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11 Things You Never Knew About 'Phantasm' on its 40th Anniversary

" Phantasm " is turning 40 years old. Despite its old age and low budget origins, this cult horror film has managed to spawn an enduring franchise and a lasting fan base. Celebrate this horror movie milestone by learning more about the making and legacy of "Phantasm."

1. "Phantasm" was filmed on a minuscule $300,000 budget, with director Don Coscarelli saving money by renting equipment on Fridays, shooting on the weekend and returning it the following Monday so as to only pay for one day's rental.

2. Actor Angus Scrimm is 6 foot 4, and he wore undersized costumes and modified boots to make him appear even taller during filming.

3. Coscarelli also saved money by casting both his and actor Reggie Bannister 's parents as extras during the funeral scene.

4. If the exterior of the mausoleum looks familiar, that's because the same mansion was later featured in 1985's " A View to a Kill " and 1993's " So I Married an Axe Murderer ."

5. "Phantasm" contains multiple homages to the sci-fi novel "Dune," including the scene where Mike is forced to put his hand inside the fortune teller's pain-inducing black box.

6. According to Coscarelli, the original cut of "Phantasm" clocked in at over three hours. Some of the unused footage made its way into 1998's " Phantasm IV: Oblivion ," while the rest may have been lost or destroyed.

7. "Phantasm" was originally given an X rating by the MPAA, largely because of the iconic silver sphere scene. The rating was changed after LA Times critic Charles Champlin intervened on the film's behalf.

8. Director JJ Abrams is a huge fan of "Phantasm" and even helped arrange the film's 2016 restoration. Abrams chose the Captain Phasma name in " Star Wars: The Force Awakens " as an homage to the film.

9. A popular rumor suggests that "Phantasm" was the inspiration for  Motörhead's iconic 1980 song "Ace of Spades." Reportedly, songwriter Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister was inspired by the look of main character Mike Pearson and wrote out the lyrics during a screening.

10. There are currently four sequels in the "Phantasm" series, with the most recent of them being 2016's " Phantasm: Ravager ."

11. Filmmaker Roger Avary pitched his own idea for a "Phantasm" sequel, which would have been titled "Phantasm 1999 A.D." and featured Bruce Campbell in a major role. Unfortunately, the project was abandoned due to a lack of funding.

Jesse Schedeen

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‘Dune’: 5 Details You Might Have Missed, From Human Computers to All Those Bulls

Dune Easter Eggs/Explainer

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  • Dune (2021)

Every Hot Person In Hollywood Is Starring In 'Dune 2' ... So Why Isn't There Any Sex on Arrakis?

New shows & movies to watch this weekend: 'the regime' on max + more, 'dune: part one' streaming: how to watch before 'dune: part two' release, what a-lister screamed at rebecca ferguson: hugh grant jake gyllenhaal jacob tremblay.

Dune premiered in theaters and on HBO Max over the weekend, bringing sandworms, Mentats, and the complex politics of the Landsraad to middle America. While Denis Villeneuve ‘s film does an expert job of explaining what a Kwisatz Haderach is, it doesn’t even try to explain the full scope of Herbert’s dense world-building. The Emperor Shaddam IV is kept off-screen , key characters are never introduces, and the film’s never quite clear about how Spice works in Dune . And I haven’t even covered the film’s multiple Easter eggs for hardcore Dune nuts (like yours truly).

If you watched Dune this weekend, you would have met young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), a Duke’s son who might just be the long-awaited Chosen One known as the Kwisatz Haderach. Paul’s life is put in danger when his father Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) is given fiefdom over the desert planet of Arrakis. His Bene Gesserit mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) must work every superstitious angle afforded them to see that she and Paul survive. Surrounding them are potential traitors, staunch allies, and one older dude whose eyes go white for some reason (which we’ll get to).

Dune i s such a rich text, full of silent allusions to fallen comrades, nods at plot lines to come, and a dense world of lore that goes largely unexplained. From the meaning of all those dang bulls, the early introduction of Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) to the passing (possible) reference to Feyd, here are 5 things you might have missed in 2021’s Dune ….

Where the Eff Was Feyd-Rautha?


So you’ve watched Dune (2021). You might be wondering, uh, who was the modern version of that mostly naked guy Sting played in the 1984 Dune ? Feyd-Rautha is one of the most charismatic characters in all of Frank Herbert’s Dune . He is Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard)’s nephew, the Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista)’s younger brother, and House Harkonnen’s chosen heir. Indeed, he is the Harkonnen male heir the Bene Gesserits wanted to wed Duke Leto and Lady Jessica’s daughter to in order to heal the schism and produce the Kwisatz Haderach. Eventually Feyd and Paul have a wild duel to the death to decide the fate of the galaxy, so why was such an important character completely cut from Dune ?

Because it seems director Denis Villeneuve wants to use Feyd in the same way the Baron does in the Frank Herbert book…

In Dune, we meet the Baron’s two very different and yet very similar nephews, Glossu-Rabban and Feyd-Rautha. The brothers are visually, intellectually the opposite. Rabban is a dumb, simple, huge brute who isn’t good for much besides being a blunt instrument. Feyd, on the other hand, possesses Adonis-like looks, sparkling charisma, and a keen mind for strategy. What the brothers have in common, though? They both have the Harkonnen streak of sadism.

The Baron decides to let Rabban take the lead on running Arrakis in order to make him unpopular. He will suppress the Fremen with cruelty and violence, becoming a villain in the process. Then, the Baron wants Feyd to swoop in and save the people from Rabban. The idea is that this will cement Feyd’s popularity and he can then do as he wants with the planet and its people.

