BARE BONES: QUEEN OF SPADES (2021)

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QUEEN OF SPADES (2021)

Latest teen-centric horror is supposedly a remake of a Russian film, though seems like it could be a retread of a dozen recent movies. Flick finds a group of teens summoning an urban legend entity called the Queen of Spades and thus begin to fall victim to her. Sound familiar?

Film is decently directed by Patrick White from a script by John Ainslie based on the Russian film Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy. It could have been based by any number of recent flicks, though, where teens summon a malevolent urban legend specter. In this case it’s the ghost of a Russian woman, who ran an orphanage where she murdered the children and was brought to violent justice by local villagers. She can be summoned by the now traditional ceremony in front of a mirror that teens in these movies can’t seem to get enough of. A cross between Freddy Krueger and any number of the Creepy Pasta rogues gallery, she is a routine spook. It’s all very dull and uninvolving, even though the young cast tries hard and there are a few unsettling moments. Otherwise we’ve seen flicks like this far too often lately and this one is not innovative enough to get around the familiarity.

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: THE CONJURING-THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

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THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

Third Conjuring flick takes place in 1981 and finds Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of a little boy named David (Julian Hillard). It almost costs Ed his life, leaving him unconscious, and unknown to Lorraine, the demon transferred to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), a young man present during the ceremony. As Ed recovers in a hospital, warning that Arne is possessed, the young man under demonic influence, stabs his landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death. Now the Warrens must somehow prove that demonic possession was involved and Arne is innocent of murder.

Threequel is directed this time by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) from a script and story by producer James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick based on a supposed real-life case of the Warrens. It opens with a supernatural bang with yet another exorcism, but it is an effective one and sets the tone for the film. It establishes to the audience that Arne is the host and we know something bad is soon to happen…and it does. Third in this series takes a bit of a different direction once blood is shed, as not only does it have the now traditional supernatural hi-jinx, but is a paranormal detective drama as well. Ed and Lorraine go on the road to investigate the origins of David’s possession, unraveling a trail of evil and death leading to a demonic cultist. It takes this franchise in a bit of a different direction and is well done, but the exorcism/possession storyline elements are just too familiar and overdone in recent films to be that scary. At least the cultist angle adds a human adversary which is a welcome change. Chaves is a competent director, but he can only do so much with such frequently treaded material and he doesn’t quite have Wan’s skill at theatrical scares. The investigative portion of the story is intriguing and keeps one’s attention and is the strongest element of this second sequel. If anything, it takes The Warrens out of their usual haunted house setting and that at least keeps them and this sequel from getting too stale. The FX are well done, there is some bloodshed and in contrast, the flick also has some nice heart to give resonance to the Warrens’ cause. Chaves may not have Wan’s visual eye, but he does produce some atmosphere and appropriately spooky imagery, especially in Lorraine’s visions, and orchestrates the jump scares well, though is less reliant on them. The climax is an entertaining The Exorcist meets Silence of the Lambs mash-up that works very well and ends the story with the theatrics fans come to expect.

The cast are solid. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are good as Ed and Lorraine Warren. Whether you believe the real couple are legit or shysters is up to you, but their cinematic counterparts make for endearing characters. They tread a little new ground for this series and do well and the actors make a good team that gives the movie it’s heart. Ruairi O’Connor is sympathetic as the tormented Arne and pretty Sarah Catherine Hook is likable as his girlfriend and little David’s sister, Debbie. John Noble also appears, in an exposition role, as a retired priest with knowledge of the cult in question, while Eugenie Bondurant is creepy as the cultist whose curse drives this flick’s story.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a well made film with some spooky moments and wisely takes it’s paranormal couple into a somewhat different scenario to freshen things up a bit. It’s well directed by Chaves, though still focuses heavily on demonic possession/exorcism elements that have become almost as frequently seen in recent horror, as zombies. If you are a fan of this series you will probably like this one and if not, the investigative/detective drama aspect may keep you intrigued enough to be entertained, during it’s almost two hour runtime. Series hasn’t run of of gas quite yet, but shows signs that it might be time to really dig into the Warrens’ case files for a fourth installment. Watch through the credits for some spooky footage, photos and reel to reel recordings from the real life Warrens and this case.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks

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BARE BONES: THE FUNERAL HOME (2020)

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THE FUNERAL HOME aka LA FUNERARIA (2020)

It’s trouble enough for funeral home owner Bernardo (Luis Machín) to have a normal family life with having married abused widow Estela (Celeste Gerez) who has a rebellious daughter, Irina (Camila Vaccarini). It’s harder still, with the house being filled with the supernatural presences of those being given their final rest and having to appease them before they move on. A home filled with spirits is unsettling enough, but Bernardo and his new family now have to deal with a malevolent presence that has moved in with them. Who, or what, is it and why has it come here?

