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Film / Scream (1996)

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Scream (1996) is the first film in the Scream franchise.

In the town of Woodsboro, two teenagers are gruesomely killed by a mysterious stranger wearing a white mask. A panic breaks out in the town, as the killer continues to target more and more people, displaying an affinity for horror movie tropes in staging his murders. Sidney Prescott, who is still reeling from the death of her mother a year before, becomes the killer's primary target as "Ghostface" slowly wipes out her friends one by one. Meanwhile reporter Gale Weathers investigates the killings with deputy sheriff Dewey Riley, convinced that the deaths are linked to Sidney's past.

For the 1981 movie by the same title, see Scream (1981).


This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Pay attention when Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) searches his closet to see if anyone's hiding in there. One of the items hanging on the rack is a leather jacket. Ayyyyyyyyyy!!! He also fixes his hair in the mirror the same way.
  • Adult Fear: Hearing your daughter's weakening cries for "Mom" through the phone as she is dragged to her death is horrifying for any parent. Having it punctuated with seeing her body hanging from a tree, entrails hanging out, puts things firmly within this trope.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Ghostface mentions to Sidney that her mother begged for her life.
    Ghostface: Do you want to die, Sidney? Your mother sure didn't.
  • Ax-Crazy: Billy and Stu.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Ghostface is introduced as the main antagonist, but he's actually an alias shared by two people; Billy and Stu.
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  • Blown Across the Room: Randy gets thrown backwards several feet by a gunshot.
  • The Cameo: Linda Blair, who played Regan in The Exorcist, cameos as the reporter who asks Sidney "how does it feel to almost be brutally murdered?"
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Stu prefers him and Billy to be referred to as psychotic, and Billy admits he's a psychopath when he reminds Sidney they had sex, which SHOULD mean Sidney now has to die.
  • Cat Scare: When Tatum hears a noise in the empty garage, she turns just in time to see a startled cat scramble out the pet door.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The 30 second delay on the tape gets Kenny the cameraman killed.
    • Sidney stops her dad from entering her room while Billy is there by opening the closet door, which blocks the bedroom door. Later, the same obstacle prevents Ghostface from entering Sidney's room after chasing her upstairs.
    • When Sidney opens a closet in her house, creepy music plays despite the fact that no harm has come to Sidney. Later on, Ghostface uses the same closet as a hiding spot before he attacks Sidney.
    • Dewey's gun is a more literal example.
  • The Commandments: Randy lays out the rules to survive a horror movie:
  • Combat Pragmatist: After stabbing Billy with an umbrella, Sidney sticks her finger through the wound to gain the upper hand.
  • Creator Cameo: The high school's janitor, who is seen in a two-second shot wearing a red-and-green sweater and is named "Fred", is played by Wes Craven himself.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Casey so very much. First she is psychologically tortured, including having to see her boyfriend die when she gets a question wrong then she gets her throat cut as she tries to escape, before finally being disemboweled. As if this weren't horrible enough, the killer then hangs her body up where her parents are sure to see.
  • Dead Star Walking: Drew Barrymore.
  • Death by Irony: Stu, who's planned his murders based on slasher movies, dies after having a TV set (with a scary movie playing, no less) dropped on his head.
  • Death by Sex: Lampshaded.
    Randy: Rule #1 [for surviving a horror movie]. You can never have sex. (boos from the crowd) Big no-no! Sex equals death, okay?
    • Subverted, however, by Sidney, who has sex (with the killer!) and still survives. The killer does die after he has sex, so ... played straight?
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas:
    • When Stu, one of the killers, is informed that the cops are on their way, rather than reacting negatively to that, or the fact that he's coughing up quite a lot of blood, he starts crying and says, "My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me!" You almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
    • This was Billy's motivation for the murders. His father was having an affair with Sidney's mother, which caused Billy's mother to move out and abandon him.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Randy gets a little excitable talking to Stu about who the killer might be: "There's a formula to it! A VERY SIMPLE FORMULA! EVERYBODY'S A SUSPECT!"
  • Evil Is Hammy: Stu, who seemingly goes crazy following The Reveal.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: How the Ghostface killer's iconic mask is first shown.
