‘Chain Letter’ movie review: laughable horror film about a chain mail killer

Bad movie lovers rejoice! Chain Letter is an out-and-out joke of a film, a risible piece of garbage so incompetent on every level of conception and execution that it just about turns into a riotous The Room-like laughfest if you’re in the right frame of mind. It’s a movie about (per IMDb) “a maniac [who] murders teens when they refuse to forward chain mail.” I can’t say I expected anything else.

So yeah, a group of highschoolers (lead by a dangerously over-tanned Nikki Reed) gets some chain email telling them to forward it to 5 friends within 24 hours… or die! They delete the chain mail, of course, and are subsequently stalked and brutally murdered by the Chain Man. 

Yes, the Chain Man, who wraps himself in chains to cover the chain tattoos on his body, sends out the chain mail and very possibly chain smokes while listening to Alice in Chains. He kills them with chains.

Don’t worry, Detective Crenshaw (Keith David) is on the case (sample dialogue: “I’m looking for the man who made this link.”) This sounds like a joke, and it is, but the film is dead serious and entirely clueless.

Highlights:

– Contemporary teens who speak like early-90s stereotypes (“my pops, yo”).

– Technology that dates the film, oh, about five years.

– Impossibly inept editing that frequently splices together sentences from different takes (and very possibly different lines!)

– Troma-level gore scenes, including a showstopper that splices in a H. G. Lewis-level mannequin head. We get: chain through the face, chain through the chest, blunt object (some kind of chain?) to the head, a boy strung up (by chains) and set on fire, a body sliced in two by a car engine, and a body dragged behind a car and pulled in two lengthwise.

– An AOL-like incoming email notification that “menacingly” repeats, ad nauseum, “you’ve got chain mail!” Yes, really.

– The worst voice acting you’ll ever hear during a climatic phone call between Crenshaw and headquarters.

– After the deaths of multiple students, a teacher (Brad Dourif) tells his pupils “I know you’ve been through a lot, but remember – midterms are due on Monday.”

– A scene between Crenshaw and bug-eyed FBI profiler Wiggens (played by Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer) where they discuss the potential, and hilarious, motivations of the killer. Throughout the scene, Crenshaw’s PC features an empty Word document filled with 32-point gobbledygook.

Chain Letter is one of the very worst films I’ve ever seen, the ineptitude of the production only exceeded by the level of contempt the filmmakers hold for the audience. As the circle completes, however, the level of contempt the audience holds for the film can turn this into uproarious fun.

The movie grossed a cool $143,000 on 400+ screens in the US back in October, which seems to have justified a wide release in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Oscar nominees like Winter’s Bone and Rabbit Hole sit without a release date. Huzzah!

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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