Argentine haunted house flick is chillingly written and directed by Mauro Iván Ojeda. It has loads of atmosphere and Ojeda fills his tale with some very spooky images and unnerving moments, as this already haunted family tries to find out why something darker has targeted them. There are some interesting reveals and the story evokes the recent horror tales from Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar, as it is filled with dark family secrets and occult activities, as a catalyst for the current supernatural hijinx. There are a lot of familiar elements and the basic story is nothing new, but Ojeda uses and presents them well and with his own slant. The film can also get a bit bloody, especially in the last act. Spooky flick is available to rent on Amazon Prime and also stars Susana Varela as Ramona, the family’s paranormal medium. Recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE DOLL (2016)

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THE DOLL (2016)

Daniel (Denny Sumargo) has a problem his first day supervising a construction site. There is a creepy looking doll up in a tree and his workers are afraid to cut it down. The doll is supposedly the property of a little girl that was murdered and the superstitious workers are afraid they will anger her spirit. So, Daniel comes to the only logical course of action…he takes the doll home to his pretty wife Anya (Shandy Aulia). I think you all know what happens next.

Indonesian horror is nothing new story-wise, but director Rocky Soraya, from his script with Riheam Junianti, has fun with it. If you’ve seen even one possessed doll movie than you’ve seen most everything presented here, save for a fun attack by a swarm of bats. Soraya obviously has a love for these type of movies and it translates to the film, even if it adds little new to the creepy doll sub-genre. His cast play it straight and pretty Shandy Aulia makes for a good heroine, as the terrified Anya, who always seems to find herself alone in the couple’s expansive new house with the possessed doll. Like his 3rd Eye movies, Soraya makes this one look good and knows his tropes well and effectively rolls them out. The make-up and FX crew do good work and the haunted toy looks effectively creepy. If you can get past a guy bringing this ugly doll home to his wife, even after hearing it’s back story, you might have a good time with this. Soraya and Riheam Junianti would team for two more of these flicks, which are all streaming on Netflix. Also stars Sara Wijayanto as the “Lorraine Warren” of the flick, Mrs. Laras, who has a past with the doll.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE 3RD EYE 2 (2019)

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THE 3RD EYE 2 aka MATA BATIN 2 (2012)

Sequel has sisters Alia (Jessica Mila) and Abel (Bianca Hello) now trying to use their third eye sight to help spirits in need. A tragic occurrence has Alia wanting to start a new life and she goes to work at an orphanage. Fate, however, has other ideas and Alia once again finds herself immersed in a mystery and surrounded by spirits both in need and out for revenge. Worse still, this haunted house, and the ghosts within, may hold the truth to Alia’s own recent, painful loss.

Indonesian horror sequel is once again directed by Rocky Soraya from a script with Riheam Junianti. They once more borrow from many a supernatural thriller, though, at least some of it is intentional, such as a fun homage to Friday the 13th Part 3. You’ll know it when you see it. This flick does feel a bit more of it’s own thing, like some spooky sequences set inside the spirit portal, despite there still being a lot familiar. Jessica Mila once again makes a good heroine as Alia. She’s likable, caring and gutsy. Citra Prima also returns as intense spiritualist Mrs. Windu and the new cast members all perform well, too. Soraya does get good work from his actors in his flicks. The make-up and gore are again well rendered and the visual FX a bit stronger this time. As a supernatural mystery thriller, this sequel is entertaining and has some surprises, though it is also a bit overlong and can get somewhat repetitive at times. Rocky Soraya does have a good visual eye for how a horror flick should look. He also knows to present his material seriously, as something like this could get very silly…and almost does a few times. Sequel is also on Netflix like it’s predecessor.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE 3RD EYE (2017)

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THE 3RD EYE aka MATA BATIN (2017)

Flick has sisters Alia (Jessica Mila) and teen Abel (Bianca Hello) returning to their childhood home after an accident claims the lives of their parents. Abel is afraid, as she feels there is something unnatural in the house. Alia and Abel go to a spiritualist, Mrs. Windu (Citra Prima), who informs them Abel can see the dead because her spiritual third eye is open. To understand what is occurring, Alia asks to have hers opened as well, to see what Abel sees. Be careful what you wish for, as Alia not only finds that the house has a tragic past, but becomes plagued with visions and attacks from spirits both benign and malevolent.  

