Review: Chain of Death Isn’t Quite What You Think
There’s always a catch, isn’t there? When something looks to be good to be true, there’s usually some hidden snafu. For instance: Don’t you hate when you’re just minding your own business, wanting to kill yourself quietly, and someone comes in with all these annoying conditions before you can kick off the old mortal coil? That’s exactly what happens to hapless Dr. Mike (John Patrick Amedori) when he decides to join an underground assisted suicide club, only to find out that anyone who wants to die has to kill someone else in the group first. Ugh. That’s actually murder, dude. You should’ve read the fine print before signing that agreement, Mikey!
When we first meet our beardo hero, he is a successful and reluctant eye surgeon, having followed his father’s stern wishes to carry on the family tradition… of DEATH! Just kidding. In spite of the rather lurid poster with its splashy red font and the kooky title, Chain of Death is more drama-meets-thriller than gore-fest. Veteran horror-genre stars do play Mike’s parents, though. Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, Swamp Thing) has a somewhat thankless, throwaway role as the long-suffering wife of philandering and abusive Mike, Sr., played by the never-disappointing Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, Reaper). There are some surreal moments in which we’re not really sure if Mike, Sr. is faking an illness or if he’s actually just a diabolical old goat. There’s definitely a bit of figurative mustache-twirling here. The malady seems real, though; one of the scariest symptoms is super-shaky hands, and it seems that Mike, Jr. has inherited it when he gets the heebie-jeebies so bad during a delicate eye-surgery that the patient is forced to make a fashion statement with an eye-patch.
Once he gets sued and subsequently loses the medical practice his dad worked so hard to build (while also setting aside some time to schtup his sexy secretary, who still works there), Mike decides that’s it: Death is his only way out. So as one does, he joins a suicide club. After donning a weird carnival mask and sitting in a circle listening to tales of woe, Mike is coaxed into killing Piedad (Neus Asensi), a former fashion model whose looks have gone the way of Joan Rivers on steroids after too many makeovers. Asensi puts in the best female performance in the film—she’s scary and sympathetic all at once, showing a vulnerable authenticity. Mike’s mom, girlfriend, and inherited secretary are all okay, but they pretty much blend into the wallpaper.
While I’m on a roll, here are some more thoughts on the acting. Amedori as a lead is not bad but he’s somewhat bland. His character is also pretty uninteresting from a story standpoint. I’d much rather have seen a movie built around Mike Sr. and Piedad. Both actors exude charisma and intrigue, and their character’s backstories are the most interesting of the bunch.
The film looks slick, sleek and spooky thanks to cinematographer Phil Klucsarits, but there are some strange location choices. For instance, Mike will only meet his doctor Ms. Ryan (Jamie Clayton) on a public bench overlooking the iconic Hollywood Sign. I got the impression he wanted to meet there to discuss his delicate condition on the D-L rather than his office or hers, so why choose such a conspicuous spot? It’s never explained. There are many unexplained things in Chain of Death, most of which are forgivable because it’s not the type of movie one can take too terribly seriously anyway.
If Chain of Death happens to pop up while you are channel-surfing, I say: Go for it. If not, then don’t bother seeking it out.