So the Baron is holding Feyd back on purpose and it seems Villeneuve is doing the same! That said…it’s possible Villeneuve winked at Feyd’s existence already in the film…

When Jessica speaks with the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) after Paul’s Gom Jabbar test, the Reverend Mother downplays Paul’s importance by saying the Bene Gesserit have “other prospects.” Since we haven’t met another failed Kwisatz Haderach — i.e. the Baron Fenring — who could this other prospect be? My guess is Feyd-Rautha. After all, if the idea is that Feyd and an Atreides female heir could produce the Kwisatz Haderach, that suggests Feyd has as much genetic promise as Paul.

Or does he??

How Much Power is Paul Inheriting Again?


One of the most tantalizing teases Villeneuve put in Dune Part 1 potentially spoils a really fun reveal in a possible Dune Part 2. So I want to tread lightly here for non book-readers. But when I first heard Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother tell Paul that he has more than one birthright, I full on gasped in an IMAX theater.

On the one hand, the Reverend Mother is referring to Paul’s birthright as the son of a Bene Gesserit. It’s intimated more than once that Jessica is important to the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, but the reasons why are kept in shadow. Is it just that she’s an esteemed member of the sisterhood? Does it have to do with her power? Or is it simply the role that she plays within the genetic breeding program set up to create the Kwisatz Haderach.

Bene Gesserits are positioned in all sorts of high ranking courts to seduce nobles and steer politics. What in tarnation could the Reverend Mother mean by two birthrights? (I’ll keep mum and let you theorize on your own/read the book yourself.)

What's With All the Bulls?!?


Another little Easter egg I loved in Villeneuve’s Dune were the constant cuts to a statue of a man fighting a bull and a mounted bull on the family’s dining room wall. These details are mentioned in Herbert’s text as something profoundly important to the current House Atreides’ view of the world and the family’s past.

It’s mentioned in an aside that Duke Leto’s father liked fighting bulls for fun. In fact, the Old Duke died in a bull fight. That statue commemorates the event as does the mounted bull head and the Old Duke’s portrait seen hanging in the dining room on Caladan.

These symbols haunt Duke Leto and his family throughout their time on Arrakis and are Easter eggs for a scene that Villeneuve leaves on the cutting room floor. When Jessica first arrives on Arrakis, the first things she unpacks are the Old Duke’s portrait and the bull’s head (which is, yes, the head of the bull that killed the Old Duke). She and Leto then argue about where to hang them. Jessica wants them in a place of honor in the main hall and Leto wants them in the dining room.

Later Leto stares at the bull who killed his father just before his death, with Baron Harkonnen towering over him in the dining room. It’s a darkly comic metaphor showing how while the Old Duke died fighting bulls for sport, Duke Leto died playing a dangerous political game with the Baron.

Jamis Was There From the Beginning


One of the most exciting sequences in Dune comes at the very end. We meet the pugnacious Fremen Jamis who wants nothing to do with Paul Atreides. He thinks Paul sucks, is very clearly not a messiah, and wants to kill his mother and crush her bones to extract drinking water from her body. (Yeah, no, the Fremen literally do that.)

When Stilgar (Javier Bardem) gives Paul amnesty and Jessica protection after she bests him, Jamis is even more irate. He wants to challenge Jessica for leadership, but since she is a Bene Gesserit (aka Sayyadina in Fremen culture), he can’t. So Paul is her champion.

Leading up to this moment, Paul has been having visions not only of Chani (Zendaya), but also of Jamis. In his visions, Jamis helps instruct Paul on the ways of the desert, allowing the young man to “let go” when their thopter is caught in a sandstorm. Jamis comes to Paul in these visions first as a friend and later as a foe. In one prophetic episode, Paul sees Jamis killing him in their still-to-come battle to the death.

Jamis is an important figure in Paul’s life. He teaches him the ways of the Fremen in a most profound way through their duel; his death at Paul’s hands represents the death of the young Paul and the birth of who Paul is yet to be.

Jamis’s importance to the story doesn’t come wholly out of nowhere, though. In fact, Jamis is the first Fremen we see on screen. When Chani gives her introductory voiceover, the camera lingers first on Jamis. Thus setting him up as an important figure to the overall arc of the story. An arc that ends in Paul killing him.

Yes, There Are No Computers In 'Dune'. There Are Mentats


Are you still confused over that weird white eye thing that Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) did while counting numbers? Or why all the tech in Dune is analog? Or why the Spice must flow? Turns out it’s all connected!

There is no A.I. in the futuristic world of Dune  because it’s considered both highly illegal and a cardinal sin to create a machine that can think like a human. That’s because humanity once found itself locked in a heinous war for survival against A.I. overlords. Once this war was won, humanity vowed to never let it happen again.

Instead, people use Spice to expand their mental capacity. There is one elite sect of brainiacs called Mentats who allow their minds to become permanently changed by Spice so they become living computers. Most of the noble houses have a Mentat in their employ. For House Atreides, that is Thufir Hawat. For the Harkonnens, David Dastmalchian’s Piter de Vries. (Note that while Piter dies at the end of Dune , we never see what happens to Thufir Hawat. In the books, House Harkonnen commandeers him and his mind for their own use.)

This is yet another reason why Spice is so valuable and why Duke Leto said they couldn’t afford to lose Thufir’s mind when the Mentat tried to tender his resignation in shame after Paul was almost killed.

There are no computers in Dune but there are human computers.

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What’s inside that box in Dune?


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The box from Dune 2020 with Paul’s hand in it feeling pain

Denis Villenueve’s Dune is here, and it paints a compelling picture of the newest cinematic incarnation of the legendary sci-fi novel. It’s also a fairly sparse picture; long on dunes, short on story.

But for Dune fans, it’s full of the book’s most indelible moments. One of the most famous being that creepy green box — you know, the one that Timothée Chalamet has his hand inside — and what it contains.

[ Ed. note : This piece contains spoilers for Dune the movie and Dune the half-century old novel.]

A test of humanity

What’s inside the box? Only what you take with you .

No, wait, wrong sci-fi franchise.

