The Chain Letter

Everyone has received one, and if you haven’t—where have you been?? They’re annoying, they’re threatening, and at their worst, they’re scary.






The purpose of chain mail, or chain letters, is to get the recipient to make a number of copies (or in the case of email, to forward it on to a number of people) for the purpose of spreading it as widely as possible. Like a damn virus. Sometimes said letters do this by offering a reward. Sometimes they make threats. Often they do both.


They are emotionally manipulative.




Now, you might decide that it’s silly, and delete the stupid thing when you see it, but there’s a niggling part of you that remembers that one line, right in the middle. IF YOU DELETE THIS MESSAGE YOUR LOVED ONES WILL DIE IN SEVEN DAYS.




Threatening loved ones? Not cool. But what a great motivation, right? The idea of chain mail from a Horror point of view is a juicy one. Take The Ring. Two teen girls, talking about some weird video tape that one of them happened to see, and the strange phonecall she received afterwards telling her that “in exactly seven days” she will die. And then the long, drawn-out comeuppance . . .


Best. Opening. Ever.



Chain mail took a whole new form in the film (the original is also amazing, so don’t neglect it!) and it was something that many of us couldn’t stop talking about for years. But why? Because it’s so familiar. We all get chain mail. But also because it’s so dangerous. You could rent a video and be subject to the same horrors—without even knowing it because there are no instructions on the tape!


Chain mail is a cool, scary, admittedly annoying tool for all horror fans. It’s also a long-lasting form of culture. I wonder what the newest form of chain mail will be . . .

Categories: Miscellanea, Uncategorized

4 replies

  1. No, the worst chain mail can be is not scary, but cruel. The worst chain mail spreads sickening lies about people to ruin their reputation or to simply “lulz” at the misfortune of families who have lost children to terminal illnesses. (Search “Skinner Box” on Snopes for a horrible example of a reputation-ruination chain, and look on the same site for “Facebook companies” There you’ll find a particularly tasteless cruel hoax that misuses the picture of a child who has passed on and inserted it into another story which it then added into a charity hoax. The sick kid hoaxes are among the worst of the lot.

    As for those dumb campy chain letter movies that encourage trolling and belief in obnoxious “Forward or you’ll die” chain letters, unoriginal, over-killed plot that spawned so many anti-chains, which are actually chain letters, *thumbs down.* An original and refreshing thing would be a film where whoever was behind a threatening chain email got found out and pummelled into oblivion.

    • Yeah, I agree with you on that one. It can be said that chain mail, no matter how cruel or insidious, affects us all. As for a film where the people responsible got their comeuppance—that would be a revenge action film worth watching, but probably not a horror. The horror is in the mystery of the who, and in the unknowable sender.

  2. I remember Christopher Pike’s book THE CHAIN LETTER that I LOVED when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I couldn’t get enough of it. And then a chain letter came to our house, and it was actually quite scary because it was pre-Internet. It threatened to take one of our dogs if we didn’t forward it one. My mother went berserk and got the police involved. We never did find out who sent it, but for a solid year, whenever we let out the dogs at night, we were always afraid someone would jump out and try to take one of them.

  3. That’s horrible!! Chain mail is really so insidious! Pikes THE CHAIN LETTER is one I never read, but now I’m thinking I HAVE TO! 😀

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