  • Final Girl: Sidney is a reconstruction of the trope. In spite of having sex and not being the most wholesome teenager, she is able to outwit the killer. However there are four other survivors too.
  • For the Evulz: At first, Billy admits to not having any particular motive for the killings, and just committing them for the fun of it. When pressed for a motive, however, he reveals that it's also revenge for Sidney's mother having an affair with his father and breaking up his parents' marriage. On the other hand, Stu appears to have been an outright example of this trope.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Casey's parents return home, they notice that the front door is slightly ajar. This hints at multiple killers because the killer Casey saw entered through the broken patio doors.
    • In the beginning of the film when Billy and Sidney discuss their relationship, the song "Don't Fear the Reaper" plays, which is rather fitting because Ghostface's costume in-universe is known as the Father Death costume.
    • It happens pretty early on, but after Ghostface mysteriously disappears, Billy conveniently happens to be going in Sidney's window. Dewey also finds the mask nearby, how odd is that? At this point in time it was Stu in Ghostface, but the timing is impeccable and too convenient to not have been set up.
    • Billy's talk with Sidney right after being jailed is rather pointed as well. "I was in jail, I couldn't have done it, remember?"
    • Gale Weathers states that she thinks that Cotton Weary was framed for murdering Sidney's mother. Turns out she's right; Billy did it.
    • In the video store, Randy correctly states that Billy is the top suspect and that Sidney's dad is the Red Herring. Not only that he calls Stu a "stupid little lapdog," when he's the accomplice to Billy's rampage. In addition to the scary music that plays when Billy and Stu both gang up on Randy.
    • Stu celebrates the closure of the school after the principal is murdered.
    • After the rules speech, Stu's mocking "I'll be right back!" and Randy's response "I'll see you in the kitchen, with a knife!" foreshadow that Stu is able to break Randy's rules for survival because he's a killer. And guess what he's holding in what room a short time later?
    • The serial killer has an obsession with horror movies, right? Billy, before the sex scene, compares Sidney's situation to The Silence of the Lambs, a horror movie which spawned the Psychological Thriller genre, and also says 'It's all just a movie'.
    • When Principal Himbry catches the pranksters wearing the Ghostface masks, he unmasks 2 kids.
  • Four Is Death: The catch phrase that Randy says saying is against the rules for surviving horror movies, "I'll be right back", is exactly four words long.
  • Genre Relaunch: The film brought the Slasher genre, which had been struggling since its Golden Age ended along with the 80's, back in in vogue, due to its both lampshading many of the genre's clichés but also managing to still be quite scary in spite of it. Ironically, Wes Craven had actually made Scream as an attempt to put the alling genre out of its misery, but instead he ended up revitalising it.
  • Genre Savvy: Due to the meta-nature of the film, many characters are knowledgeable about horror films and their usual clichés.
    • Billy and Stu qualify as they invoke horror movie tropes to trick and kill their victims and even invoke some Whodunnit tropes to avoid suspicion by their potential victims and the police. Subverted in that they eventually decided to stab each other before trying to kill Sidney and her dad.
    • Tatum during her death scene. She continually mocks the killer and the idea of the helpless female victim scenario, until he actually pulls a knife on her:
      "No, please don't kill me Mr. Ghostface! I wanna be in the sequel!"
    • Sidney also qualifies when she first talks to the killer:
      [referring to horror movies] "They're all the same; some killer stalking some big breasted girl who can't act, who's always runs up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It's insulting."
      • This leads to an Ironic Echo, where she is forced to run upstairs instead of outside when the killer attacks moments later.
    • Randy as the Meta Guy is naturally this without trying. In the fountain sequence, he unintentionally guesses Stu is Ghostface and even pokes holes in Stu's alibi by noting that Stu could have been with Tatum before or after killing Casey and Steve. In addition, he believes that Billy is the real killer and that Sidney's dad is the Red Herring.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: The Trope Namer. After Casey fails Ghostface's trivia question, the patio lights go out while her boyfriend Steve is eviscerated, coming back on just in time for Casey to see his intestines hanging out. Casey winds up getting the same treatment by the end of the scene.