Technically, there’s nothing inside the box. When Chalamet’s Paul Atreides places his hand inside it, it allows the person holding the box — in this case the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) — to focus their “energy” into creating a sensation of incredible pain.

In Dune, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood is an ancient society of women openly dedicated to shaping the destiny of humanity through political power and eugenics. They’re particularly interested in Paul because of how his existence throws a wrench into their multiple-millennia plan to breed their own pet messiah.

Gom jabbar? I barely know ’ar

Paul and Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam in Dune 2020 during the box test

Early on in the plot of Dune , the Reverend Mother — basically the Bene Gesserit pope — visits the Atreides household to make an appraisal of Paul’s character.

Her appraisal comes in the form of a Bene Gesserit test of humanity. She places a ritual poisoned pin called a gom jabbar by Paul’s neck, and orders him to put his hand in the box. If he removes his hand, she’ll prick his skin, killing him. To survive, he must resist the instinct to withdraw his hand, no matter how much it hurts. The idea is to see if Paul’s intellect can win out over his base instincts.

OK, so, there is one thing inside the box: PAIN .

During the test, as Herbert wrote in the Dune novel, Paul feels the distinct sensation of his flesh being slowly burned away, as his limb is reduced to charred bones — but better to lose a hand than his life. So he recites a Bene Gesserit calming mantra, the Litany Against Fear. In the film, Villenueve allows Jessica to say the fateful words instead, to calm herself as she waits for Paul’s test to be over. The Litany is the most memetic set of words in Dune , and here are the words:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

In both the book and the film, Paul keeps his hand in the box until the Reverend Mother’s energy is exhausted. In the book, she lets him know that he held out longer than any one else who’s taken the test, because Dune wants us to know that Paul is a very very special boy at all times. And when she finally lets him take his hand out of the box, it’s totally fine! The pain was an illusion! Ha ha! What a fun game to play with a 15-year-old boy!

Fear is the mind-killer

But this scene isn’t just a memorable instance child torture. It also pulls together some of Dune’s biggest themes in one of its earliest moments. The Bene Gesserit ethos is all about how macro events can be swayed by tiny moments of change. If a person can recognize those hinge points, perceive their potential directions, and take instant action, they can consciously change the course of history. But, of course, they have to be able to set aside their short term instincts — like avoiding pain — for longer term goals — like staying alive.

Dune is a catalog of those hinge points. Small personal decisions — some made from logic, others from love — that snowball into a massive change in human history.

Well, future human space history.

Well , future human space history, with sandworms .

Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Furguson as Lady Jessica Atreides stand in the desert on the set of Denis Villenueve’s Dune.

Dune on HBO Max

The epic sci-fi saga arrives to HBO Max for subscribers for free starting Oct. 21.

The Dune guide

  • The big surprise of 2021’s Dune: Denis Villeneuve’s clear, sharp approach
  • Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is all world-building and no world-living
  • What Dune is about, in fewer than 900 words
  • Paul Atreides poops his Dune suit pants, canonically
  • Dune’s Rebecca Ferguson tried ‘Donald Duck sounds’ for her character’s mind-control voice
  • Timothée Chalamet’s hair was ‘like an animal’ on the sandy set of Dune
  • Why Timothée Chalamet’s Dune character Paul is an actor’s dream role
  • You should play the long-lost Dune board game, now back in print
  • Dune delayed until 2021
  • Denis Villeneuve’s Dune feels bigger and louder than the trailers make it look
  • The new Dune board game is quick and merciless
  • Timothée Chalamet confronts his sandy destiny in new trailer for Dune
  • The first Dune trailer is here
  • A Dune sequel would be far stranger than Dune Part One
  • Who are the Bene Gesserit of Dune?
  • Dune’s weird little lip tattoo, and what it means
  • What is the giant sandworm in Dune?
  • What is House Atreides in Dune?
  • Why are characters’ eyes blue in Dune?
  • How to watch Dune on HBO Max
  • Zendaya talks her role in Dune Part 2, a movie Timothée Chalamet can’t wait to see
  • Everything we know about Dune 2

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Den of Geek

Phantasm: The Strangest Horror Franchise of Them All

After four decades the dream world of the Phantasm films remains unlike any other.

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Over the years, a number of people have drawn parallels between George Romero and writer/producer/director Don Coscarelli, and I suppose it makes sense. Both made a couple no-budget indie films that were mostly ignored before hitting it big with a surprise cult classic. In both cases the breakthrough horror films were utterly unique at the time, and accidentally spawned their own franchises.

Despite efforts on the part of both Coscarelli and Romero to break away and make some very different films (like Martin and Knightriders in Romero’s case, The Beastmaster and bubba Ho-Tep in Coscarelli’s), for one reason or another both were forced back into feeding the franchise. Both filmmakers, for the most part, spent their careers working independently with very small budgets, but while Romero’s Dead films grew smaller, repetitive, and, let’s be honest, pretty shabby and tired, the wild imagination that gave birth to the original Phantasm only expanded and grew wilder over the next four decades, with the continuing storyline leaping back and forth between universes and dimensions.

The big difference between the two is that while Romero’s first three Dead pictures went on to spawn an overcrowded genre of zombie films and TV shows, Coscarelly’s Phantasm pictures (apart from their clear influence on Wes Craven (remain an indefinable and inimitable genre unto themselves.

As he tells it, at a screening of his light comedy Kenny & Company in 1976, Coscarelli noted the positive audience reaction to a cheap scare, and so decided to make a horror movie next. But unlike the classic Universal horror films he’d grown up with, he’d make something that offered a solid scare every five minutes.

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John Carpenter’s Halloween was still two years away, and so the clear blueprint for the standard form and structure of horror films over the next fifteen years had yet to be laid out. The landscape was wide open.    

