The Ring and the Curse of Chain Mail Horror

If you were young and impressionable in the days of the early internet, the days of MSN, forums and checking your inbox frequently, then you’ve definitely come across chain mail. The practice has existed for centuries, before the invention of the internet. They are physical or virtual messages sent with the task of passing them on to others with bribes or threats. “Copy this message exactly and send it to 10 friends within an hour or bad luck!” was a typical nickname. Not with money, that’s a pyramid scheme, but with promises of happiness and misfortune. This can come in many forms, but the ones that really exploded were “creepypastas,” a phenomenon of spooky stories being copied and pasted across the internet, and spooky chain letters.


Many of us fell victim to a long-winded story we read online about someone, usually a little girl, who died horribly. Of course, you couldn’t just scroll away while reading the story, and unless you sent it to a certain number of people, you were going to meet a horrible fate, be it general misfortune or some kind of photoshopped ghoul coming up to you at night and killing you . We all know these stories are completely bogus, invented by an internet troll to generate more clicks and clout, but there’s no denying how many netizens have fallen for a ghost story like this and continued the chain for safety’s sake, sorry. i know i did it

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This translated surprisingly well into a horror film, twice in fact. First with 1998’s J-horror Ringuand second wind with the American adaptation, which turns 20 today, Gore Verbinskis The ring. The ring is a 2000s horror icon who co-starred with Samara Morgan (David Chase), which joins the ranks of movie monsters, and two words that scare moviegoers: seven days. It follows a journalist (Naomi Watts) investigates the dark origins of a strange videotape after her niece died horribly and mysteriously seven days after watching it.

Samara Morgan’s videotape works like a chain letter, with the protagonist managing to save her family from this by sending a copy to someone else, effectively playing hot potato with a vengeful ghost. This movie had a massive impact on creepypastas and spooky chain mail, like Carmen Winstead’s infamous story about a girl being pushed down a sewer. These stories were not omens or omens, but threats that a vengeful spirit will come to you and kill you if the message is not relayed, in an effort to make the backstories as twisted and disturbing as possible. Without Samara Morgan, we might not have had Jeff the Killer, Candle Cove or Slenderman, for better or for worse. The ring was instrumental in stimulating interest in stories about contagious curses, particularly as videotapes evolved into DVDs and DVDs were phased out through the internet and streaming.

However, none of these stories were as well told as Samara Morgan’s. It has all the standards of a great ghost story, Samara casts a terrifying and iconic character, the best of all the killer kids in a horror movie, combining the heinous act of her murder with the downright evil of her actions and maybe even her own being. Horror tends to use the vessel of youth to amplify terror, and Samara was as terrifying in life as she was in death. She is the unstoppable force, an endless terror that has not been fully conquered and perhaps cannot be conquered. The only way to avoid the inevitable is to cause suffering to another.

This ultimatum has been used in other horror films with varying degrees of success. It follows used it to incredibly powerful effect, while people were less impressed with it truth or Dare. The ring was the game changer, and if you think about it long enough, it’s a very dark ending for a horror movie. Yes, the journalist and her family are safe from the curse, but at a great cost to someone else. There’s a kind of spectator philosophy that you have to be complicit in, or even contribute to, a great evil in order to avoid suffering or sacrifice. How does one live with himself when he knows he has passed evil on to someone else? We don’t get an answer to that question in this film, as the characters hope that as long as they send the video along, the recipient might be fine, but we’ve seen the consequences for those who haven’t, and there’s no way to know if they did.

Ringu was the original story and deserves due credit for creating an urban legend and sense of dread that permeates the entire film. But Verbinski took the story and made it his own with a sickly, almost clinical aesthetic, using developments in CGI technology to transform Samara from a vengeful ghost into a horror icon. In a typical Hollywood horror, especially those of a few years before, if Samara Morgan got a proper funeral, it would have been the end. That twisted ending, as Samara crawls out of the TV to tell us the story isn’t over, is what sticks in people’s minds. The fact that the only way to avoid a horrible death is to spread the curse onto others is what makes this story so great.

To avoid the obvious effect of a chainmail curse, it’s relatively easy to just broadcast the story to others and encourage them to do the same to keep them safe. This comes at the expense of upsetting your friends or even causing a lot of needless anxiety for the nervous among us. Continuing the chain but not protecting yourself from anything because chain letters don’t work. All that happens when you send or post a chain letter in real life is people think you’re being silly, but you’re not hurting anyone.

The ring turns that anger into a frightening and tragic ultimatum, turning the most irrational fear into reality. As the film celebrates its 20th anniversary, it’s worth remembering that while chain mail and creepypastas still weigh on many, it’s a relief that it’s not really a matter of life or death. The Ring and the Curse of Chain Mail Horror

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