds, the charismatic cast’s rock and roll energy blasting onto the screen with a memorable electric guitar theme by Anthony Marianelli (his score replacing a gunned-down James Horner’s). Where the rest of Marianelli’s effective synth-based score took a relatively subtle approach to the action, Alan Silvestri would bring his pistols packing to The Kid’s posse two years later for an arguably better, if more nihilistic sequel that tracked Billy’s final days. But that didn’t mean one of the west’s most famous outlaws wouldn’t go down with a blaze of musical glory, especially as Silvestri tackled his first western score with a Morricone vengeance.

Why should you buy it?:
Right from its instantly recognizable (for a certain generation) theme for electric guitar and chorus that would fit just right on Clint Eastwood’s poncho, Silvestri knew exactly what old bag of musical tricks to bring to this new-style oater, from moaning Indian voices and Mexican rhythms to playful banjos and galloping, Latin-inflected orchestral action. Yet all are completely fresh and energized with Silvestri’s own, quickly recognizable voice. With his talent for bold, themes, Silvestri made his own sizable impact on 80’s scoring with the rousing likes of ROMANCING THE STONE, BACK TO THE FUTURE, PREDATOR and THE ABYSS, In YOUNG GUNS 2 he expertly straddles the tightrope between the truly menacing danger on these punk kids’ tails with the cocksure pleasure they take in the outlaw life, a suspensefully ironic comedy-action approach that would take more divergent paths when Silvestri road the range with BACK TO THE FUTURE III and THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. Where GUNS‘ ripping guitar is the most rocking thing about this score, Silvestri smartly blends the real instrumental deals with sampled percussion, strings, percussion and voices, a synth element that helps put hip gloss on the adventure. But where Silvestri succeeds most in YOUNG GUNS 2 is giving these characters the epic stuff of western legend, especially in how classic Hollywood scores and their Spaghetti antecedents have taught us to hear these anti-heroic desperados and their ilk.

Extra Special: YOUNG GUNS 2’s score that’s been a much-requested favorite by Silvestri fans, and Intrada’s well-sequenced CD brings it home to the soundtrack range in style, a flair that hits a bull’s eye from its sound to Joe Sikoryak’s liner note graphics (cleverly laid out in split-screen fashion like the film’s original poster design) and involving liner notes by Jeff Bond. A textbook example of the talent that landed Silvestri on the map, YOUNG GUNS 2 puts one of his most entertaining scores back in the saddle.



Between a starlost spacecraft, homegrown mad science, killer robots and the shambling undead, Bear McCreary is rapidly becoming the king of genre television scoring- particularly the non-super superhero. After his adventurous symphonic scores for Fox’s adaptation of DC’s identity-shifting HUMAN TARGET, McCreary employed the orchestra to even more innovative effect for NBC’s THE CAPE. While not based on any comic book per se, what gave this billowing avenger distinction beyond a Batman-esque shtick was his Toreador-worthy use of the titular clothing article, as handed to him by a not-so-bad circus of crime. While THE CAPE‘s promising premise ultimately slipped under the weight of its goofy pretentiousness, McCreary’s music kept a far more even keel at balancing the good guy’s muscular symphonic needs with the ethnic eccentricity of his creation. Blanketing his episodic soundtracks with the righteous fury of a stand-out main theme, McCreary energetically brings in the battery of percussive instruments that served him so well on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, here embodying THE CAPE‘s freakshow gallery of friends and foes. It’s a delightfully oddball ensemble that includes guitars, accordions, harpsichords, a hurdy-gurdy, Latin rhythms, Jewish jigs and every other musical eccentricity that McCreary could throw into the mix, suites that are thoroughly engaging through the course of two action-filled CD’s. Tying them all together is McCreary’s winning geek love of the muscular Shirley Walker action that filled her TV superhero scores for BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and THE FLASH (both also released by La La Land), a composer to whom McCreary makes a worthy dedication of THE CAPE‘s music to in far more than name. For like Walker, McCreary has cut his music from a strong melodic cloth worthy of the big screen, a seamless weave of serious and tongue-in-cheek energy that never fails to excite, or evoke emotion as it crusades between the honorable and the just-plain wacky ten-issue span of THE CAPE.


It’s not easy to make an inspirational documentary sound transcendental, especially when talking heads wax poetic on the power of love. But Carlos Jose Alvarez goes beyond the new age with the solid melodic content of DISCOVER THE GIFT. Tribal voices ethnic instruments and a full orchestra evokes the spirit of AVATAR’s Ewah as much as they do the Indian and Eastern cultures that pave the path for the subjects’ to discover their inner light, Alvarez make each cue work as its own pleasantly evocative journey. And there’s real beauty to be found here, from meditative passages for samples and sole piano to bold, sweeping orchestral movements, all of which make Alvarez’s GIFT transcend an approach that that could fall into massage table pitfalls in lesser hands. Instead, this rising composer affirms his own talent with an album that’s best described as a concept soundtrack of the spirit, music self-discovery that’s entrancing throughout.