Derivative but fun Indonesian horror is directed by Rocky Soraya from his cliché ridden script with Riheam Junianti. They borrow things from Poltergeist to The Sixth Sense and everything in between, but it is fun to watch as they do try hard to deliver something spooky, even if we have seen it all before. Heck, they even throw in an exorcism for good measure! It’s not very scary, a few effective moments aside, but it is entertaining and pretty Jessica Mila makes a solid, beleaguered heroine as Alia. The rest of the cast are good too, with Citra Prima giving spiritualist Mrs. Windu some nice gusto and Bianca Hello being endearing as Abel. There is some cheesy CGI, but most of the FX are done live with well rendered make-up and gore FX and Soraya has a nice visual eye. Amusing flick is currently streaming on Netflix along with it’s sequel. Also stars Denny Sumargo (The Doll) as Alia’s boyfriend Davin.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: LINGERING (2020)

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LINGERING aka HOTEL LAKE (2020)

Lingering aka Hotel Lake finds Yoo-mi (Se-yeong Lee) taking charge of her little sister Yoon Ji‑yoo (So-yi Park) after the death of their mother. She doesn’t plan to do that for long, as she returns to an old lakeside hotel run by her mother’s friend Gyeong-seon (Ji-Young Park) to leave her sister with the woman known to them since childhood as “Auntie.” Upon arrival, things are not as they seem, as strange events begin to occur and soon Yoo-mi starts to believe she and her younger sibling may be in danger. What follows is an unraveling mystery of both the human and the supernatural kind with Yoo-mi and her little sister caught in the middle.

Korean horror is written and directed by Yoon Een-Kyoung and is a disappointingly mediocre supernatural thriller. It has some nice atmosphere, the cinematography by Hyeong-bin Lee is quite sumptuous and the locations are quite spooky. Se-yeong Lee makes a solid heroine as Yoo-mi and Ji-Young Park is good as “Auntie” Gyeong-seon. It’s just the story is predictable and the haunting elements are routine. We know something isn’t right at this beautiful old hotel and that there is something Auntie is not telling us. We also never quite trust the almost too gracious and agreeable Gyeong-seon from the start, which makes later reveals more of the “I thought so!” kind. Still it has some effective moments and there are some gruesome make-up FX and abundant bloodshed in the second half, when Yoo-mi starts to unravel the hidden secrets of Auntie and this haunted hotel. Not a bad movie, but not especially memorable either. Streaming on Shudder for those interested.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: PYEWACKET and THE WRETCHED

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This installment of MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature pairs two flicks which tell spooky stories about troubled teens up against malevolent supernatural entities in rural settings. These two films were also lensed not too far apart from each other with Pyewacket in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada and The Wretched about 115 miles across the border in Omena and Northport Village, Michigan! Grab some brews and enjoy this spooky double bill!

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PYEWACKET (2017)

Creepy supernatural thriller finds teen Leah (Nicole Muñoz) drawn into the occult after the death of her father. She and her mom (Laurie Holden) aren’t getting along, especially when her mother decides to sell the family house and move them out and away from Leah’s school and Goth friends. When at their new woods-set home, her mother lashes out at her during an argument and an angry Leah conducts an occult ritual evoking the dark spirit, Pyewacket, to kill her mom. Soon a regretful Leah learns the meaning of “be careful what you wish for” as something dark and evil has entered their home with malevolent intent.

This is a subtle and spooky as hell flick and certainly one of the best horrors of the year. Written and directed by Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) this is a chilling tale that shows that you don’t need jump scares or over-the-top gore to make an effective horror film. MacDonald bathes his film in atmosphere and uses his camera to evoke a pervading sense of dread, even in broad daylight. He creates an already tense situation as both Leah and her mom, are each handling the death of Leah’s dad in different ways and not very well. There is friction and while Leah turns to dark music and an interest in the occult, her mom wants to have a ‘fresh start’ away from anything connected to him. This leads to some harsh words in their remote new home and Leah to dabble in something she isn’t prepared to deal with. Soon there are dark shadows lurking about the house and a visit from Leah’s tough, Goth girlfriend, Janice (Hellion’s Chloe Rose) has the girl leaving the house a terrified mess. As creepy as it is thus far, MacDonald saves the best for last with a truly unnerving final act as Leah attempts to send back what she’s conjured and let’s just say the malevolent spirit has other plans. MacDonald doesn’t resort to hokey FX or overused tropes, he simply serves up some nerve wracking moments with simple skilled camera work and some wonderful emoting from leading lady Muñoz. MacDonald, as with Backcountry , also knows how to make woods look ominous which adds to the atmosphere. And while ultimately we know where this story is headed, it’s still a shocking and unsettling finale that perfectly punctuates a very creepy film.

