A Glorious Guide to the SCREAM Universe - Nerdist
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A Glorious Guide to the SCREAM Universe

The Scream franchise is officially back in business with the release of Scream (2022) and a sixth Scream film coming on March 10, 2023. All the films go in and out of streaming availability so there are chances to rewatch them in all their Ghostface glory. And, while we love a good marathon watch, sometimes you just want a comprehensive look at a franchise for quick references. It’s also a great place to send your friends if they are just now getting into the wild world of Scream. So, let’s dive into what you need to know about the Scream universe so far.

Jump to: General Scream History // The Overall Premise // Scream // Scream 2 // Scream 3 // Scream 4 // Scream (2022) // The Stab Franchise // Scream Tenets and Theories // Scream 6

photo of several Scream actresses from franchise crying in horror
Dimension Films

A Bit of Scream History

In the early ‘90s, Kevin Williamson was an aspiring screenwriter with a couple of small acting credits to his name. After learning about the Gainesville Ripper (more on that real-life Scream history here), he wrote a mini script under the title Scary Movie. The story followed a woman who gets a phone call from someone who breaks into her home and kills her. Williamson soon developed it into a feature length project, infusing it with references from his fave horror flicks like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and When a Stranger Calls.

He eventually struck a deal with the then-new Dimension Films. Wes Craven got involved as the director and Scream was on its way to being a cornerstone in horror history. The first film hit in December 1996, typically a dead month for non-Christmas fare at the time, bringing its whodunit mystery and chilling kills to audiences. It broke the horror mold by casting already familiar names like Drew Barrymore, Courteney Cox, and, to a lesser degree, rising actress Neve Campbell. Scream is credited with revitalizing mainstream horror and setting off a string of teen ensemble horror flicks for decades to come. And, it was the inspiration for the Scary Movie parody film franchise.

What Is the Overall Story in the Scream Movies?

The first four films in the Scream franchise follow Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her cyclical battle with a bevy of serial killers. She’s the main player, a now-iconic final girl, and the real MVP. The murder of Sidney’s mother is the beginning of a revenge plot to kill and/or frame Sidney for various reasons. There is a rotating cast of people around her but two mainstays, Deputy—and later Sheriff—Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and tabloid reporter/salacious author Gale Weathers (later Gale Weathers Riley, played by Courteney Cox) are by her side throughout these ordeals.

Now, the franchise is in a new era with new leading characters. Scream (2022) does include Sidney and Gale; however, the story now centers around Sam and Tara Carpenter, portrayed by Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, respectively. Sam is the new Sidney Prescott with Ghostface setting their sights on her, her sister, and her sister’s group of friends. Sidney will not be in the next Scream film (a first for the franchise) but Gale will make an appearance, which makes sense considering it takes place in New York City where she currently lives and works.

Scream (1996): The Beginning

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Scream takes place in fictional Woodsboro, an idyllic Northern California town where teenage Sidney “Sid” Prescott lives with her father. This film is all about tipping its hat to the genre’s predecessors, including its now classic opening scene with Barrymore’s Casey Becker as she plays a terrifying phone game with a charismatic killer. The exchange ends with her and her boyfriend, Steve Orth, dying at Casey’s house. The killer wears a costume with a long white face with hollowed eyes and mouth and a cheap black robe. A knife is the deadly weapon of choice.

Of course, we get the foundation for our main character. Sidney lost her mom Maureen Prescott in a grisly rape/murder a year prior. She testified against local “sleezeball” Cotton Weary, who claims he had a consensual sexual relationship with Maureen, and he’s on death row. Sid is also trying to parse through her relationship with Billy Loomis, a Johnny Depp lookalike who keeps pressuring her about sex.

After a couple of close calls (literal phone calls and in-person attacks) with the killer, Sid eventually ends up at Billy’s best friend Stu Macher’s house for a party. She goes alongside her best friend (and Stu’s girlfriend) Tatum and close buddy/horror movie geek Randy, who has an unrequited crush on Sidney. Things go very awry when the party thins out and the killer shows up just as Tatum’s older brother Dewey wanders off with Gale Weathers to investigate.