  • HA HA HA— No: When Randy asks Stu if he thinks Sidney would go out with him, Stu laughs and points at him in the most flamboyant way possible before putting on a deadly serious face and saying "No. I don't. At all. No."
  • Hypocritical Humor: Randy's second rule to survive a horror movie is to not drink alcohol. He explains this while holding a bottle of beer and then clinking bottles with a friend.
  • Improvised Weapon: Sidney drops a TV on the killer in the first film. It can be taken as Death by Irony, since the TV is showing Halloween (1978) and the killer, who was an obsessive fan of horror movies who wanted to live one out, is now all the way into one.
  • Insistent Terminology: By the killer, both of them.
    Sidney: You're crazy, both of you.
    Stu: Actually, we prefer the term "psychotic".
  • Irony: When called by the killer, Sidney, who dislikes horror movies, badmouths them, saying they all just involve some eye candy girl who always runs upstairs instead of out the front door. When Ghostface attacks moments later, Sidney tries to run out the door but she's put the safety chain on it - so she has no choice but to run upstairs.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Gale Weathers may be rude and egotistical, but she was right about Cotton Weary being innocent and Sidney ignoring the facts to defend her mother.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: While the killer is approaching Randy, he's watching Halloween and is saying "turn around, Jamie" to Jamie Lee Curtis. Randy is played by Jamie Kennedy.
  • Morton's Fork: How the killer both of them plans to kill Sidney.
    Stu: See it's a fun game Sidney. We ask you questions and if you get one wrong, BOO-GAH!, you die.
    Billy: You get one right, you die.
  • Motive Rant: Discussed Trope. When Sidney prompts the killer for a motive, he derides the whole idea of a Motive Rant, pointing out that the villain tends to be a lot scarier if there's no motive. However, this is immediately double subverted when he gives her one anyway.
  • Murder Simulators: The killer states that violent movies "don't create psychos, they only make psychos more creative."
  • Never the Obvious Suspect: The film loves playing with this trope. Billy is the obvious suspect early on, but the film also likes pointing to Sidney's dad as an obvious suspect as well, given how the police have trouble tracking him down after the start of the Woodsboro murders. The trope is played straight with Sidney's father but subverted with Billy. It is also played straight with Stu but with the twist that he's only one of the two killers.
  • Nice Girl: Casey, from what we see of her. She's even nice to the caller until he starts making threatening statements.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: At the climax of the film, Billy and Stu leave Sidney alone in the kitchen to deal with Gale, giving her the opportunity to escape and ultimately kill them.
  • Noodle Incident: A subtle one. Sidney and Tatum, upon being threatened by Ghostface for the first time, both initially assume it's Randy playing a joke on them. Considering that both girls are shown to be pretty smart, and they come to this conclusion completely independently of each other, it does raise the question, what the hell kind of pranks has Randy pulled before?
    • Casey and Stu apparently had a brief relationship. Why they broke up and any other details about said relationship are a mystery, although it's implied that this is why Stu killed her.
  • Not Quite Dead: Lampshaded. Billy is shot in the face immediately as he is getting up to do this.
    Randy: Careful, this is the moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back for one last scare.
    Billy: GAH!
    Sidney: [BLAM] Not in my movie.
  • Not with the Safety on, You Won't: Played straight, then later subverted.
  • Oh, Crap!: Randy's reaction after realizing that Sidney just handed the gun to one of the killers.
  • Reality Ensues:
  • Red Herring:
    • Played with beautifully in the case of Billy in that the red herrings aren't red herrings at all. The movie practically screams "this is the killer" whenever Billy's onscreen (a phone falling out of his pocket after a call from the killer, an unstable attitude, his tendency to show up only after someone is killed), and does it so much that everyone assumes this is the film trying to distract you from the real killer. The trickery is upped further when Sidney is taunted by Ghostface while Billy is being held by the police, and again when Billy is apparently killed. At this point, the viewer is led to think "so obviously that means it was Sidney's father the whole time!" It then takes the usual horror denouement of "the too-obvious red herring is killed off, and the real killer is the person the Final Girl thought she could trust the most (her father)" in a very inventive direction by doubling back on itself: the Red Herring was the killer, his death was faked, there were actually two killers, and the guy you thought you could trust was trustworthy after all! In addition, with the revelation that Stu and Billy are the killers, the other suspects, including Sidney's father, are the real red herrings of the movie.