The small cast is very effective. As stated, Nicole Muñoz is very good as the emotionally wounded Leah. She creates a likable yet, troubled young woman who tries to sate her grief with death related interests. The only person she should be able to turn to for support is the one she is having the most problems with. Once she performs the ritual and awakens something, she gives us a very scared young girl with nowhere to run. Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) is excellent as her equally troubled mom. She lashes out at Leah one minute, for simply reminding her of her husband and tries to be there for her daughter the next. The two actresses work well together creating a very dysfunctional dynamic between the two that makes this flick work. Rounding out the small cast is Chloe Rose as her friend Janice who has a traumatic sleepover at Leah’s new home and Eric Osbourne as Aaron, a boy interested in Leah.

Adam MacDonald has gone back to basics and made a very spooky, unnerving, yet down to earth horror movie. He wisely makes his scares very grounded and the fact that they are not presented in a theatrical and over-the-top manner makes them more realistic and thus more frightening. His leading ladies work well together in creating a fractured and troubled relationship between the mother and daughter, based on two completely different methods of mourning. Add to that a young girl delving into dark forces she doesn’t completely understand and certainly can’t control and you have a supernatural bone chiller that is refreshingly driven on what really makes a true horror film work…fear. This one will be on my best of the year list for sure.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) balls of red yarn.

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THE WRETCHED (2020)

Latest horror from IFC Midnight opens 35 year in the past, where a babysitter (Sydne Mikelle) walks into something horrible, thus setting the mood for what is to come. The film then brings us to the present where teen Ben (John-Paul Howard from 14 Cameras and Snatchers) is going to live with his father Liam (Jamison Jones) in a remote lakeside town for the summer. His parents are separated and dad even has a new girlfriend, Sara (Azie Tesfai). His parent’s impending divorce is the least of his problems, though, as a witch has taken the form of the neighbor next door (Zarah Mahler) and she is not happy that she’s gotten Ben’s attention…but, who’ll believe him?

The Wretched is written and directed by The Pierce Brothers, Drew and Brett, and if it sounds like Fright Night meets The Witch, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As with Charlie Brewster’s situation, we know from the start that there really is a witch, or Wretch (Madelynn Stuenkel) as she is listed in the credits, and a creepy wretch she is. Her true form is unsettling and much like her fairy tale counterparts, she likes to eat children and influences those around her to hide her creepy activities. Obviously, Ben is having a hard time convincing anyone his neighbor is a supernatural creature, even cute teen Mallory (Piper Curda), who has caught his eye, is highly skeptical. Ben’s behavior, as of late, hasn’t been exemplary and this is just seen as another bad reaction to his parents separation. There are some spooky moments, as The Wretch stalks her prey and closes in on Ben, and there is some very effective gore and make-up FX throughout. If there is anything on the downside here, it’s that the film never gets really scary or intense till the last act, when Ben is forced to confront his nemesis head on. It’s still a fun horror movie and not without some chills in the meantime. It also has a couple of nice twists, some unselling atmosphere and the Pierce’s have a great visual eye for horror aesthetics. We may have seen the twig and bone sculptures before, but they are still effective here. The occasional violence is equally effective, because it is used sparingly and has impact when it does occur. The film looks great. The Pierces are Michigan natives and utilize the Omena and Northport Village, Michigan locations very well to give the film a refreshing look as to it’s settings. The cinematography by Conor Murphy is excellent, especially in the supernatural scenes and the score by Devin Burrows suits the film very well.