Sidney Prescott on the phone
Dimension Films

Ya see, Gale and Sidney have bad blood because Gale wrote a book about Maureen’s murder, calling Sidney a liar and saying Cotton Weary was framed. Anyway, Sidney gets chased around, Tatum dies, and she eventually discovers the shocking truth: Billy and Stu are the killers and they killed her mom, too. Why? Because Maureen had an affair with Billy’s dad, causing his parents’ split. Sidney, with help from Gale and Randy (sort of), kills them both and lives another day. Dewey gets stabbed in the back yet survives and Sidney’s dad is cool too. Roll credits.

Although the antagonist is always referred to as “The Killer” in this film and subsequent ones, Tatum calls him Ghostface prior to her death. (The story behind the Scream mask is interesting if you wanna learn more.) While not used within the films until Scream 4, Ghostface is the commonly used name by the fandom and franchise promotional materials. Randy also catches fire with fans, taking our place as the horror aficionado who is pretty aware that he’s living in a real-life scary movie. He even goes so far as naming the rules of survival, including don’t drink or have sex and that the killer is never really dead the first time.

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Scream really breaks the mold in a few ways. Sidney starts off as the typical “final girl,” a sweet virgin who makes good grades and stays out of trouble. But we get to peel back her layers, revealing someone who will drop an “f-bomb,” punch a grown woman, have sex when she chooses to, and shoot someone in the head. Her “goodness” doesn’t determine if she’s worth saving unlike some of her predecessors. She fights for her survival all the way, having a ton of autonomy over her decisions and actions.

The revelation of two killers was an absolutely brilliant twist. Billy and Stu aren’t as slick, calculating, physically imposing, nor superhuman as many other classic horror villains. The duo gets their asses kicked, trip and fall, and have a rather clumsy plan that unravels due to their own ego and negligence. It makes Scream feel very much rooted in reality, which only adds to its terror.

Scream 2 (1997): The Plot Thickens

We back! Sidney is now at Windsor College in Ohio, living her life as a drama student and trying to stay low key. That’s kinda hard, though, because Gale’s book about the Woodsboro murders is the source material for Stab, a horror movie. Randy is also inexplicably at the same college as, you guessed it, a film student. Sid has a new crew, including her token Black girl roommate Hallie, pretty frat boyfriend Derek, and “freaky Tarantino” (Randy’s words, not mine) film student Mickey. The murder of Phil and Maureen, two Windsor College students at a Stab screening (just had to kill the Black folks, huh?), puts Sid on edge and brings both Dewey and Gale into the picture. The former is there to protect/support Sidney while the latter hopes she can get fodder for her next book.

Speaking of Gale, she has her own entourage of sorts with her cameraman Joel (who replaces the cameraman killed in the first film) and Debbie Salt, a local reporter and Gale fan. Once again, Sid does not have a good time. Ghostface chases her on a stage, kills her security detail, Hallie, Randy, and eventually Derek, and she has to deal with Cotton Weary. He’s exonerated for murder and wants her to help him capitalize on their unfortunate connection.

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Dewey and Gale reconcile after she wrote poorly about him in her book. They go investigating (again) and Dewey gets stabbed (again). Gale barely escapes. Joel skips town because he’s a Black guy who is not trying to die from white drama.

The showdown on the drama stage reveals that Mickey (whom you almost forget exists) is the killer! He wants to “blame it on the movies” and have a big trial where he gets away with murder. And, bigger shock, Debbie Salt is the second killer. But she’s not Debbie. She’s Mrs. Loomis, Billy’s mom who wants revenge on Sidney for killing her son. She kills Mickey to frame him but Cotton thwarts her efforts to kill Gale and Sid. The thrio make it out alive along with Dewey who is possibly immortal (or just has great plot armor).

There are a few things to catch onto here, including the fact that Sidney gets a necklace with Derek’s Greek letters that she holds onto. In fact, we see her wearing it in the next installment. The impact of this film’s murders is a lot higher for Sidney. She feels responsible for Hallie and Derek’s deaths due to her poor decision making and general distrust of people. And losing Randy means her entire friend group from high school is dead.