    • Out of all the red herrings in the movie, Neil Prescott is the most prominent. He conveniently goes on a business trip just when the killing spree starts and just before the anniversary of his wife's death, and later, when the police are looking for suspects, they are unable to track him down. At one point, Sheriff Burke notes that Ghostface's phone calls were made from Neil's phone.
      • Ghostface's costume in-universe is known as the Father Death costume, which helps misdirect the audience into thinking Neil is the killer.
    • Principal Himbry is another major suspect, at least for the first half of the film. His introductory scene has him touching Sidney a little too fondly to the point that the Sheriff gives him a concerned look. In a later scene, he threatens two prankster students with scissors, which showcases his violent nature. What helps in this misdirection is that the sounds that his scissors make are the same sounds made by Ghostface's knife.
    • Dewey is a red herring for most of the film. Whenever Ghostface stalks or calls Sidney, Dewey is notably absent. For example, in one scene, Dewey leaves Tatum and Sidney to go to the police station, and in the next scene, Ghostface is shown to be following Tatum and Sidney in the market, and when the film focuses on Dewey again, it is revealed that Dewey arrived late to the meeting with Sheriff Burke. It doesn't help that Dewey's excuse for his unpunctuality was "I was keeping an eye on Sidney". In addition, sinister music plays when he asks Gale to go on a walk with him.
    • Randy is a good fit for Ghostface in that like Ghostface, he is a horror movie fanatic. In fact, during Sidney's first phone call with Ghostface, Sidney initially believes that the caller was Randy trying to scare her. Later, Randy acknowledges this as he notes that if the Woodsboro murders were a scary movie, he would be the prime suspect.
    • At one point, Sheriff Burke gets a close-up shot, which reveals that he wears the same kind of shoes as the killer. And then he barely appears for the rest of the film.
      • Ultimately, the killer's big, black shoes are a red herring as most of the suspects in the movie wear the same type of shoes.
    • A minor example would be Kenny the cameraman, who takes interest in Gale and Sidney's conversation on whether or not Cotton Weary was indeed Maureen's murderer.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • In the opening murder, Ghostface seemingly teleports around Casey's house. On a first viewing, this seems to be the movie being sloppy and giving Ghostface Offscreen Teleportation powers, a common horror movie trope. However, on repeat viewings, one realizes this teleportation is realistically possible because there are two killers in the house not one.
      • Also relevant, Ghostface's final trivia question to Casey: "What door am I at?". "He" was at both doors.
    • On a first viewing, Billy sneaking into Sidney's house is a romantic gesture. On repeat viewings, the implication is darker as Billy has just finished murdering Casey and Steve and is only visiting Sidney to set up an alibi.
    • Rewatching the fountain scene casts many of the characters' behavior in a new light:
      • After Casey Becker gets killed, the five main characters sit around discussing her murder, and Stu starts to describe in graphic detail how one would go about gutting her, at which point Billy admonishes him to shut up. At first glance, you might think that Billy just thinks Stu is being rather tasteless, but in retrospect, Billy told him to shut up because he realized the fact that Stu knew so much about how to gut someone could in itself be a giveaway.
      • Immediately afterwards, Sidney reveals that Stu used to date Casey, but Casey dumped him for Steve, which gives Stu a motive in killing the two.
      • Then, Randy (jokingly) accuses Stu of murdering Casey and Steve. In response, Tatum states that Stu was at her house at the night of the murders, but Randy counters that Stu could have been at Tatum's house before or after the murders. On repeat viewings, one can infer that Stu was at Tatum's house after the murders since Billy arrived at Sidney's house after the murders as well. Most importantly, this scene shows how thorough Billy and Stu's plans were as they visited their girlfriends after the murders to set up their alibis.
