Rating: R (strong, bloody, sadistic violence throughout, language and brief nudity)
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: October 1, 2010
Directed by: Deon Taylor
Stars: 2.5 out of 5
The opening scene of “Chain Letter” looks a lot like a disturbing scene in the cult classic “The Hitcher,” where Rutger Hauer’s sociopathic character chained a woman between two trucks. A poor teenage girl is similarly chained between her parents’ two cars, unbeknownst to them. A lot of tension builds up as the scene fades out just as one of her parents gets into the car to go to work. The question of whether she dies goes unanswered until the end of the film, when her connection with the larger story is revealed.
That larger story involves a group of friends, including teenager Johnny (Matt Cohen) who receives a mysterious chain letter in his email. The letter says that he must forward it to at least five friends, or he will die at the hands of a serial killer. He deletes it without forwarding, which plenty of people have done with this type of email. Unfortunately for poor Johnny, there really is a killer out there, and he knows that the email was deleted. He kills Johnny in spectacularly bloody fashion using his signature metal chain to do it. He then goes after the other people in Johnny’s group of friends who didn’t forward the message, including Rachel (Cherilyn Wilson).
Rachel’s friend Jessie (Nikki Reed) is heartbroken over her pal’s death and won’t take it sitting down. She informs the police about her friend’s murder and tells Det. Jim Crenshaw (Keith David) that she thinks all the deaths are linked. She isn’t satisfied with the cops’ investigation, so she begins to do a little digging of her own. She is shocked by what she finds out and even more shocked to see more bodies turning up, all seemingly the victims of the same chain-wielding killer. If Jessie isn’t careful, she could end up the next victim of the unnamed, masked assailant. She must use her wiles and bravery, and perhaps trust Det. Crenshaw a bit, to survive until she figures out how to stop the chain letter without anyone else dying.
Some horror movies, like the first “Saw,” aim to be macabre while also being intelligent and thrilling. Others prefer to offer up scenes of mayhem and gore unapologetically, with little plot or character development. After all, if a character’s only worth to the film is to provide a warm body for the villain to kill, then there really is no need to provide any kind of character development. “Chain Letter” is one of the unapologetic films that has a threadbare plot, the only purpose of which is to give the villain a reason to want to kill all these helpless teenagers. This is actually a good thing, because if the film aspired to be more cerebral, the gore aspect probably would have suffered quite a bit. It’s the gore and creative use of chains to kill people that really are the stars of the film even more than the actual actors.
Director Deon Taylor financed and produced the film himself under his own Deon Taylor Enterprises production banner. When the film was released in 2010, the company was brand new and didn’t have a lot of funding. That meant that the special effects for the film had to be done on a shoestring budget. Though there are a few effects that were clearly cut back in order to save money, most of them seem fairly realistic. Taylor knows how to stretch his budget, which he likely had to do, since the film’s fake blood must have cost half of budget.
The ending of the film stops just short of tying up every lose thread. This would seem to leave some room for a sequel. It’s fairly obvious that Taylor and his writers thought they would start a franchise with the movie, probably something in the vein of “Saw,” which now has a film coming out seemingly every year around Halloween. Even if there is no sequel or eventual franchise, “Chain Letter” will still satisfy fans of the genre who really love hardcore horror. The real meat of this film isn’t the beginning or the resolution (or lack thereof) at the end. The real substance of the film is in the murders, with each one outdoing the previous not only in blood but also in creativity. In other words, “Chain Letter” isn’t so much about the destination as the journey, and the journey is a lot of fun for fans of this type of film.