She also has a terse truce of sorts with Cotton, allowing him to be the media hero because damn more of her friends are dead and sis is tired. The growing romantic relationship between Gale and Dewey gains its footing here too. In the first film, she was more concerned about the story than his well being at the end. This time, she’s in the ambulance with him. Scream 2 also sets the in-universe Stab films in motion, which we will talk about more later.

Scream 3 (2000): The Concluding Chapter of a Trilogy (or not..)

Cotton Weary Scream 3 man on phone in vehicle
Dimension Films

Scream 3 was supposed to be the end of this franchise but that was obviously a lie. The first person we see isn’t a stranger but Cotton Weary. He’s living the high life in Hollywood with a talk show, money, and a role in a Stab 3. Unfortunately, Cotton and his girlfriend become the opening kills for a Ghostface who’s asking about Sidney. She’s living solo in the woods in a nice cabin with a dog and working for a crisis hotline under a fake name. Only Dewey and her dad know her whereabouts.

Cotton’s murder brings Hollywood Detective Mark Kincaid to Gale, who is doing lectures on how to be a heartless journalist. She’s somehow “the expert” he needs because he lacks competence and research skills of his own. They run into Dewey, who is a consultant on the Stab film set and mad that Gale left him for fame… again.

This is where things get squirrely. There are film actor counterparts for our main people. You have film Gale (Jennifer), Dewey (Tom), and of course, Sid (Angelina) along with other characters. The killer starts whacking off actors, bringing the realization that he—or she… or they—is killing people in the order of a film script. And each crime scene has photos of a young Maureen Prescott, claiming that her real killer isn’t Billy or Stu.

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Real Sid comes to Hollywood after Ghostface calls her, reunites with Gale and Dewey, and doesn’t notice Kincaid’s borderline obsession with her. Things go very Scooby-Doo with the Gales investigating, a house blowing up, Dewey taking advice from Randy’s pre-death video given to him by Randy’s sister Martha, and Sid visiting a replica of her childhood bedroom.

Meanwhile, Stab 3 film director Roman is concerned about his cast (and film) dying while studio executive Milton doesn’t seem to care… until we discover his truth. Turns out Maureen did a few low-budget Hollywood horror films when she was young and ended up in a gang rape situation at Milton’s swanky home. Oof. Later on, the killer lures all the remaining cast, Dewey, and Gale to Roman’s party at that same home.

He dispatches everyone except Sid’s friends, whom he uses as bait for Sid. Kincaid shows up, gets his ass kicked, and Sid eventually discovers the killer is Roman, who appeared to be dead earlier. He reveals that he’s Maureen’s son, the product of her sexual assault who is mad that Sid got the family he was refused. Roman gathered evidence of Maureen’s affair with Mr. Loomis, giving it to Billy and setting off this chain of murder. He tries to kill Sid but fails, with Dewey eventually shooting him. In the end, Sid, Dewey, Gale, and Kincaid chill at her house and she’s sure her life’s horrors are behind her.

Scream 3 Sidney Prescott
Dimension Films

This film is pretty divisive among the fandom for a few reasons. First, there’s a lack of the main protagonist. It’s almost like Scream 3 could have been a spinoff flick about Gale and Dewey going on an investigative adventure with a ragtag team of dumb, unlikable actors. In reality, Neve Campbell had a tight schedule so her filming window was small. It never made sense to me because, well, if this was truly supposed to be the last film, then why not make the necessary shifts to tell Sid’s story as completely as possible?

In fact, it’s like she’s in her own separate dark movie. The revelation about her mom and Roman is disturbing as hell and doesn’t fit the tone of everything else at all. And, many fans thought Roman was an odd choice for the lone killer. First, there’s no physical way one person could do everything he did. This is an interesting point considering an early script called for two killers. (That version of the film featured Angelina, Sidney’s movie counterpart, as Roman’s girlfriend and accomplice. But the script didn’t stick.) However, filming didn’t seem to account for this change so it still plays out much like a two person job. He does A LOT and racks up a hefty body count.