    • After Tatum's murder Billy shows up wanting to talk with Sid. Notice the look he gives Stu, clearly signalling that he took care of business.
    • For a first time viewer, it seems like Stu's mockingly declaring "I'll be right back!" just seconds after being warned not to by Randy is just another instance of many of Stu being a dumbass. On repeat viewings, we realize that the real reason for his confidence and prankish tone is because he knows he genuinely has nothing to fear from breaking any of Randy's rules — as he is one of the killers himself.
    • Combined with Freeze-Frame Bonus, as Billy is "killed" he turns to Sydney with blood all over his shirt, but behind him you can see Ghostface quickly tuck the clean blade of the knife into his hand, making a kind of squeezing motion. Sydney looks to the killer, who shows her the bloody knife before wiping the blade clean again. Stu was applying the fake blood to the knife while Sydney was distracted.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The story was inspired by a series of murders in Gainesville, Florida.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Casey.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Tatum.
  • Saw Star Wars 27 Times: Played for Drama. Casey angrily declares that she's seen Friday the 13th (1980) "20 goddamn times" when the killer says that she gave the wrong answer to the trivia question about it (with the stakes being the life of her boyfriend Steve). Unfortunately for Casey, Ghostface was only talking about the original film, where the killer was not Jason Voorhees, but his mother. Steve gets Gutted Like a Fish soon after.
  • Scare Chord: A high-pitched flute combined with trombone and timpani is heard when Ghostface kills Principal Himbry.
  • Self-Deprecation: Casey saying that all the sequels to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) sucked. This could also be seen as a Take That!, since Craven only directed the original and Wes Craven's New Nightmare (and only co-wrote Dream Warriors). He only decided to keep it in once its self-deprecating nature was pointed out; he apparently thought it was a bit mean-spirited at first.
  • Sequel Snark:
    Tatum: No, please don't kill me, Mr. Ghostface! I wanna be in the sequel!
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sins of Our Fathers: The killer explains that his motive for wanting to kill Sidney is that her mother Maureen had an affair with the killer's father, which caused his parents to divorce and his own mother to run away. Which, obviously, is hardly something that Sidney can be held personally responsible for.
  • Skewed Priorities: When Stu, one of the killers, is dying in Sidney's kitchen, the first thought that comes to his mind concerns how angry his parents are gonna be with him when they find out what had happened. Never mind that he was just stabbed, has lost a lot of blood, and will be in trouble with the law if he manages to live.
  • Slashed Throat: How Kenny meets his end.
  • Slasher Smile: The killer Billy Loomis pulls off an epic one near the end. While his partner yammers on about "watching a few movies, take a few notes", he merely stands there and silently starts smiling, till it's a full on grin, heading into Technically a Smile territory. Interestingly, while all the other Ghostfaces pull off some form of Psychotic Smirk during the movie, Billy Loomis is the only one to really look like he's going to become Laughing Mad from revealing his plans. It sends a shiver down your spine.
  • Slashers Prefer Blondes: Redheaded Drew Barrymore wore a blonde wig to play the film's opening victim Casey. Tatum who is also blonde dies. Both female survivors are brunette.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: The voice on the phone suddenly raising his voice to Casey, screaming that he'd kill her if she hung up, instantly dispels the "prank caller" notion and sends her into terrified mode.
  • Suspect Existence Failure: Billy asks, soulfully, what he has to do to prove his innocence. A second later the killer leaps into the room and stabs him. Because Scream never met a trope it didn't want to play with, it turns out Billy's the killer anyway. There were two killers and they engineered the whole thing to screw with Sidney.
  • Take That!: "And no thanks whatsoever to the Santa Rosa City School District Governing Board." When this movie was in production, scenes were to be filmed at Santa Rosa High School in northern California. Days before filming was to begin, however, the school board raised objections to the gory nature of the movie, and after a lot of small town political theatre, shooting for the school scenes was moved to a community center in the nearby town of Sonoma. In response, Wes Craven threw that phrase into the credits, right after the "special thanks" portion. The city of Santa Rosa, once a popular filming location, was essentially blacklisted from Hollywood as a result of the experience.