The film is very well cast. John-Paul Howard is really good as our lead. He’s a likable teen and even if he is troubled and his parents separation is getting the best of him, we sympathize and still like him. A good performance, as Howard carries a lot of the film. Piper Curda is cute and spunky as Mallory. She’s sweet, but has a nice sarcastic sense of humor. Jamison Jones is solid as Ben’s dad. He’s trying to be understanding to Ben’s behavior, but at the same time, wants him to accept the way things are and adjust. Zarah Mahler is very good as hot mom next door turned witch Abbie. She’s sexy and and a little eccentric before The Wretch wears her skin, and can crank up the spooky once she does. Rounding out the main players, Azie Tesfai is good as the girlfriend caught in the middle of family drama, Sara, and one must mention Madelynn Stuenkel, who effectively performs under SPFX make-up as The Wretch in true form. The supporting cast including the kids are all good, here. A good cast.

This flick may not be quite as scary as we wanted and we have seen this story before, but there is still a lot to entertain here. It’s a fun horror, has some very spooky sequences and The Pierces know the tropes and aesthetics of this type of flick and use them well. The make-up and gore FX are very effective and the cast all perform their parts nicely. Add to that a spooky visual style and some great, fresh locations and The Wretched is a fun and recommended horror flick from directors to keep an eye on.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) candles, which no witch alter would be complete without.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: HOST (2020)

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Host (2020)

Host is an innovative little found footage film in that it was filmed entirely on Zoom and during the Covid 19 lockdown. It has a group of friends assembling on Zoom during the lockdown to conduct an online seance. When one of the girls (Jemma Moore) doesn’t take the event seriously, her prank invites a malevolent entity into all their homes.

Hour long paranormal horror is directed by Rob Savage from his script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd. It’s fun and can be quite spooky, especially in it’s first half. It’s at it’s most effective when it is being subtly creepy, as when the girls first lose the help of their online medium (Seylan Baxter) and now have to go it alone, quarantined in their homes, with things going bump in the night. The second half takes things to another and more over-the-top level and that’s when it loses it’s grip somewhat. A lot of the bits we then see are directly lifted from the Paranormal Activity series, such as bodies dropping from the ceiling, powder on the floor to reveal footprints and sheets that suddenly take on the shape of something underneath. To give Savage credit, some of this stuff still works and the jump scares are effective, but some of it is also very hokey and the familiarity with the Oren Peli series, removes Host from the veneer of being real, that worked so well in the first act. Still, overall, the inventiveness in getting it made, a charming and effective cast and all the things it succeeds at, make it a fun 60 minute spook show. Stars Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova and Caroline Ward as our five main characters all using their own names. Seylan Baxter plays the medium Seylan and Edward Linard plays friend Teddy, who leaves the circle early on, but gets drawn back in towards the end. Now streaming on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SATAN’S SLAVES (2017)

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SATAN’S SLAVES (2017)

Indonesian horror is from Impetigore writer/director Joko Anwar and tells of the ailing matriarch (Ayu Laksmi) of the Suwono family. When she passes, strange things start to occur around the house, causing eldest daughter Rini (Impetigore‘s Tara Basroto look into her mother’s past. Rini finds to her horror that her mother was part of a Satanic sect and the price of what benefits she gained from it are to be paid to that sect in the form of the youngest child in the family, little Ian (Muhammad Adhiyat).

Anwar directs again from his own screenplay, this time based on a 1980 Indonesian horror of the same name. It’s a spooky film with some offsetting visuals, such as ghastly specters and the dead rising from their graves. It’s not quite as consistently intense as Impetigore and seems like about ten minutes, or so, longer than it needs to be, but it is more of a slow burn that comes to a very creepy last act and climax. The benefit of a slower pace is that we get to know the members of this family well enough to care, especially Rini, and we find out the details of the hidden part of their mother’s life gradually, as they do. Anwar also plays with the motivations of some of his spectral guests in the family’s modest home, providing some interesting twists. The writer/director gets really good work out of his cast, including the kids and especially leading lady Tara Barso, as a young woman forced to take over as head of a supernaturally embattled family. Anwar juggles a fairly large amount of characters and it helps that his strong storytelling skills are at work. Can this clan keep together and save little Ian?…and themselves?…the flick is worth a look to find out the answer. On the technical side, the visual and make-up FX are well done and provide some very chilling entities to populate this supernatural thriller and Anwar’s visual eye keeps things atmospheric and unsettling.

This is a spooky and atmospheric film from a filmmaker who is proving he is good at supplying both scares and story. Director Joko Anwar and leading lady Tara Basro are also proving to be a formidable team as they were in Impetigore. Film can be found streaming on Shudder and if you liked Impetigore, you’ll probably like this!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 (out of 4) sisters of Satan’s spawn!

 

 

 

 

 

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