Second, it’s weird for Roman to have no real connection to Sidney at all. Yes, they are half-siblings but the first time Sid ever shares a room with Roman is when he reveals himself to be the killer. Sure, we never saw her with Billy’s mom either. But we know that they had multiple interactions prior to the first film’s events. Either way, Scream 3 is an oft-quoted and discussed film among fans.

Scream 4 (2011): Live for the Applause

photo of Ghostface from Scream 4
Dimension Films

A new decade and millennium calls for new things. Scream 4 boasts the ultimate meta opening of Stab characters watching people die before dying while real people watch them die and then die. Lost yet? Hang on. We meet Jill Roberts, Sidney’s much younger cousin through her mom’s sister Kate. Where the hell did Kate come from? I don’t know. Sid’s father died from an illness and now she lives elsewhere. Since the last film, she’s taken back her power and written a best-selling book about her life.

Meanwhile, Dewey is now the Sheriff of Woodsboro and his deputy, Judy Hicks, seems to have a crush on him. Odd stuff considering she’s a former classmate of Sidney’s. He’s married to Gale, who is struggling with her career and identity at this point. She’s down so bad that she later works with high school horror club kids to figure out the rules of remakes in hopes of discovering the killer.

Sid comes home to promote her new book and the killing starts, targeting Jill and her friends. Her crew includes Sid/Tatum/Randy mashup Kirby, film geek Charlie, creepy ex-boyfriend Trevor, and neighbor Olivia. A few people bite the dust, including Aunt Kate and Olivia. A “Stabathon” watch leads to an attack on Gale and eventually, Sid has a showdown with Ghostface, discovering it is Jill and Charlie behind it. They kill Trevor and Kirby, hoping to frame the former for their crimes. Jill wants Sidney’s fame so bad that she stabs Sidney and comically beats herself up to become the new “final girl.”

Jill Roberts Scream 4 stands over an unseen person

Dimension Films

For the first time, Gale actually figures out who the killer is and works with Dewey and Sidney to subdue Jill for good. Sidney also slips in a great line: “don’t f*** with the original.” Weirdly, Deputy Judy Hicks is there but gets knocked out until it’s all over. And that’s where we left things.

Scream 4 really leans into the impact of modern social media and attention seeking fame. It was right around the time when Facebook, Twitter, and other sites launched apps and people began to get internet famous. Interestingly, Jill’s motivations, albeit extreme, are not that far from reality. People have done deadly and dangerous stuff for the sake of fame and applause.

Scream (2022): Toxic Fandom and Requel Chaos

Finally, we arrive at the latest film! Ten years after Scream (2022), we meet Tara, a Woodsboro student who is attacked by someone wearing a Ghostface mask. Unlike Casey Becker, she survives the brutal attack, which leads to her estranged older sister Sam coming home. Sam brings her boyfriend Richie, who is not happy about being in a town known for murder. She reunites with her sister and her group of friends, a few whom happen to have connections to some Scream characters.

Mindy (a horror nerd) and Chad Meeks-Martin are the niece and nephew of Randy Meeks. Wes is Judy Hicks’ son. Sprinkle in a couple others in like Tara’s close friend Amber Freeman (who hates Sam) and Liv and it is a crowd. Ghostface begins to go after a few people, including Sam, who reveals herself to be the biological daughter of Billy Loomis. (This doesn’t make timeline sense but let’s rock with it.) Oh, and she’s seeing the Ghost of Billy Past randomly as he warns her that she’s like him. Sam seeks a divorced Dewey’s help, who isn’t too keen to get involved and now spends his days isolated in a trailer home.

Melissa Barrera in Scream 5
Paramount

But he gives in and, thanks to Mindy, they discover the killer is targeting people connected to Billy and Stu. She also explains that this is a “requel,” a continuation of a narrative that sharply skews from the plot of the original. We see Stu’s nephew die, so it is Sam’s turn to go. In reality, the killings start to spread with Wes and Judy biting it. Gale and Dewey have a brief reunion but unfortunately never get their relationship back on track. In quite the heartbreaking (but not totally shocking) turn of events, Dewey dies while helping Sam and Richie save a badly injured Tara from Ghostface. This is where Sidney Prescott comes in. She wants to help Sam (awkward considering she knows Billy is her father) but Sam is like “hell nah, we leaving town.”