Coscarelli had two starting points when he set to work on the script. First, he wanted to do something about the potential horrors that lay behind the closed doors of a funeral parlor. Most of us have no real idea what morticians actually do, after all. They could be up to all sorts of diabolical shenanigans in those embalming rooms! And the second was a nightmare he’d had as a kid, in which he was chased down endless white corridors by a flying silver ball equipped with a large needle. After that, and following a sort of dream logic (again two years before David Lynch’s Eraserhead ), the script came together.

With no money for niceties like name actors, fancy special effects, lighting set ups, or extras, Phantasm was filmed over the course of 1977, mostly on weekends, and with available light whenever possible. Sam Fuller always instructed young filmmakers that even if they had no money, they had to use their imaginations to figure out a way to get everything in that script up on the screen. Coscarelli clearly took this to heart, even if it meant the film’s iconic silver ball was actually controlled by a guy with a fishing pole, and the giant insect trying to escape from the gunny sack was achieved through a bit of simple method acting and slapstick on the part of the three principles.

Phantasm focuses on a 13 year-old named Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), his older brother Jody (musician Bill Thornbury), and Jody’s best friend, an ice cream vendor named Reggie) future low-budget horror regular Reggie Bannister). After a friend mysteriously, um, “commits suicide” in a graveyard after picking up a tall blonde in a local bar, the three witness some strange goings-on at a small-town mortuary. It seems a mysterious figure known only as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) is in fact an evil shape-shifting being from another dimension who, disguised as a mortician, has been sending corpses back through a space/time portal to his home planet where they are reanimated and forced into slave labor. Given the force of gravity on his home planet is several times what it is on Earth, the corpses are also shrunk to the size of dwarfs and for some reason dressed in monk’s robes. But that’s only scratching the surface. A few of those inter-dimensional midgets are here on Earth, skulking about a nearby cemetery, driving the vintage hearse, and doing whatever else the Tall Man might ask of them. He also has at his disposal that notorious flying silver ball (in many ways the real star of the film), which patrols the endless white hallways of the mortuary.

Equipped with some sinister-looking rotating knives, the ball swoops down upon any intruders and (in a sequence that originally earned the film an X rating) drills out their brains. Along the way there are also disembodied living fingers that transform into giant grotesque insects, creepy blind fortune tellers, psychic activity, copious amounts of yellow blood, a glimpse across dimensions, a giant tuning fork, references to Poe, Dante’s Inferno and Frank Herbert’s Dune (are you putting all this together as we go?), some believable human drama, several terrifying dream sequences that may or may not be dreams after all, and a dark twist of an ending that, together with the rest of the film, was clearly a major influence on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Unlike the Freddy films, however, the original Phantasm from start to finish operates on the above mentioned dream logic, in which audience members are simply asked to accept this Absurdist universe, no matter how goofy things get at times.

Although the film was completed in 1977, it didn’t find a distributor until late 1978, after Halloween triggered an explosion in the popularity of horror films. In this new horror-hungry climate, maybe even a weirdie like this had a shot.

It was released in January of 1979, and much to everyone’s amazement, actually found an audience among people who loved horror, but were eager for something a little different. No, it wasn’t the game-changing phenomenon Halloween had been, but it was a solid cult hit, raking in $11.5 million on a $300,000 budget.

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Several lean years passed in which Coscarelli didn’t write or direct much of anything, apart from the Conan knockoff The Beastmaster . Then in 1988,noting the success other studios had been having with other horror franchises like Halloween , Friday the 13th and the Freddy films, Universal took note of Phantasm’s respectavle profit margin, and approached Coscarelli with an offer. They’d produce a sequel that Coscarellu would write and direct, they’d provide a top-notch special effects team, they’d distribute the film when it was finished, and give him $3 million to do it,. He’d never planned on a sequel when he wrapped the original a decade earlier, but what the hell, right?

Having not planned on such a thing, Coscarelli wasn’t sure where to go with a follow-up story. Then he decided the easiest thing would simply be to pick up exactly where the first film left off, with Mike in the clutches of the Tall Man who, as luck would have it, hadn’t died in that fiery hearse wreck after all. Then he was further inspired by the pair of vampire hunters hitting the road at the end of Stephen King’s ‘ Salem’s Lot . With Jody dead at the end of the original, he’d have Mike and Reggie team up, going on the road to track down the Tall Man as he emptied graveyard after graveyard in small towns across the country.

Being a major corporate studio, of course, Universal had a few conditions when it came to the production. First, they had some say in the casting. Apart from Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, they weren’t interested in bringing back anyone from the original cast. If Coscarelli insisted, those original, unknown actors would have to go through the same audition process as everyone else. Even then, they told him he could either cast Bannister or Baldwin to play their original roles, but not both. More importantly, when it came to the script Universal didn’t want to see any more dream sequences, no more loose ends, and in fact none of that giddy weirdness at all. Those things just confused audiences. In short, they wanted to strip the sequel clean of everything that made the original what it was. I never understood that, but it sure seems to happen a lot.

The flying killer ball was still there, though, and was in fact the centerpiece of the ad campaign, whose tagline read, “The Ball is Back!”

As has become standard for most every contemporary sequel, apart from the addition of a few new characters and a change of setting (and James LeGros taking over the role of Mike), a number of scenes and situations from the original are simply repeated. Despite those directives from above, however, dream sequences remain plentiful, and in fact propel the plot along, as Reggie and Mike head for Oregon to save a young woman who’s been appearing in Mike’s dreams (Paula Irvine) from the clutches of the Tall Man. And while the flamboyant strangeness of the original is mostly lost, there are a few neat little unexpected touches, like a deadly Frisbee and a drunken priest (the great Kenneth Tigar) desecrating a corpse.