Mark Isham is one composer who knows his way around the animal kingdom, from capturing the joyous flapping of Canadian geese in FLY AWAY HOME to the victorious gait of a talking zebra in RACING STRIPES and the never-say-freeze spirit of EIGHT BELOW’s abandoned huskies. The fact that Isham’s very first score accompanied the plaintive howls of NEVER CRY WOLF, as heard by star Charles Martin Smith, makes it a welcome homecoming that the composer’s now swimming about the Smith-directed DOLPHIN TALE. But while there are the playful cutes to be had at points, this TALE isn’t exactly bounding about like FLIPPER. DOLPHIN TALE might just be Isham’s most emotional take on our animal buddies, as one of its most friendly and intelligent members loses her tail straight out of the ocean, and into an aquarium’s tank. Isham’s lyrical, at times achingly poignant work is as much about Winter’s human handlers as the dolphin herself. All are on a journey to mental and physical recovery, and Isham’s deeply felt, spiritual music doesn’t so much play like an “animal” picture as it does like one of his sports scores for INVINCIBLE and MIRACLE, where an aching orchestra tracks an underdog evolving into a winner, with all musical points leading to that joyous finish. That Winter makes her touchdown pass with a new flipper only adds to this moving score, and film.


It’s been a while since John Debney got to score a body count thriller after the savage likes of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, END OF DAYS and THE RELIC, as well as the more beatific spirit of the underrated DRAGONFLY. Now as he enters a DREAM HOUSE that holds the spirits of a murdered family, Debney’s ghost leads with both the heart and raised hair follicles. It’s a nicely measured approach whose musical flooring ranges from the spiritual to the foreboding. Sorrowful violins, girls’ voices, and plaintive themes all make for a nicely melodic visitation, with even the necessarily eerie strings and pounding suspense refusing to descend into the basement of “horror” music anarchy, especially in a powerful climax that segues from sweeping action to spiritual redemption. The fact that Debney approaches DREAM HOUSE from this emotional angle, without sacrificing genre thrills, tells you that this is one well-constructed musical spookhouse that’s as concerned with making the heart skip a beat as it is with investing that organ with feeling.


Though best known for giving a dark, psychological edge to the violent western stylings of Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH, Jerry Fielding’s twisted talent for combining dissonance and melody was equally effective in enclosed spaces, whether said abodes were being besieged by English rednecks (STRAW DOGS), a deviant handyman (THE NIGHTCOMERS) or a crazed computer (DEMON SEED). Fielding’s constant, mesmerizing sense of unease would ironically climax inside the FUNERAL HOME, an independent Canadian horror flick that proved to hold the composer’s last score. But where a musician with Fielding’s studio resume would’ve turned their nose at being reduced to a PSYCHO-influenced “slasher” film, FUNERAL HOME is a surprisingly polished in its production values, as well as being a top-drawer example of Fielding’s undulating, psychological menace- and far more overt scares at that. As Fielding ventures inside of a parlor being given a decidedly unwise make-over as a bed and breakfast, Fielding’s slithering orchestra has a thoroughly unsettling playfulness to it, like murder as heard through the uncomprehending ears of an unbalanced loved one, which just might be what’s stalking the death-filled corridors. Varying between a chamber approach, bell percussion and roaring symphonic terror, Fielding’s approach (as always in this kind of domicile) is just about as modernistic as horror scoring gets, without falling into the trap door of outright dissonance for its own sake. Foreboding, and strangely emotional at the same time, FUNERAL HOME proved an thematically apt musical headstone for a composer famed for his uncompromising approach to dramatic thrillers. Rescued from Canada by Intrada and given sadly revealing liner notes by Fielding expert Nick Redman, FUNERAL HOME goes beyond being a scoring obscurity to becoming a twisted revelation in Fielding’s nihilistic cannon, right down to an organ piping “Rock of Ages.”


They might not. But it’s certainly likely that Sarah Jessica Parker (not to mention every other current rom-com actress) realizes that it’s Aaron Zigman who helps put a sprightly musical spring in their step. Hitting the chick flick radar with impressively serious tears in THE NOTEBOOK, Aaron Zigman has since found far lighter times with THE UGLY TRUTH, WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? and two SEX AND THE CITY scores. Zigman provides another fun fit for Parker’s more familial shoes here, a lushly enjoyable, pop-inflected brand of heartfelt emotion, alt. funk percussion, vocalese and happy-go-lucky guitar whose biggest heft is a through line of melodic feeling. Where Zigman can hit the darker masculine attitude of scores like ALPHA DOG and THE COMPANY MEN (as well as Tyler Perry in drag), few composers are more keenly attuned to a feminine vibe that’s got to have it all, an ability that Zigman makes soulfully pleasant for listeners of both sexes. It’s an answer that’s no more enjoyably clearer than with I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT.