Of course, running away is not easy. Tara realizes she has no inhaler and wants to stop at Amber’s house to grab her spare. Amber is inexplicably having a party and happens to live in Stu Macher’s old home. Sidney and Gale track and follow them there, realizing there is something amiss. And boy is it not good. We discover that Amber and Richie are the killers, two twisted Stab fans who reject any concept of fandom being “toxic.” They met online, and decided to create a slew of real life killings and the wild narrative of Billy’s daughter killing Sidney to make the next film better. So yes, that makes Richie the worst and also a pedophile.

Editor’s Note: The following video contains NSFW language.

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Sidney, Gale, and Sam (and later Tara) face Amber, who ends up getting set on fire and dying. But it is really the Sam vs. Richie fight that gets disturbing. Ghost of Billy Past shows up and points Sam towards Amber’s knife. She stabs Richie more times than anyone cares to count, embracing her serial killer legacy. Gale decides to not write about these murders so they get no shine, Sidney goes back to minding her business with her husband Mark (probably the Scream 3 guy) and kids, and Sam and Tara try to piece their lives back together.

Scream (2022) takes a stab (ha!) at toxic fandom who get wild when their demands aren’t met by creators. And, the weirdness of trying to redeem Billy was a bit much. But now we get to go on a new journey with Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad, the surviving four of the friend group in the next film.

The Stab Franchise: A World Within a World

There are more Stab films in the Scream universe than actual Scream movies. As of Scream (2022), there are eight Stab movies in the universe, although we get to see little if any of them. There’s a delightful Stab movie website of fan-made films that imagine what happens in this faux franchise. Apparently, the first couple of films follow Sid’s life relatively close with Tori Spelling portraying Sidney.

But, Stab 3 goes a bit rogue with scripts that have Gale Weathers dying (or being the killer), random characters coming into the fold, and nothing making sense. We see this film feature heavily in Scream 3 with that film fizzling after Roman, well, kills the whole cast. For no good reason, Stab 5 includes elements of time traveling, which Scream 3 character Jenny Randall says is the worst installment. Richie later confirms this by claiming the franchise spun out of control.

We get glimpses of Stab 6 and 7, especially in Scream 4‘s inception of an opening sequence as well as Scream (2022). In the latter, Sam’s boyfriend Richie is trying to get up to speed with Woodsboro’s deadly history by watching Stab films. We later find out the truth about his twisted fandom and disappointment that the eighth Stab film (a complete reboot of the franchise) doesn’t honor the true fans, which leads him and Amber to committing their crimes in hopes for a requel. Interestingly, Sidney is not in this film, which much be a first for the franchise.

As we see, the Stab films no longer follow the original story, much like real-life long running horror franchises do. It’s not clear whether there will be any more Stab films in Scream 6. But we can only assume that, despite Gale deciding to not write about the recent killings, someone will make another one. Will it play into the next narrative? It’s unlikely but we will probably see some sort of reference.

Classic Tenets and Theories of Scream

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There are quite a few staples in the Scream universe. The most obvious one is the franchise’s overall approach to horror. Scream is well known for being very, very meta with a human killer. Ghostface may look like an apparition but it’s always been a flesh and blood person behind those masks. It does appear that Scream (2022) will lean towards a more menacing and ruthless take but hopefully, he/she/they will not become some super, unkillable being like Michael Myers.

Speaking of Ghostface, he mostly looks the same as the original with the exception of aesthetic upgrades to his mask. Some versions of the eyes and mouth are more curved and/or elongated but the basic design is the same. The voice changing device also looks connected to the mask now for easier use.  Mask aside, the black robe, boots, and classic knife to slice and dice complete the look.

The catchphrase “Hello, Sidney” has become a horror classic. It came from the first time Sidney speaks to the killer on the phone and continues to pop up throughout the franchise. In fact, Hello Sidney is the name of a very popular fan website dedicated to all things Scream. “Do You Like Scary Movies?” also continues to be popular among fans, too.