Phantasm II hit theaters in August of 1988, and brought in only a meager $7.3 million. The reasons are probably fairly simple. While the other Big Three horror franchises began putting out sequels almost immediately, Phantasm II came out nine years after the original. Nobody remembered that first Phantasm anymore. While the small core audience from 1979  (like me) was still there, the new younger crop of filmgoers was by that point far more accustomed to cookie cutter slasher films and the splashy big budget effects of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and likely couldn’t make heads or tails of this thing. As straightforward as it was in comparison with the original, compare it with any other horror film in theaters at the time, it must have seemed like surreal madness. What American teenager would want to sit through that?

While Phantasm II ’s ending, which echoed the original’s, clearly hinted at another sequel, that lackluster box office prompted Universal to drop the franchise idea. They’d distribute a Third if Coscarelli decided to make one, but that was all. The financing and everything else was up to him.

In a way, it might have been the best thing that could have happened to Coscarelli, because having started construction on the Phantasm universe, he was now free to continue as he pleased without interference from dull-witted studio exacs.  

With that freedom, and after securing a $2.5 million budget, Coscarelli went a little hog wild, beginning with rounding up the original cast (including A. Michael Baldwin as Mike and Bill Thornbury as Jody), now some sixteen years older than they’d been in 1979. He also tossed in a new gun-crazy youngster named Tim (Kevin Connors), Gloria Lynne Henry as a military officer and martial artist, and a whole armada of flying spheres.

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead , released in 1994, was a return to the wild unpredictability of the original, only more so. To even begin sketching out the plot is an exercise in futility, Let’s just say that the film once again picks up with Part II ’s final scene, but within three minutes you know no major studio had anything to do with this. Along the way, insignificant details from the original become major story points, we learn a bit more about the Tall Man ’s methodology and the secret of the silver (and now sometimes gold) spheres, we see why you should never trust a nurse, we’re introduced to a trio of comically villainous zombie looters, and spend a bit of time in other dimensions. There’s also a hot pink hearse.

The whole thing makes as much sense as the dream I had last night about the autistic handyman, the steel cage and the flying dog, but that’s the simple joy of it, and what a Phantasm film is supposed to be.

As expected, with audiences buy that point liking their movies (and particularly their sequels) simple retreads of the well-worn and familiar, Lord of the Dead only brought in $350,000. But now that he was in full indie mode once again, and with a small but hardcore cult fan vase anxious for more, Coscarelli was free to charge ahead.

Giving things a boost, one of those hardcore fans was Roger Avery, who’d co-written Reservoir Dogs and won an Oscar for co-writing Pulp Fiction . He wrote his own Phantasm screenplay, entitled Phantasm 1999 A.D. , which he hoped might be the fourth installment. This time the story was set in a post-apocalyptic future, and included a major part, none too surprisingly, for bruce Campbell.

Unfortunately the estimated $10 million budget needed to pull it off was out of reach, so Coscarelli shelved the idea for the time being as he wrote  and directed his own Phantasm IV: Oblivion , designed to lead directly into the Avery script.

Necessarily pared down some thanks to its $650,000 budget, Oblivion, again with the same cast, stretches even deeper into dream logic.

As per tradition, the film opens with Lord of the Dead ’s closing scene, as Mike, now with a golden orb in his head as the first stage of his transformation into one of the Tall Man’s minions (see?) escapes and drives away, determined to uncover the Tall Man ’s origins. Over the course of the film, Mike hops back and fore through assorted times and dimensions looking for the Tall Man , Reggie does the same looking for Mike, Jody appears in a variety of forms (though mostly as a flying sphere himself(. We meet the Tall Man’s first earthly human incarnation in the form of a seemingly kindly and gentle 19th century innkeeper named Jebediah (who may or may not be married to the blind psychic from the first film, we get a glimpse of the abandoned Los Angeles of the future, and assorted family tensions are aired in Death Valley . And Reggie picks up a woman who turns out to have flying spheres for boobs. Beyond merely working with an Absurdist dream logic, as the series progresses the films (like David Lynch’s very early and very late work) come to  feel like actual dreams, which make some kind of sense as you experience them, but apart  from a few random flashes, are almost impossible to piece together again afterward.

Sadly, Oblivion , which ends on an unexpectedly melancholy note, didn’t turn out to be the stepping stone toward bankrolling that Avery script, and the idea was eventually abandoned.

Despite persistent rumors that seemed to crop up from a variety of sources every few years, that was apparently  that for the Phantasm franchise, even with all the loose ends, unanswered questions, and open-ended storylines. But isn’t that just like a dream?

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Then in 2016, nearly four decades after the original, Phantasm returned from the dead, just like the Tall Man had so many times before.

It only makes perfect sense, given that by this point Angus Scrimm was in his nineties, Bannister and Thornbury were in their seventies, and Baldwin was in his mid-fifties, that 2016’s Phantasm: Ravager would close out the series with a storyline about Alzheimer’s, with Mike taking care of Reggie in a nursing home. Suffering from dementia, Reggie slips into and out of consciousness, dividing the film into dream sequences interrupted by dreamlike reality populated with characters from throughout the franchise’s previous entries. There are still a lot of shotguns and flying orbs and evil inter-dimensional midgets, but in the end the overall tone is melancholy, as a man whose grasp of current reality is tenuous at best, tries to take  stock of a life that has essentially been lived in a dream.

Although Coscarelli is credited as screenwriter, this time around his co-writer David Hartman took the director’s chair, and did a masterful job. I can’t think of another contemporary genre franchise, particularly a horror franchise, with the guts to not only push its own boundaries with every outing the way the Phantasm films did, but actually mature along the way. Looking at them the right way, from its origins as a low-budget weirdie shocker (and with the exception of Part II ), the films quickly evolved into darkly comic avant-garde narrative experiments. Coscarelli invented his own complex and closed universe, a singular world of shifting realities and few constants, a world of daylight and bright colors and a kaleidoscope of incongruous imagery, with a set of rules perhaps only he understood completely. At least a few of us are perfectly willing and happy to accept that. And to this day the Phantasm films collectively remain the only films I can think of where I don’t want to put my head through the screen when I’m told at the end it was all a dream.