As the French label Music Box Records continues to release Gallic scores that are intriguingly foreign to our ears, certainly one of their most oddball, and fun soundtracks yet accompanies this 1982 crime epic, one that still remains unreleased in America (even if its sequel took place there). That you might feel like doing the disco Horah will quickly clue you in that LE GRAND PARDON’s mob family is of the Jewish persuasion. Serge Franklin’s energetically versatile score puts his theme through all of the Hebraic paces from solo piano to violin and rhythmic suspense. Franklin even has the chutzpah to go from a Shofar to funk energy. And where an accordion certainly links this crime family with the music of the Corleones, Franklin’s GODFATHER-meets-gefilte vibe just as quickly goes to the sound of Spaghetti westerns with the inclusion of a guitar and fateful percussion. Add swinging jazz source and va-voom Bossa Nova, and you have a thoroughly entertaining French crime score that needs no pardon for being meshuga.

. MALENKA (500 edition)

Also known as FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD, MALENKA (directed by THE BLIND DEAD trilogy’s Amando de Ossorio) casts the voluptuous Anita Ekberg as Sylvia, a fashion model who makes the mistake of visiting her vampire uncle’s castle. Of course in classic Euro-horror tradition, Sylvia also happens to be the vengeful Malenka, a centuries old executed witch out for some payback. But if it’s old-fashioned musical bats in the belfry you’re looking for, not to mention every other great horror score trope, than the glorious guignol of Carlo Savina delivers the goods. When he wasn’t conducting scores like THE GODFATHER and THE TENANT, this prolific Italian composer filled his crypt with such genre favorites as LISA AND THE DEVIL, NIGHT OF THE DAMNED and CRYPT OF THE VAMPIRE. His MALENKA abounds with the evil of lurking harpsichords, shimmering organs and psychedelic bongos. There’s a wonderful spooky-ooky feeling that makes you expect to run into Morticia and Gomez around the next cobwebbed corner. You’ll also find the same instrumental suspects prowling about in Savina’s score to I DIABOLICI CONVEGNI (aka THE FEAST OF SATAN), this time inhabiting a coastal village’s cult. With more of an orchestra at his fiendish command, Savina engages in brooding, ever-escalating string suspense that I dare say presages Wojiech Kilar’s approach to the far more respectable DRACULA. Alternating with this striking mix of strings and organ are a bunch of Shagadelic numbers for the nubile young women who’ve definitely blundered into the wrong castle. But make no mistake that the music of MALENKA is delightfully essential chiller theater stuff, with Savina as the winking, eerily groovy host who delights in flashing his vampire teeth.


It’s the end of the world as we know it, but one with more of a tantalizing musical whisper than an overwrought bang. For while TAKE SHELTER’s stormy doom might promise an orchestral apocalypse, its catastrophe is filtered through the creepy visions of a man doubting his own sanity, making this a disaster movie of the mind, as opposed to the Irwin Allen kind. It’s a relative lack of spectacle and budget that also opens up intriguing musical visions from composer David Wingo. Just as he provided the evocative soundtracks for such character-driven Indies as ALL THE REAL GIRLS and SNOW ANGELS, TAKE SHELTER drifts hauntingly by on layers of troubled strings and bells, a mesmerizing tone that gradually tips over into an outright nightmare. It’s an ethereal, experimental approach that’s similar to Thomas Newman’s take on THE RAPTURE, even though there’s no religious context as such in TAKE SHELTER. Yet eerie transcendence resonates through Wingo’s evocative work of dream-like dread, a sound of resigned transcendence that ultimately whips up the small orchestra to a finale of TWILIGHT ZONE-like irony. The fact that Wingo even manages a country ballad (sung by Ben Nichols) gets extra points for his impressive, understated creativity that makes you believe in Armageddon.


Whether you’re a composer doing a new take on pirates from the Caribbean or England’s most famous detective, it seems impossible now to play it straight for movies determined to hip up the look, and sound of historically iconic characters. Hence, a plethora of soundtracks that apply the incongruities of electric guitar-topped orchestras and satirical ethnic stylings to accompany multiplex costume spectaculars. So make no mistake that Paul Haslinger’s latest iteration of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbucklers is going to give you the gloriously traditional symphonic strains that Herbert Stothart applied to the 1948 version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS, let alone the relatively straight-corseted musical approaches that Michel Legrand and Michael Kamen donned for the heroes’ 1973 and 1993 incarnations. You’d also be correct for expecting Haslinger to indulge in the entertaining, enfant terrible excess that also marks the delirious flair of filmmaking comrade Paul W.S. Anderson, who loads his MUSKETEERS up with ninja-like swordplay and the biggest damn aerial gunship seen since MASTER OF THE WORLD. But while it would be less than appropriate for Haslinger to apply the grinding metal that he gave to Anderson’s revamped DEATH RACE (let alone the percussive action scoring the composer’s been keeping himself so busy with), there’s ample rock and roll energy at loose in 17th century France, not to mention Spaghetti Western guitar stylings, tangos and distorted violins that make this entertaining album all for one, and one for all with its past scoring precedents. Yet Haslinger thankfully makes it a point to mix his cannon-firing fusion of strings and samples with an old-school approach. It’s a bad boy MUSKETEER score that doesn’t so much disregard the past Hollywood sound of Dumas’ royal court as much as it enjoys thrashing about the elegant place, providing thematic sweep, and just a bit of romance to give some old-school melodic shape to these MUSKETEERS bombastically fun musical anachronisms.

CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes, Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande

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