The use of telephones is key, too. Ghostface loves to verbally terrorize his victims over landline phones, cell, and now text messages. It’s been an interesting transition from seeing Billy Loomis become a suspect for having a rare cell phone in 1996 to the new Ghostface using Amber’s number to text threaten Tara. Somehow, landline phones are a mainstay in this universe, even in 2022.

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Much of the franchise plays out like a whodunit mystery. But unlike Scooby-Doo where someone unmasks the suspect, they do the honors themselves. There’s lots of red herrings, accusations, and looking at horror movie tropes to attempt to figure it out. And, the gag is, the characters are terrible at sussing out the truth. Well, except Randy, who did guess that Billy was the killer in Scream. But he was only partially right, not seeming to seriously suspect Stu until the very end.

And Gale gets kudos for figuring out that Jill is a killer in Scream 4, even if it was in the eleventh hour. Scream (2022) finally lets Dewey get at least one of the killers right, telling Sam that it’s probably her boyfriend. It’s not clear if he was being completely serious or just snarky. A part of the fun is discovering who is behind the mask at the end. And, with two killers, there’s the challenge of trying to figure out who killed who.

Of course, there are always weird theories. The first one is that Stu is somehow alive. This is wild because Sidney literally barbecues his head with a TV. I am no medical expert, but I am sure a human cannot survive that. Those fans thought Stu would somehow pop up in the upcoming movie. And, in a sense they were right. The video clip that Richie watches of the latest Stab film does feature actor Matthew Lillard as the flamethrowing Ghostface.

Jamie Kennedy as Randy Meeks in Scream stands outside wearing green jacket talking on cell phone
Dimension Films

Another farfetched one is that Randy is alive. We saw his lifeless, bloody body and Mrs. Loomis admitted to stabbing him to death. And there’s a memorial to him in the Meeks-Martin household. But somehow people think he may have survived his injuries and went into hiding. Actor Jamie Kennedy has shot this down before but even his words won’t dash the hope of Randy lovers.

Now, a more plausible “might be alive” comes with Angelina. Ghostface appears to stab Angelina in Scream 3 but it mostly happens offscreen. She’s dragged away and we never see her (or her body) again. People believe Roman faked stabbing her so she could appear and help him later but instead, she ran away scot-free. It’s not impossible but Roman was a selfish, whiny dude. If anything, he would have killed her once she was no longer useful to him.

The one theory that we now know is true is that Kirby is alive. Scream (2022) confirms that she did not die in Scream 4. Clever fans saw a sidebar video clip about an interview she did and her number was in Dewey’s cell phone. Now, we know she will appear in the sixth Scream film, sort of filling the void that Sidney will leave with her absence as a legacy character.

What You Need to Know About the SCREAM Universe_1
Dimension Films

There’s also the number seven. Until the events of Scream (2022), there were seven Ghostface killers and seven Stab movies. The original film also had seven deaths (including Billy and Stu). The Scream movie Twitter account also posted seven drops of blood a while back, which was a correct hint at the trailer coming seven days later. From a spiritual sense, it is the number of completion and represents the place between life and death.

As we know, this universe is certainly not complete with the possible exception of Sidney’s story, which wasn’t the original intention. But Scream (2022) does complete Dewey’s story in the most tragic way. And it serves as a passing of the torch to a new group of survivors, in a sense bringing the ongoing chapter of this story to a close. There are also seven main characters (not really counting the random sheriff’s offscreen death) who die in this film as well, including the two killers.

Scream 6: What Will Happen?

In the next Scream film, Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad will be in NYC when Ghostface pops up again. The latter three are college aged so we might get another campus based story again. And it is sort of nice to have two sibling duos sticking close together. Poor Sidney’s only brother was a psychopath.

It is completely anyone’s guess why someone would want to continue to haunt them. Unlike Sidney’s story which had heavy ties to her mother’s past abuse that led to a spiral of events, there doesn’t seem to be much to uncover with Sam and Tara. Richie and Amber are dead and, as far as we know, there’s no larger secrets or animosity that would lead to this. There is the looming mystery of about who Sam and Tara’s mother is as well as details about Stu Macher’s sibling. (The assumption until now is that he was an only child.) We will wait and see what happens.

Originally published on November 29, 2021.

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