Jim Knipfel

Jim Knipfel

Jim Knipfel is the author of Slackjaw, Quitting the Nairobi Trio, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, The Blow-Off and some other books. His latest book, A Purposeful Grimace: In…

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A Phantasmic Look at "Dune"

A Phantasmic Look at "Dune"

November 01, 2021 4 min read 0 Comments

Despite the onset of a global pandemic and tensions between director Denis Villeneuve and HBO Max , Dune has finally hit TV screens and theaters across America. Dune has long been considered a great in the sci-fi literary canon, and even though there have been multiple adaptations -- whether they be 1980s film, real time strategy game, or TV mini series -- few have been able to capture the sense of scope put forward in Frank Herbert’s text. Now, Villeneuve sets out to put his own mark on the classic story.

Strapped for time and unable to go to a theater, I met the movie half way by seeking out a nice big 4K TV a friend had to watch the movie on, though according to Villeneuve, this is tantamount to driving a speedboat in a bathtub. The overall style of the film is one of grandeur, which isn’t necessarily ostentatious. Villeneuve insists that the theatrical experience is THE way to watch Dune , and he’s not entirely wrong -- even on a big TV I felt like something was missing. But that said, if you’re not comfortable going out to a theater these days I 1000% get you.

In order to get some additional insight into the style of the film, I watched the Dune: Future Fashion segment on HBO Max, which is mostly a fluff piece at just shy of three minutes, but it did illuminate some aspects of the production design. Harkonnen armor is largely based on ants and other insects, while the Bene Gesserit were designed to invoke medieval nuns. And even though artist and costume designer Eiko Ishioka passed away in 2012, I still felt her influence throughout Dune (though this might be a side effect of recently re-watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula ). The costume designs by Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan don’t share Ishioka’s same flair for the flamboyant, but Lady Jessica’s ornate jewelry and flowing gown, plus the way Baron Harkonnen’s costume unfurls as he floats, felt particularly evocative of Ishioka’s work on The Cell and The Fall. Paul and Duke Let’s official uniforms are regal if a bit straightforward, The Fremen Stillsuits maintain the Gray’s Anatomy style curvature and muscle structure, making them feel like an iteration of the David Lynch suits, though the Arakeen citizenry get to wear pretty standard, vaguely Middle Eastern clothing you’d see in most any costume department.

One area where the costume design fell short was with the Saurdakar. The story builds them up as The Emperor’s Hand, the most fearsome of fearsome warriors. On the page your imagination can really play with the idea of fanatical shock-troopers scouring the depths of space, and you get glimpses of that extremity on their home planet, but once we see them in action they look like stock blockbuster movie bad guys with humdrum armor that you’ve probably seen on Art Station already. The same goes for the battle suits on Paul and the Fremen that we see in one of Paul’s premonitions. They look a little too Marvel movie-ish, and not something truly alien.

Ecology is a main theme throughout Dune the novel, but this being an adaptation, focus is primarily on Paul’s journey, though Villeneuve  still manages to give each planet a grandiose presence. Caladan (shot in Stadlandet, Norway) is surrounded by natural beauty, with green grass, and deep waters, where official ceremony is held in the open air in view of the mountains, while the royal graveyard is part of the hillside itself, reinforcing the ties between the Atredes and their home world.  Meanwhile the Harkonnen planet, Giedi Prime, shows no natural beauty at all and is a sprawl of obsidian structures, with a domineering central dome that feels reminiscent of HR Giger’s early concept art for the aborted Jodorowsky Dune . We only see Giedi Prime in the context of Harkonnen power structure and literal structures. As for Arrakis, we see how massive the desert is in scope, emphasizing how small, how fragile, the people are that populate it’s harsh world. Though the trade off there is that we don’t see much of the city of Arrakeen, or its people. Sci-fi cinema has been inundated with the belief that more is better as far as visuals go. As reviled as George Lucas’ prequel trilogy was, blockbuster movies feel the need to imitate the need to have every shot populated by a million characters, buildings, gee-gaws, and CG props. While some scenes feel sparse, Villeneuve captures a sense of scale with his worlds, while also focusing on what are the essentials, rather than overloading every shot. This can be particularly seen with the shots of the Sandworms, which are mostly shown from a distance and only up close for one scene. The face of the sandworm now has thousands of delicate teeth reminiscent of baleen whales, rather than the trap-jaw of some earlier interpretations.

Dune isn’t filled to the brim with mechanical design, but what you do see in the film simultaneously feels old and futuristic at the same time.  The holographic projector Paul uses for his lessons looks like a miniaturized slide projector from the 1970s, and the spaceships seen throughout the film dispose of any tacti-cool aesthetic, opting to appear like monolithic structures, cumbersome and bulky, yet that glide through the air and opt for stone-like textures, rather than sleek chrome replete with blinking lights. The Ornithopters also present an interesting mix of sci-fi future tech along with more mechanical dials and readouts, the Hunter-Seeker drones look like clockwork insects, and the Fremen compass maintains the mechanical rather than digital look and feel of the world.

With a sequel now on the way set for an October 2023 release, we can look forward to seeing how Villeneuve realizes the Fremen sietches, and Paul’s rival, Feyd Rautha, and the escalating conflict between the Harkonnen and the Atreides. 

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Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet, and Zendaya in Dune (2021)

A noble family becomes embroiled in a war for control over the galaxy's most valuable asset while its heir becomes troubled by visions of a dark future. A noble family becomes embroiled in a war for control over the galaxy's most valuable asset while its heir becomes troubled by visions of a dark future. A noble family becomes embroiled in a war for control over the galaxy's most valuable asset while its heir becomes troubled by visions of a dark future.