    • To be fair to the people of Santa Rosa, there was also a strong element of Too Soon involved, with the community still recovering from the Polly Klaas murder in the nearby town of Petaluma. The killer's trial was even set to take place around the time that Scream began production. Wes Craven later admitted in the Biography Channel's Inside Story program that he understands now why the timing was just too uncomfortable to be acceptable.
  • Talk to the Fist: There is a famous bit where Sidney punches Gale in the face for annoying her by asking questions. In Sidney's defense, she was undoubtedly really scared and stressed about all that had happened.
  • Tap on the Head: When Ghostface attacks Sidney the first time, he slams her head on the floor to stun her.
  • A Taste of Their Own Medicine: During the climax, Sidney escapes and hides from Billy and Stu and uses their own phone call games to taunt them that the police are on their way. They don't take it well.
    Sidney: We're going to play a little game. It's called guess who just phoned the police and reported your sorry mother fucking ass!
  • Teens Are Monsters: The Red Herring teenager Billy turns out to be the killer all along, with fellow classmate Stu as his accomplice.
  • Tempting Fate: The reason why saying "I'll be right back" ensures you won't be back to wherever you said it, according to Randy.
  • Time Marches On: The police question Billy because of a cell phone. "Everyone has one." While that answer was somewhat hyperbolic in the 1990s, it's certainly true now. Also, the use of cell phones created a new frightening obstacle: you cannot rule out a suspect because he or she was on the phone while the killings happened.
  • Title Drop:
    • Stu exclaims "it's a scream, baby!"
    • A subverted example: The original title of the movie was Scary Movie, and there are several lines that are clearly, knowing the context, meant to be Title Drops, but thanks to the changed name, they no longer are:
    Casey: Oh, just some scary movie.
    Ghostface: What's your favorite scary movie?
    Gale: Several more local teens are dead, bringing to an end the harrowing mystery of the masked killings that has terrified this peaceful community like the plot of some scary movie.
  • Too Soon:
    • In-universe, the principal expels two students for insensitivity because they were roaming the halls dressed as Ghostface the day after the real Ghostface killed two students. To really drive it in, he threatens to kill both for their actions AND hits BOTH with a Precision S Strike.
    • In real life, this is part of the reason for the objections to shooting at Santa Rosa High School.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Having immobilized Ghostface for several seconds with a solid groin attack, Casey had bought herself enough time to reach her front porch just as her parents were about to go inside. Due to the prior attempted strangulation, she was temporarily unable to cry out to get her parents' attention, but she still had the heavy cordless phone in her hand she could've thrown towards the door to get their attention.
    • To be fair, with two killers, and Casey already weakened by the initial stab in the chest survival would've been far from guaranteed even if she'd got her parents' attention.
    • There's also the fact that Billy and Stu decided to stab each other before dealing with Sidney.
  • Two Dun It: Billy and Stu, as it happens. This is also true in later films but is less of a twist after this first film set the pattern.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Both Ghostfaces undergo this after Sidney escapes and reveals the police are coming after them, using their own phone call mind games on them to add insult to injury. Billy throws a violent hissy fit and screams blue murder at Sidney, while Stu blubbers like a baby over what his parents will do to him.
    Stu: My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me!
  • Virgin Power: Parodied by Randy when he survives.
    "I never thought I'd be so glad to be a virgin."
  • Wham Line:
    • In the intro, the phone call starts off like a friendly chat between two strangers, until...
      Casey: Why do you want to know my name?
      Ghostface: Because I want to know who I'm looking at.
    • The line that reveals Billy Loomis as the killer just before he shoots Randy Meeks (albeit non-fatally):
    • "Surprise Sydney", which not only reveals Stu as the killer, but combined with (and immediately following) the above, reveals there are two killers.
    • Billy Loomis' Motive Rant to Sidney. Even his accomplice Stu was shocked by this.
      "Your slut mother was fucking my father. She's the reason my mom moved out and abandoned me. How's that for a motive?"
  • Whole Costume Reference: The school janitor is seen wearing Freddie Krueger's iconic hat and striped shirt.


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