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  • Trivia Denis Villeneuve confirmed in a Vanity Fair article that his adaptation of Dune will be split into two films in order to ensure that the original story would be "preserved and not cut into a million pieces." However, contrary to the common practice of filming several installments back to back, only the first movie (which roughly covers the first half of the source novel) was greenlit and produced, with an optional sequel depending on how well the first film performed. A sequel was greenlit on the Tuesday after the film opened. According to production designer Patrice Vermette , the movie was originally supposed to end later in the story, but during pre-production, these final scenes were shifted to the sequel, meaning that some of the preparation for Dune: Part Two (2024) had already been done.
  • Goofs When Paul is learning about Arrakis from the projector device, it describes the sandworms' length in meters, but the roots of the trees are in feet. The other instances of length in the film are in meters. Using both metric and non-metric measurements is by no means a mistake.

Jamis : [Paul's vision] The mystery of life isn't a problem to solve, but a reality to experience. A process that cannot be understood by stopping it. We must move with the flow of the process. We must join it. We must flow with it.

  • Crazy credits At the start of the film, a Sardaukar priest chants "Dreams are messages from the deep" as a prologue as it is subtitled onscreen.
  • Connections Featured in Black and White Sports Too: Dune Trailer Reaction! Official 2020 - Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin (2020)
  • Soundtracks Tooth of Shai Hulud Performed by Czarina Russell Written and Produced by Theo Green

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  • October 22, 2021 (United States)
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  • Oct 24, 2021
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  • Runtime 2 hours 35 minutes
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1979, Horror, 1h 27m

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Critics Consensus

Phantasm: Remastered adds visual clarity to the first installment in one of horror's most enduring -- and endearingly idiosyncratic -- franchises. Read critic reviews

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Phantasm videos, phantasm   photos.

The residents of a small town have begun dying under strange circumstances, leading young Mike (Michael Baldwin) to investigate. After discovering that the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), the town's mortician, is killing and reanimating the dead as misshapen zombies, Mike seeks help from his older brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), and local ice cream man Reggie (Reggie Bannister). Working together, they try to lure out and kill the Tall Man, all the while avoiding his minions and a deadly silver sphere.

Genre: Horror

Original Language: English

Director: Don Coscarelli

Producer: Dac Coscarelli

Writer: Don Coscarelli

Release Date (Theaters): Mar 28, 1979  wide

Rerelease Date (Theaters): Oct 7, 2016

Release Date (Streaming): Oct 4, 2016

Runtime: 1h 27m

Distributor: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Production Co: New Breed Productions Inc.

Cast & Crew

A. Michael Baldwin

Michael "Mike" Pearson

Bill Thornbury

Jody Pearson

Reggie Bannister

Kathy Lester

Lady in Lavender

Terrie Kalbus

Fortune Teller's grandaughter

Kenneth V. Jones

Susan Harper

Lynn Eastman-Rossi

David Arntzen

Ralph Richmond

Double Lavender

Mary Ellen Shaw

Fortune Teller

Angus Scrimm

The Tall Man

Don Coscarelli


Dac Coscarelli


Film Editing

Original Music

Malcolm Seagrave

Kate Coscarelli

Production Design

David Gavin Brown

Art Director

Costume Design

News & Interviews for Phantasm

The Girl on the Train Is a Bumpy Ride

Del Toro to Bring "Deadman" to Life Onscreen

New Line to Mount an All-New "Phantasm" Remake

Critic Reviews for Phantasm

Audience reviews for phantasm.

Silly and with no sense of structure, this movie is basically a series of random scenes put together and with a bunch of random creatures attacking the characters over and over until boredom is all that is left, with the Tall Man being one of the most stupid and unscary villains ever.

phantasm dune

"Phantasm" is a surprisingly well-done film for a low-budget, amateur project. It's original and thrilling to watch. Unfortunately, the acting and dialog are too weak to garner five stars.

Don Coscarelli's cult classic is admittedly disjointed. It's not quite the sum of its parts, but there are many individual scenes that are wonderfully conceived and executed, some even with unexpected humour. The amateurish acting, odd transitions, and plot holes keep Phantasm from being great in my eyes, but the film is an exercise in creativity and ingenuity, not to mention in showcasing the coolest flying killing device in recent memory.

"Phantasm" is hailed as one of horror's best, but I just don't see it. It has aged awkwardly and feels confused and strange, and it doesn't even seem like there was an attempt made by its creators to make it scary. Even the infamous "silver sphere" scene contains very little gore. On top of this, the main villain has less than five minutes of actual screen time, the acting is questionable and there are too many elements left unexplained. This is sad news because "Phantasm" has an awesome premise and Don Coscarelli has a great, macabre sense of humor, but it just ends up being pretty average.

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Ten Things You Might Not Know About … Phantasm!

10. The alien dwarves bear a strong resemblance to the Jawas of Star Wars, but the design for the dwarves was already completed before Star Wars was released.

9.  A significant deleted subplot involved the character of Jody working in the family bank after he had inherited the job from his father, his clashes with the stuffy manager, and had a bigger role for his girlfriend, played by Susan Harper, who was one of the tellers.

8.  In the scene before the funeral, when Jody is confronted by The Tall Man for the first time, Bill Thornbury proved to be nearly as tall as Angus Scrimm, so Scrimm had to perform the scene standing on an apple crate

7.  The idea to create the film came about when Reggie Bannister approached Don Coscarelli with the idea to adapt Ray Bradbury’s novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was to star Michael Baldwin. However, the two learned that very week that Bradbury had sold the novel’s rights to Disney, and so Coscarelli sought an idea for a similar type of project.

6.  There are several references to Frank Herbert’s Dune, including a bar named “Dune” and a scene where Mike is forced to insert his hand into a black box that inflicts pain as part of a test.

5.  The 1971 Plymouth Barracuda was chosen because Don Coscarelli remembered a guy in high school had one, and was a little envious of him. A Barracuda was made to look like the Hemi ‘Cuda. Though in one scene you can see the designation of 440-6 on the hood. Indicating the car had a 440, with a “six pack” (3 two-barrel carburetors).Bill Thornbury then took the car to a friend of his and had it custom striped so it felt like it was really his car. The true purpose of the car was so the brothers Mike and Jody could have a means of bonding. In fact, Michael Baldwin learned to drive in that car, he was only 14 at the time. After the movie was finished, the car was sold, and to this day nobody is sure what really happened to it

4.  The “ball” scenes were simple special effects. The sphere was thrown from behind the camera by a baseball pitcher and then the shot was printed in reverse. The ball attaching itself to the man’s head was filmed by sticking it on his head, then pulling it off, and printing the shot in reverse.

3.  Although being very tall, standing at 6 feet 4 inches, Angus Scrimm wore suits several sizes smaller and boots with lifts inside that added 3 inches to his height.

2.  Don Coscarelli took the title “Phantasm” from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. It is a term frequently used by Poe in his writing

1.  This film’s original running time was more than three hours, but writer/ director Don Coscarelli decided that that was far too long for it to hold people’s attention and made numerous cuts to the film. Some of the unused footage was located in the late 1990s and became the framework for Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998). The rest of the footage is believed to be lost.

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William Burns

Bill Burns joined the Horror News Network staff in 2014. Bill Burns grew up in the 70's and 80's, the second Golden Age of Horror. His mind was warped by John Carpenter, H.P. Lovecraft, In Search Of..., and the Man, Myth, and Magic series of books.

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Screen Rant

The phantasm movie franchise, ranked worst to best.

Phantasm is a cult horror franchise with an iconic villain in Angus Scrimm's Tall Man. Here's every entry ranked from worst to best.

Here's a ranking of the Phantasm franchise from worst to best. While the Tall Man isn't quite as iconic as Halloween's Michael Myers or A Nightmare On Elm Street's Freddy, he's still a horror favorite. Director Don Coscarelli quite literally dreamed up the series, which was inspired by a nightmare where he was being chased by a flying sphere. The original Phantasm was a low-budget, dreamlike tale about a teenager teaming up with his big brother - and their ice-cream man friend Reggie - to take down evil mortician The Tall Man.

Angus Scrimm played the imposing Tall Man and brought a unique menace to the unkillable being. The Phantasm franchise has been produced mostly outside of the studio system, and what they lack in budget or polish they more than made up for with imagination and fun. J.J. Abrams is also a big fan of the first entry, with the chrome design of Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) from Star Wars: The Force Awakens inspired by the famous flying spheres from the movie.

Related: Michael Myers Vs Jason Voorhees: Who Would Win In A Fight?

The Phantasm franchise ran from 1979 to 2016, so let's rank this cult favorite series from worst to best.

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5. Phantasm: Ravager

For a time following the fourth movie, it seemed Phantasm: Ravager wouldn't happen. An ambitious, apocalyptic script for a fifth entry dubbed Phantasm's End written by Roger Avary ( Silent Hill ) couldn't secure funding and it lingered in development hell. Don Coscarelli later handed the reins over to director David Hartman for the fifth movie, which began life as a planned series of web shorts.

Sadly, Phantasm: Ravager is a mess. Reggie Bannister still holds things together as Reggie, but it looks like a slightly bigger budgeted fan film loaded with poor visual effects, weak action, and an unsatisfying showdown. Angus Scrimm's poor health sadly limited his appearance as the Tall Man too. Ravager at least gave the series a proper ending, even if it wasn't quite what fans hoped for.

4. Phantasm III: Lord Of The Dead

Phantasm III: Lord Of The Dead  was the first of the series to go straight to video and featured the return of A. Michael Baldwin as Mike, after the studio replaced him with James LaGros ( Point Break ) for the second movie.

Phantasm III leans into the horror-comedy aspect of the second one, with Reggie essentially promoted to the series lead. It's a fun adventure but a lot of the goofier humor falls flat, it's never particularly creepy and Reggie's new kid sidekick is quite irritating. It did introduce Gloria Lynne Henry's Rocky, however, who became a fan-favorite character.

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3. Phantasm IV: Oblivion

Phantasm IV: Oblivion was shot with a tiny $650,000 budget and re-used many props from previous entries to keep costs down. It also recycled unseen footage shot for the original that was never used and provides an origin story for The Tall Man. The pace can drag at times but Oblivion manages to recapture some of the dreamy, surrealistic qualities of the first movie that was missing in other entries and cast all do good work.

2. Phantasm II

Phantasm II is the highest budget of the sequels and was Universal's attempt to make The Tall Man a horror icon. This resulted in the weirdness being toned down and saw Mike and Reggie take to the road to hunt the villain and his minions. Phantasm II is similar to Evil Dead II , mixing horror and action and introducing series tropes like Reggie's quad barrel shotgun. While the tone is starkly different from the first Phantasm , the sequel is a lot of fun.

1. Phantasm

Phantasm follows a young boy as he uncovers the dark secret of his local cemetery, which spirals into a bizarre nightmare. Don Coscarelli's 1979 horror classic is loaded with surreal visuals and a creepy score and atmosphere, and while the acting and dialogue can be a little rough, they don't drag it down. From The Tall Man himself to the floating spheres and the shock ending, there's simply nothing else quite like Phantasm .

Next: Phantasm's The Tall Man Origin & Powers Explained


  1. Phantasm 3 (Phantasm III : Lord of the Dead)

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  2. Phantasm Armageddon Game

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  3. Phantasma Apocalipsis (Phantasm IV) (1998)

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  4. Phantasm 2

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  5. Phantasm (1979)

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  6. Phantasm: Remastered

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  15. Phantasm

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